STOP - do not proceed
Before going deeper into Cultural Intelligence we need to stop and make a tough decision.
Up until now we have been working around the outer layer, but from this point onward it becomes more complex as we need to start looking internally, at ourselves. At times this might seem uncomfortable, but without this understanding we are doomed to fail. The questions will be difficult, and challenging, but equally rewarding.
To be leaders with Cultural Intelligence we need to be both interested in the answers to some tough questions, and we need three crucial mindsets/prerequisites:
A deep interest in other people: both people who are like us and people who are not like us. It needs to be deep enough that we avoid seeing ourselves as the benchmark against which we should be judged. This deep interest in other people comes easier when we let go of our ego. If we can keep our own ego under control, we are more likely to become fascinated by what others have to share. We listen harder, we question and watch more carefully and over time people around us will see our genuine interest in listening and learning from them. This is when our ‘instinct’ with people grows. We need to stop looking at other cultures, generations, sectors, geographies, faiths and races merely as variants of our own. Where ours is the main brand and theirs simply a line extension. To have any chance of getting other people to trust us, and to expand our mutual understanding of Cultural Intelligence we need to be equals, not just variants of each other, and what we know, and how we do things.
A determination to get to the bottom of what makes us feel either superior or inferior to other people. Whether conscious or subconscious, these feelings get in the way. We need to mentally prepare ourselves to walk into a room without biases. Despite hierarchies existing in society and different cultures, for Cultural Intelligence to really work we need to acknowledge each other as equals, with equal value given to all voices. Superiority translates rapidly into exchanges with other people that leave them feeling offended or patronised. To develop Cultural Intelligence, we have to be prepared to make these discoveries about ourselves, and slowly even out the playing field.
The stamina to proceed on a long and uncomfortable journey with no end destination. Cultural Intelligence comes through the journey and the attitude of a leader who accepts this, who understands that there is always more to learn. The moment leaders think that they have ‘got it’ with Cultural Intelligence is the moment they throw away what they have learned. Cultural Intelligence is full of questions with no answer, and it is because they have no answer that we need Cultural Intelligence. We can’t be impatient for answers if we want the real ones. As we start developing our Cultural Intelligence we are guaranteed to make a fool of ourselves at times and, at worst, make horrible mistakes that deeply offend people. This is also a journey on which we will hear things we don’t want to hear. Forgive others their mistakes. Worst of all, we will have to forgive our own mistakes. We need to learn to reveal our mistakes, in the hope that others will reveal theirs to us. It all takes time.
Why do we need these mindsets/prerequisites? Because, without them, the circular nature of developing Cultural Intelligence can not progress. We only develop Cultural Intelligence because people choose to share their ideas, thoughts, stories and aspirations. They will only do it if they think we have enough Cultural Intelligence not to judge, dismiss, ignore or discredit them.
© Julia Middleton