- On October 7, 2019
Cultural competence drives higher sales, forges stronger partnerships with clients and suppliers, stokes greater engagement with employees, and most importantly sparks innovation. Why isn’t it enough just to hire a diverse workforce? Diversity without culturally adaptive leaders will struggle to create the work environment that allows innovation to thrive. Good intentions are simply not enough to drive culture change.
Many leaders default to overlooking cultural differences in pursuit of efficiency, or in favor of a path of least resistance that presumes more similarities than distinctions. Some leaders avoid the topic of culture out of fear of being politically incorrect. By avoiding or overlooking culture, leaders are not fully engaging the talent of all of their employees. They may also miss business opportunities out of fear of making a mistake.
John, a U.S.-based leader for a technology consulting firm, was appointed to a global role overseeing five regional offices scattered across the Middle East and Asia. He thought he was adept at managing across cultural differences. He is a fierce advocate of women and advancing ethnically diverse leaders in his organization. He is a passionate member of the diversity council and the executive sponsor of the Multicultural Employee Network in the U.S. He’s worked in Mexico, Shanghai, and Bangkok and has managed employees from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
Yet, in his coaching session, John was shocked to learn of the sizeable gap between his perceived ability to work effectively with other cultures and his actual ability. What was he missing? He thought that merely being exposed to and having experienced different culture groups was enough. With the best intentions, he believed that building trust and respect with team members through a single approach would work with all his colleagues, even those who were culturally different from him, as he had never heard otherwise. Working with our coaching team, John worked on a year-long process to determine how to increase his cultural awareness and adapt his management behaviors to drive greater satisfaction and innovation from his workforce.
Developing culturally fluent leaders starts with assessing the leader’s current awareness and abilities, and then using education and coaching to transform them into more adaptable leaders. Read more about this in our April 2019 Harvard Business Review article…