Tag Archives: Cultural Leadership

Cultural Intelligence – Knowledge

Following from the Drive component of CQ I would like to reflect on the Knowledge (Cognitive) component.  CQ knowledge refers to your understanding of cultural similarities and differences; it includes knowledge of the values, norms and practices in different cultures settings.  This knowledge can be acquired through educational and personal experiences; and encompasses the economic, political, legal institutions and social customs to name just a few.



Why do we need CQ Knowledge?

  • To allow us to have greater appreciation of the systems that shape and cause specific patterns of social behaviours and interaction within a culture
  • Improve interpersonal interactions with people from culturally diverse backgrounds, i.e. communication, relationships and trust
  • Improve your leadership and management skills to ensure that they reflect the cultural setting that you are working, leading and managing in and across
  • To navigate effectively through ambiguity and conflict in culturally diverse settings
  • To have the awareness and skills to instantaneously adjust your behaviours while interacting with people from unfamiliar cultures.

While you cannot be an expert on every culture, you can understand the core cultural differences and their impact on everyday business.  CQ knowledge is not fixed, rather it is a mental habit that can be altered and expanded.  I often find that one of the best methods of seeking new knowledge is from gaining a basic understanding of key past events and basic country history.  This can provide a deeper insight into the general values, behaviours and attitudes that are displayed by individual mindsets and the wider community.

Strategies for Improving CQ Knowledge:

  • Choose a culture that interests you.  Read a novel, magazine or local newspaper from an overseas site; or an author native to that country
  • Listen to overseas radio programs
  • Visit culturally significant places to learn more about them i.e. a mosque, synagogue or sporting venue
  • Visit art galleries or museums that display stories and artworks from other countries. These help you to gain a deeper understanding of why and how they were created and their cultural significance
  • Continuously observe body language, facial expressions, gestures when you are interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, people love to talk about their culture.  This can also be a great way to build relationships.


  • Consider some of your cultural assumptions and expectations
  • How do they impact your views and experiences when you are either traveling or interacting with people of other cultures?
  • How do you gain your CQ knowledge?
  • What are your preferred mediums to attain CQ knowledge? For example is it through reading, travelling, convsersations etc?

You may like to listen to my ‘CQ Knowledge’ Podcast in ‘CQ for Global Leaders’ by clicking here.

Cultural Intelligence – Drive

I would like to delve further into the four components of  Cultural Intelligence (CQ) over the next few blog posts.  This post will focus on Drive.

Drive is one of the key components to CQ.  It is your interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation. It consists of intrinsic and extrinsic interests and the drive to learn and understand different cultures, their norms and behaviours.

The intrinsic and extrinsic motivators are culturally determined.  Extrinsic rewards are usually financial, such as salaries, bonuses and benefits.  Intrinsic rewards are psychological rewards that individuals reap from engaging in meaningful work with a healthy balance of choice, competency, challenge and success.


As an individual you need to establish and maintain your own CQ drive and as a leader you also need to instill and support the motivation of your employees.  Remember that your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators may be vastly different to those of your peers and employees so it is important to have a range of strategies in place.

Strategies for Improving CQ Drive for self:

  • Take some unconscious bias tests, seek feedback
  • Be prepared to make mistakes, learn from them and then move on
  • Identify your passions, what they are and why do you care about them?
  • Reflect on what guides and influences your behaviours and attitudes toward culturally diverse groups
  • Welcome opportunities to mentor others as a ‘cultural broker.’

Strategies for Improving CQ Drive for others:

  • Understand your own motivations, it will assist you when you are influencing and motivating others
  • Provide an exciting and clear vision of what can be accomplished i.e. share success stories and celebrate milestones
  • Ensure that the relevance between task and purpose is transparent.  Help people to make clear connections between the vision and the work
  • Reinforce confidence in the self-management of individuals.  Intrinsic motivation improves when people feel trusted and their expertise and skills are recognised and appreciated
  • Share customer feedback and interactions with individuals and the wider team.  Not only does this promote purpose and goals, it also reinforces the successes and highlights areas for improvement.


