What helps Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Renault, Nissan, and the Renault-Nissan alliance, successfully lead operations in countries that are culturally and geographically poles apart? Among other strengths, it’s an ability to enjoy living in new places. He states, “It is much easier if somehow you connected with the country… and you are curious about the culture.”

That curiosity is a much treasured skill in today’s organizations, which pride themselves about being diverse, global, and inclusive. An essential for thriving in such a workplace: be sensitive to how your words, attitudes, and actions, can impact people from different cultures differently. In other words, build cultural intelligence or CQ, cultural quotient.

Why is CQ important? Organizations acknowledge that it helps in opening new markets, creating new opportunities, and helps brands expand as they serve the demographic shift. Professionals with higher CQs are regarded as more capable of successfully blending into any environment, using effective business practices, than those with a lower CQ. Research even suggests that 70% of international ventures fail because of cultural differences!

No surprises then, that 90% of leading executives from 68 countries named cross-cultural leadership as the top management challenge of the next century. Coca Cola, in fact, aims to hone this skill in its high potential employees and strengthen their leadership potential as part of the Catalyst program.

Apart from formal training, what can help you sharpen your CQ? In his book, Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success, Dr. David Livermore suggests working on four points:

  • Drive. Be motivated to take on an assignment that might require cultural knowledge, and learn about a new culture. Develop an interest, confidence, and willingness to adapt to cross-cultural situations.
  • Knowledge. Ask ‘What cultural information is needed to fulfill this task?’ and gather it. For example, before meeting a new client from an unfamiliar culture, research about appropriate greeting manners, values, and beliefs that the client follows.
  • Strategy. Factor culture into long-term plans for an international initiative. You’ll be better prepared to face challenges.
  • Action. Once you research and learn about a new culture, behave, speak, and communicate, in a culturally sensitive manner to effectively complete a cross-cultural task.

Don’t stop if there are obstacles on the way. As Professors Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski suggest, merely trying to gain a deeper understanding of cultures and applying it is not enough. One needs to stay motivated and confident about the process, overcome obstacles and setbacks, and believe in one’s efficacy while adapting to a new culture.

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