Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £29.99 £19.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Culturally intelligent leadership

In this video, we hear from Professor David Thomas from the University of Victoria who explains CQ, why it's important and how we can develop it.
DAVID THOMAS: We used to think of intelligence as just one thing, something we called general intelligence, often measured by something called the intelligence quotient, or IQ, which most people have heard of. But in recent years, we’ve come to understand that there are many types or facets of intelligence, such as emotional intelligence and social intelligence. All of these types of intelligence are about the ability of individuals to interact with different aspects of their environment. Cultural intelligence is about interacting with the cultural aspects of our environment. So we define it as the ability to be effective in interacting with other people who are culturally different to us and in culturally different environments.
The ability to interact with culturally different others is not merely a nice to have, it’s a key, a fundamental ability. The cultural differences that people bring to organisations are particularly apparent in teams that we form to do much of the world’s work. Being culturally intelligent helps us navigate our way through the different styles of team behaviour that exist around the world and that people bring into their workplace.
Our research has indicated that cultural intelligence includes knowledge about other cultures, some skills, such as empathy and the ability to adapt our behaviour, and a key linking element called cultural metacognition, which is thinking about thinking. It’s like a more common idea called mindfulness. These are the elements that our cultural intelligence scale, that we’ve developed recently, measures.
Cultural intelligence is largely developed through experience and interacting with other cultures. But it’s not just the amount of experience that’s important, but the type of experience matters as well. So just contact with other cultures isn’t enough. The best experiences are those in which individuals from other cultures, who have equal status to each other, work together to solve common problems with support from their management or their organisation. These interactions can occur in such things as overseas assignments or even in multicultural teams.
Well, you might anticipate that I’m going to say that it’s important for everyone. And that’s exactly what I’m going to say. Cultural intelligence, the ability to interact effectively with people who are culturally different, is now a fundamental skill. And this skill is going to become more and more important as workforces and our general environment become more culturally diverse.

Cultural intelligence is the ability to interact effectively across cultures.

In this video, we hear from Professor David Thomas from the University of Victoria who explains cultural intelligence, why it’s important and how we can develop it.

As Professor David Thomas explains in the video, one way to develop cultural intelligence is through experiences with other cultures. It’s also important to reflect on these experiences.

What can managers do to help employees?

Managers and leaders may wish to provide training and coaching to their team. Training shouldn’t just focus on building cultural knowledge by teaching about different cultures, but also seek to improve cultural skills and cultural metacognition (or mindfulness).

And don’t forget, it’s also crucial for leaders to develop their own cultural intelligence.

Your task

Reflecting on the three elements of cultural intelligence – knowledge, skills and cultural metacognition – which do you think are your strengths or weaknesses?

Based on your reflection, set some goals for how you could develop your cultural intelligence.

Share your goals, and plans for achieving them, in the comments.

This article is from the free online

Leading Culturally Diverse Teams in the Workplace

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now