  • Take a moment to consider what you find most challenging when you are in culturally diverse settings
  • Consider some of your CQ drivers and those that you have observed in others
  • How do you think improving your CQ drive could assist both yours and your teams overall level of CQ?
You may like to listen to my ‘CQ Drive’ Podcast in ‘CQ for Global Leaders‘ by clicking here.

People and Projects Interview


People and projects

People and Projects Podcast with Andy Kaufman

Recently Tom was interviewed by Andy Kaufman to discuss the importance of cultural intelligence.  Tom and Andy discuss various scenarios from project managing global virtual teams in the U.S. and Germany to planning a visit to China and strategies for facilitating successful virtual meetings.

Click here to Listen

Cultural Chameleons


We all know people who are what I term ‘cultural chameleons’, they adjust to pretty much any new cultural environment quickly and with ease. Whether they’re traveling in a work or leisure capacity, or even if they’re in their home environment mixing with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, they know how to communicate at a level that is appropriate to their cultural situation. They possess a genuine interest in learning the cultural nuances and protocols and it all seems to be achieved with a degree of effortlessness.

Where does the CQ drive come from?

Why do some of have it and others find it arduous?

I recently did some work with the CEO of a global corporation. His organisation runs operations in 14 countries located in Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. One of his challenges was distinguishing between what are the necessary and unnecessary cultural skills that he needs to apply in order to successfully do his job. The intensity and demands of someone in his position meant that he needed to achieve this balance almost intuitively.

He shared with me the crucial moment when he realised that he needed to improve his cultural intelligence. He was at a train station in Bangkok during what was his first visit to Thailand. As he was rushing to catch a train at peak hour he was shocked and confused to see all movement at the station cease the moment music began to play over the loud speaker. Although he had no comprehension of why this was happening, his reaction was to also stop as he observed his fellow commuters stopping in their tracks. Once the music was finished activity at the station instantly resumed to its previous chaotic level. After observing this situation it instantly became apparent how little he understood the Thai people and their culture, and this event triggered a desire in him to increase his knowledge. He realised that if he wanted to get things done in this country he needed to understand the Thai psyche. He correctly surmised the music was the national anthem but at that point he had no idea of the level of respect that the typical Thai has for his country and king.

Cultural intelligence can be learned. For some people it will be moments like these that trigger the drive to improve cultural knowledge and understanding. A key driver can be purely appreciating that if we want to get things done in the most effective and efficient manner an appropriate level of cultural intelligence is essential. For people who are time poor one of the fastest ways of achieving this is via Cultural Coaching and Mentoring.

Cultural Intelligence – Sharing Stories

It is useful to take a moment to reflect on the CQ success stories and consider what the key principle and techniques were that led to some positive outcomes; and to consider those not so successful outcomes and learn from them. Rather than always reinventing the wheel we would do well to examine how other industries, organisations and governments succeed and fail in their CQ endeavours, strategies and practices.

The Kraft Experience – You may have heard of the Kraft blank cheque principle. It is just that – a blank cheque that is signed by company leaders and distributed to teams in a bid to make them feel more invested, responsible and empowered to make decisions in the pursuit of increased revenues. The concept is that when workers are free from budgetary constraints there is greater creativity and innovation. To qualify for a blank cheque teams must create a business model that demonstrates realistic and viable potential.

The blank cheque principle has had more successes than failures and has supported opportunities to do things differently in other parts of the world. One example is Cadbury India. In 2010, Cadbury India had its best year ever, with almost 28% revenue growth — doubling original growth targets and exceeding the $500 million blank check target. The momentum continued in 2011 with more than 30% growth.

