Grow | Culture Matters: Why Inclusive Leadership Begins With Cultural Intelligence

 Grow | Culture Matters: Why Inclusive Leadership Begins With Cultural Intelligence

Culture Matters: Why Inclusive Leadership Begins With Cultural Intelligence

“Technology lets us talk to each other all the time, at all hours. We have more ways than ever to reach out to someone on the other side of the world, but access to communication doesn’t automatically make us good communicators.” — Thomas Merchant, Senior Manager of International Brand and Communications at Globalization Partners  

Culture, at the most fundamental level, consists of the collective perceptions and social norms that people share with one another. But in an increasingly diverse and complex business environment, culture cannot simply be defined as “the way things are done” — it is more about understanding the common set of behaviors, beliefs, and underlying mindsets that shape how employees interact.

The topic of cultural competence was discussed on the second day of Globalization Partners’ 2021 edition of the annual PANGEO Conference. The panel was moderated by Thomas Merchant, Senior Manager of International Brand and Communications at Globalization Partners, and Chuck Mollor, Founder & CEO of MCG Partners.  

Today, this is a crucial factor that separates a high-performing company from the rest. Technology has made it possible for any company to build a global workforce. So leaders must have the perceptiveness and ability to understand the habits, gestures, and assumptions of employees across the world. Harnessing the true potential of global diversity requires cultural intelligence, sensitivity, and awareness. 

“The key to culture, and honestly the biggest challenge that exists today, is really defining what you mean by culture, and is your definition reflecting what people are experiencing right now.” —  Chuck Mollor, Founder & CEO of MCG Partner

Moller, whose company deals with everything related to leadership effectiveness, leadership alignment, succession,and executive coaching, had many valuable insights and shed some light on how culture and identity impact company growth. He and Merchant discussed some common questions that arise in relation to how inclusive leadership begins with cultural intelligence. Here are the top learnings gathered from their discussion.  

Merchant began the session by asking this question: “From your ample experience, could you talk to the subject of cultural competence when everyone feels connected?”

So culture essentially has to be about what your values are, and your values have to be described by your behaviors.” Moller continued by underlining that “the biggest disconnect right now, today, across the world, is that companies will go to great lengths to describe their values. They’ll create billboards and posters. They’ll put them in cafeterias and conference rooms now that we’re virtual parliament intranets. But the problem is there’s a disconnect, and the disconnect is those values are being lived and there’s no accountability.” 

The next section of the conversation moved onto another important question that Merchant posed: “What role can technology play in enhancing our global teams’ cultural understanding and intelligence, and what are the benefits for companies who begin prioritizing cultural learning now?”

Both Merchant and Moller went back and forth in great detail describing how we are very much in a global world, and how this impacts understanding culture. No matter what your business may be and who your employees and customers are, they definitely have a diverse and cultural background. Merchant expressed that one thing Globalization Partners does is celebrate international holidays together using technology. “We did Diwali with our Indian colleagues last year and it was fantastic. All the costumes and the artwork and the food and we really felt part of this important celebration with them. It brought us closer and it helps build rapport and connection, which helps bridge some of the barriers and gaps that we find in cultural communication.” This is just one example of what role technology can play in enhancing global teams’ cultural understanding and intelligence. 

Merchant then segwayed the conversation into a follow-up question to Moller saying, “From your perspective, how can both people and leaders identify gaps in cultural understanding, and then what can they do on both a strategic and tactical level to bridge those gaps within their teams?”

“I think a lot of it comes down to what are the roles of these teams? What are their objectives? How do they fit the overall either function or department or business?” Moller also pointed out that, “So much of it is about retaining people in our cultures and their organizations and their backgrounds, and establishing relationships and trust. It’s also about getting real alignment and clarity on how we’re going to work together.”

Merchant elaborated by sharing his experience living in different cultures.He explained how there are specific cultural norms and how learning and understanding those cues is important. This relates to leaders they need to educate their teams to heighten awareness and understanding of cultural differences.  Both Merchant and Moller talked about how crucial it is for leaders to be proactive in bringing their teams together, breaking down barriers, building trust and relationships, as well as being able to work together to remove anything that could be seen as a roadblock. 

Before the end of the session, Moller shared some strategies about how to measure our own cultural intelligence as companies and people.  Moller said, “Measurement is an interesting concept. In terms of how you want to truly measure that. I think there’s a lot of things you can do.” From a measurement standpoint, he expressed that knowing what should be done differently is essential, which can be achieved by asking employees for help. “ You can actually design a cultural survey to make sure that people truly understand what’s important.”

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