Monday, October 4, 2010

What is intercultural leadership and why should I care about it?

In this article I explore the concept of intercultural leadership at a basic level and invite you to consider what it means to you and your success in living in an interconnected world.

I will be talking about intercultural leadership and my vision for the development of intercultural learning hubs across Europe in more detail in a free webinar on 10 October 2010 – sign up here.

Navigating the deep sea

What is intercultural leadership?

Intercultural leadership combines the art of developing deep self awareness and emotional intelligence and the science of collaboration. It is an aspect of leadership which is critical to success in working in a globally interconnected world.

Much has been written about intercultural competence and models of cultural styles defined by patterns of behaviour. These are interesting on one level – in terms of identifying patterns of behaviour and cultural ‘norms’ - and can offer insight into factors to consider when working in culturally diverse contexts. I wrote about this in an earlier post with regard to the influence of culture on learning. Invariably, however, the conclusion is that there is no map for navigating a culturally diverse, globally interconnected world.

The essence of intercultural leadership (which is congruent with self-leadership as the key to leading others) requires exploration of the deep sea of human emotion and intuition. It involves the development of:



  • understanding yourself within your culture and in relation to people from diverse cultures


  • developing awareness of others’ views and cultures (in the context of the above) to create habits of mutual understanding and respect


  • exploring histories - the impact of historical events and mythology on the present and future


  • being aware of change in mental models and world views and the implications of this for interconnectedness.


Following the stars (that ancient navigation system)

Why should we care about developing our intercultural leadership skills?

Navigating the volatile seas of our new world, the maelstrom of unprecedented geopolitical, economic and ecological demise, requires a new approach to leadership. The new way acknowledges the need for collaboration and mutual appreciation and is based on revival of an ancient system of navigating the world: developing and nurturing intuition or emotional intelligence, imagination, curiosity and co-operation. All of these are fundamental to developing intercultural leadership awareness. In short, building effective co-operation, be it at an international, national, community or other micro-level, requires insight into the commonalities of humanity and and sensitivity to differences.

Apart from being intriguing, developing intercultural understanding fuels passion for change. It enables us to explore our interconnectedness and helps us to appreciate that our similarities and differences create our histories, who we are now and ultimately our futures. Understanding our connected histories and futures is a step towards growing ourselves and ultimately those we lead and connect with.

Riding the waves of an interconnected world

How can developing my intercultural cultural learning and leadership skills help me? How can it influence success in navigating an interconnected world

Intercultural learning and leadership development can help you to:



  • connect more effectively with a wider group of people by building on commonalities and shared interests and concerns, while being sensitive to different perspectives and complex histories


  • build and develop networks of mutually beneficial relationships for transformation and innovation that leverage diverse insights and tacit knowledge towards creating solutions to the social, economic and ecological challenges we face


  • create a more harmonious working and personal environment in which creativity thrives and innovation abounds


  • and, ultimately, contribute to positive global transformation.


Rowing towards the shore

So, what can be done to create a tipping point for intercultural leadership development?

I believe that bringing together the arts (creative expression in all is forms), science (the pursuit of truth in the world and beyond), education (leadership from ministerial to school level) and business (leaders, thinkers and business schools) will be an important way of achieving this. At the confluence of these pervasive aspects of our lives there is unprecedented potential for generative learning that enables us to develop intercultural insight, awareness and competence. This is more than appreciating other cultures and points of view. It's about creating spaces where learning takes place and connections are forged. From these hubs grow communities that work together to support each other. These spaces enable intergenerational and interdisciplinary learning. The content of these spaces - the programmes, resources, events and ideas shared - trigger collaboration.

Transformation occurs where the pools of intercultural learning intersect:

Mutual appreciation of commonalities and differences in cultures
Mutual understanding of the factors that influence cultural diversity
Collaboration - sharing and working together to develop knowledge and resources, drawing upon diverse views and experiences
Learning - assimiliating all of the above and applying it to work-life scenarios to bring about change
Transformation - at the confluence of these four pools: new solutions to challenges and problems, new products and services, more harmonious relations.

I will be talking about intercultural leadership and my vision for the development of intercultural learning hubs across Europe in more detail in a free webinar on 10 October 2010 – sign up here.

Comments on this subject are invited below.

How can I develop my intercultural leadership skills?

In my next post on this subject I will give you some simple ideas of things you can do to develop your intercultural leadership.

Sara Knowles - Connect Create
30 September 2010


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