Oreo in China, Tang in Brazil and the Dairy Milk Chocolate Bar in India are further success stories owing to the blank cheque principle. In terms of the Oreo in China it led to further investment in local talent that enabled Kraft to become closer to Chinese consumers. Sales of the diary milk chocolate bar in India exceeded expectations by teams employing alternative methods of displaying, marketing and distributing the chocolate bar. Tang in Brazil followed suite by employing Kraft’s global technology resources to develop flavours that are more in touch with local preferences and tastes such as tamarind and horchata in Mexico, mango in the Philippines, passionfruit and soursop in Brazil.

The Honda Experience – Honda has demonstrated flexibility and innovation as they have entered new emerging markets. Senior management toured some local villages in India to observe and understand the environment and local market needs and demands. Some of the observations and changes that were incorporated into the design of motorbikes for the Indian market were:

  • Designing sturdier motorbikes suited to Indian terrain rather than lightweight bikes that have greater appeal to the Japanese market
  • Designing stronger bikes that supported heavier loads
  • Longer seats that accommodate for 3-4 people
  • Improved headlights
  • Incorporating new colour schemes that riders were observed wearing
  • Dedicated a place for riders to write their names on visors (which were observed as a preference)

The Starbucks Experience – CEO Howard Schulz made a visit to India in 2011. From this visit came a variety of localised initiatives:

  • Sale of distinctly Indian Chai Tea Latte
  • Store designs that incorporate local themes
  • Food and coffee offerings in line with local preferences
  • Following research that identified a more leisurely café culture in India than in the West (where it tends to be more on-the-go) Starbucks stores offer larger stores for sitting in
  • Increased their tea offerings to satisfy the greater demand for tea rather than coffee

The Lenovo Experience – When Lenovo a Chinese computer company acquired the personal computer division of IBM in the U.S. only one member of the team spoke English. Even when the Chinese executive team began learning English it was quickly recognised that the cross border challenges were greater and deeper than anticipated. Different management, communication and decision- making styles were just some of the obstacles the Western and Chinese managers identified.

Some of the initiatives that have and continue to evolve are:

  • Lenovo has developed its decision-making processes, combining the best of the Chinese long-term focus on strategy with the West’s focus on meeting quarterly targets
  • A new generational attitude toward the traditional top-down management style
  •  Key managers undergo intensive training in business skills
  • Development of procedures to share and leverage the failures, experiences and successes of cultural practice differences in areas such as design, technology and marketing preferences, local preferences for smartphones as opposed to tablets, etc
  • Executives meet yearly with managers of acquired companies to explain and reinforce the global strategies and how where they fit into the strategies
  • Focus has been on breaking down silos and building a consistent global methodology.
  • Strategies such as cutting back on KPI’s and bringing key-decision makers together to reach solutions that draw on the cultural and organisational diversity that exists within Lenovo.

There is a lot of value in documenting, exploring and sharing where successes have been made and lost in terms of going forward. Too often I see global organisations making the same mistakes within their organisations because there is no cross fertilization of information across departments, regions and countries.

If you have any CQ success and/or failure stories please click here and share them with us.

The Art of Mindful Leadership

mindfulnessA couple of workshops and a few great articles lately have reinforced the art of mindfulness and its role in changing mind-sets.

Mindfulness makes us less judgemental, more creative, more engaged and open, more productive and allows us to be ‘in the moment’. Mindfulness sets us in good stead for creating an awareness of our mind-sets. The ability to recognise, adapt and flex our mindsets when we are communicating with people across cultures is critical. They affect our behaviours and directly influence the perceptions and credibility that others place on us. An awareness that the other person might be not be receiving our messages and behaviours as per our intentions, can be a great trigger to stop and remember that our reality is just that – our reality. My friend Doreen Teo in Singapore is fond of saying “my intention is my reality, my behaviour is your reality.”

