Cultural Intelligence: a primer

Originally published on NewCampus

We are obsessed with how leadership mindsets and skillsets are evolving in hyper-growth companies in Asia. These are fast-growing companies employing a cross-cultural workforce that create disruptive technologies.

We believe that future leaders understand the power of culture as a constantly shifting force and that rapid regional expansion requires self-awareness and adaptability.

Developing cultural intelligence is not something that is done once and forgotten, but a deeply private change that unfolds human potential and possibilities in their immediate team, the entire organisation, and even the larger ecosystem.

But why is cultural intelligence so difficult to pin down?

What Is Cultural Intelligence?

Let’s first start with what we mean by Cultural Intelligence.

The first form of cognitive intelligence testing was developed in the early 1900s, and the term “emotional intelligence” was coined in 1990. In the years since, the world has grown even more interconnected and complex, requiring a new type of intelligence.

Cultural Intelligence is the ability to recognise and adapt to cultural differences in manners, meanings, processes, histories, and values.

  • This could refer to geographical differences, such as between countries or groups of people with different lived experiences.
  • This could also refer to distinctive company cultures. Just recall your last experience joining a new company and deciphering the expectations, behaviours, and values of your new colleagues.
  • This can also refer to introspectively recognising one’s own cultural beliefs, biases and assumptions.

Ever-shifting, ever-growing

Anyone who’s travelled to somewhere new would recognise the feeling of experiencing a new culture — new sights and sounds, smells, and language. But being able to describe the experience with exact detail to someone new is challenging.

Culture is an amorphous thing. It’s created in between seemingly inconsequential day-to-day actions, and large overarching principles.

When someone possesses a strong cultural intelligence, they are able to recognise these nuances, allowing them to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse teams and situations.

A set of skills for cultural intelligence

We found through conversations with industry experts across Southeast Asia that are three defining skills of leaders with cultural intelligence:

  1. Relational skills. Such individuals have the ability to confidently converse with people from vastly different backgrounds and make others feel comfortable in their interactions.
  2. Empathy. Culturally intelligent leaders are curious to learn from their team, mindful of how they communicate, and check their assumptions when they settle conflict.
  3. Comfort with ambiguity. Leaders with cultural intelligence embrace uncertainty and create the space for their team to investigate their growth and support needs.

Our approach

The myth is that cultural intelligence can only be gained through exposure and experience. But we believe that one doesn’t need to be a globe-trotter to have strong cultural intelligence.

Leveraging on our virtual cohort-based learning experiences, these are the key ways in which we infuse cultural intelligence into our curriculum.

  1. Words of wisdom: We asked leaders who have led diverse teams to share their experiences, and worked with them directly to turn their thought processes into frameworks and toolkits that we share in our workshops.
  2. Peeling the layers: We’re not afraid to admit that there can be multiple right answers to one case study, or that looking at the same problem through a different lens can yield new insights.
  3. Connection is key: We create deliberate spaces for small-group interaction and conversation in our workshops, and we believe that our learners have as much to learn from each other as they do with our coaches.

If you want to put this insight into action, check out the NewCampus Management Essentials Sprint, a -week online sprint aimed at helping you develop essential modern-day management skills alongside a group of diverse peers.

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Learning Experience Designer 🍡 I mess around with learning, ceramics and art 🌞 Previously a K-12 teacher & civil servant. Still not very civil

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Megan Miao

Megan Miao

Learning Experience Designer 🍡 I mess around with learning, ceramics and art 🌞 Previously a K-12 teacher & civil servant. Still not very civil

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