Adjusting mindsets begins with a consciousness of how mindless we can often be. We tend to operate in the same mode that we have always operated in, which is to notice what is visible: By this, I mean actions, results and behaviours, rather than the values, beliefs and attitudes that produce these. Barsh and Lavoie in their article ‘Lead at your best’ point out that by the admission of many leaders, there are often difficulties recognising, accepting and appreciating other viewpoints, and that the consequence is limited potential.

Some great ‘takeaways’ from Barsh and Lavoie are:

  • Practice pausing. Pause and reflect on what you believe is occurring, how you are experiencing the moment and how you feel. Listen for things that aren’t being said. The pause offers a moment for reflection and to make adjustments.
  • A healthy level of trust is critical in any business relationship. Understanding that firstly there are different perceptions of trust therefore it is important to learn what others value and to remember that it is behaviours that instil trust, not just intentions. A mindset of trust feeds a culture of collaboration, inspiration and engagement.
  • Choose your questions wisely. Move from a problem-focused conversation that usually attracts a defensive reaction, to a solution based conversation where people feel more empowered and engaged. If you look for a problem you will find one, just as if you look for a solution people will offer one. Adapt the style of questions depending on who and where you are working. For example when working with people from high context cultures taking a direct and personal blame focus perspective will at best be ineffective. Even in low context cultures this often leads to defensive reactions where people feel targeted, criticised and as a result disengage. By framing questions differently from – “who is to blame?” And “why haven’t you fixed the problem yet?” To, “what would you like to see happen?” And “do you recall a time when the solution was present – at least in part?” These are great strategies for shifting to a solution-based mindset.
  • When problems arise ask people in a group to describe something that they believe is happening ‘under the waterline’ that is potentially causing difficulties. This can be done before meetings or teleconference calls. It offers opportunities to be heard and to hear other perspectives, especially important when working virtually across cultures.

I think that it takes great personal strength to change mind-sets because it requires a certain level of self-effacement, an acknowledgment that we don’t always have ‘it right’ and that we all have blind spots and shortcomings.


Connectivity and Cultural Intelligence

connectingA recent IBM study ‘Leading Through Connections’ identified that the conventional way of working isn’t enough to compete in todays globally competitive environment; and that we need to respond to this new connected era. Organisations need to be more connected with their partners, customers and employees. In addition to this, I posit that culture, time zones and distance further add to the complexities of achieving greater connectivity.

“To innovate, we need to take in insights accumulated across various industries and knowledge generated by many different people.” Kenichiro Yamanishi, President and CEO, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation

“To increase innovation, we will need to transform our organizational culture to be more open and dynamic.”  Jing Xirui, CEO, Beijing-Fanuc Mechatronics

“Fundamentally, the only competitive advantage one has is client knowledge.”  Thomas Kalaris, CEO, Barclays, Wealth and Investment Management.

“You can copy products, but you cannot copy customer relationships!”  Hartmut Jenner, CEO, Alfred Karcher

These are some of the comments that CEO’s contributed to this study. While it is reassuring to hear that these CEO’s recognize and acknowledge that they need to establish relationships with their customers, understand what their markets truly want, create open cultures within their organisations and leverage on the skills and knowledge of all employees, cultural training is an essential ingredient to achieving these objectives across multiple geographic locations. The cultural complexities and challenges that can impede the success of these objectives are often subtle and command leaders and their organisations to realize that overall values, appropriate levels of openness, the importance and processes of establishing relationships, what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior etc are not universal. They are cultural specific and as such require learning and unlearning.

The leaders in this study strive for improved connectivity to provide improved innovation, collaboration, openness, communication, flexibility, engagement, talent development and creativity. Yet organisations can only achieve this to their full potential with a keen sense cultural intelligence. A key challenge that organisations face is identifying their current level of cultural competency which include the cultural knowledge, skills, motivators and strategies required to work effectively across cultures.

As we know culture by its very nature is subjective and laden with different perceptions, meanings and interpretations. Managing, leading and selling across cultures demands adjustment, alignment and fine-tuning of strategies to fit the distinct, unique characteristics that are appropriate to each culture and market.