The American President John F Kennedy (JFK) was said to be a brilliant leader. According to estimates he had an IQ of 158 so he was it seems literally brilliant. 30 years later Bill Clinton, also in possession of a high IQ was renowned for his ability to project sincere and engaging charm thanks to high EQ or ‘Emotional Intelligence’. But what about the third ‘Q’ factor? In the here and now this is the intelligence asset that is just as important as IQ and EQ. CQ or Cultural Intelligence is a must have for modern leaders, and here’s why.

The Truth About Cultural Intelligence

There was a time when having a high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was one of the key components of leadership. The ‘ability to analyse facts and information quickly and intelligently was later complimented by the need for emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ enabled leaders to understand the people who followed them and engage with them in a credible and authentic fashion.

Then came the skill set that may define today’s successful leaders and it even has a stylish little acronym all of its own. CQ, ‘Cultural Quotient’ or as it is commonly known ‘Cultural Intelligence’ offers the advantage that leaders need in a world where people increasingly work across borders, both physical and culturally.

It is the ability not just to understand others, but to understand others who do not meet your cultural norms, and then act on that knowledge in a mutually beneficial way.

‘Cultural Intelligence’ is the ability not just to understand others, but to understand others who do not meet your cultural norms, and then act on that knowledge in a mutually beneficial way.

Cultural Intelligence has attracted worldwide research and study since its introduction by two researchers, Christopher Earley and Soon Ang in their 2003 book Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures. It became more recognized after a review in the October 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review.

50 years ago, the words ‘Cultural Intelligence’ were as mystifying as the idea of Television would have been to William Shakespeare. In simple terms; Cultural Intelligence is the capability to relate and work effectively across cultures.

It’s a skill that could be the key to enabling leaders to do more than merely avoid conflict and misunderstanding, but become more successful despite cultural differences.

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If all this sounds familiar, then the chances are that you have encountered someone in possession of this valuable intelligence asset. But do you have it?

Do You Have Cultural Intelligence?

To assess yourself for Cultural Intelligence try asking yourself the following questions;

  • Do you care about operating in culturally diverse settings? This is the simplest test of all and leads to a follow-on question; do you feel confident in these settings?

This reveals your level of interest in, and confidence at, functioning effectively in culturally diverse settings. Without eagerness to take on the challenges of multicultural work your chance of cultural faux-pas is high.

  • Are you aware of how cultures are similar and different?

You don’t need to be an expert on every culture. You just need to understand intercultural norms and differences and their effects on everyday business.

  • Can you prepare and plan your strategy accordingly?

If you know that you have a meeting with a client from the Middle East, have you done your homework on the different expectations that may exist or the importance of trusted relationships in business? Interest and knowledge are the foundations on which leaders must build a behavioural strategy.

  • Can you deliver?

Your strategy might be sound, but can you put it into practice in a ‘live’ environment like a high-pressure meeting, or seemingly relaxed but highly scrutinised business social?

This test is all about your ability to smoothly adapt your behaviour to different cultures. It requires you to have a flexible repertoire of responses to respond to various situations while still remaining true to yourself.

Leading with CQ

90 percent of business leaders from almost 70 countries named Culturally Intelligent leadership as the leading priority for the rest of the century.

CQ enabled leaders may not grab the headlines as much as those without it, but 90 percent of business leaders from almost 70 countries named Culturally Intelligent leadership as the leading priority for the rest of the century.

Why? Because organisations are increasingly operating across borders of all kinds and encountering people from diverse backgrounds.

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Leaders with high Cultural Intelligence are consistently more effective personally and professionally. This is perhaps because they possess a fundamental awareness. It helps them to tell whether a person’s behaviour can be explained by a cultural value, or simply by a personal idiosyncrasy.

Imagine how useful this skill would be in your next meeting in the Middle East. Whether you are leading cross-border business negotiations, discussing and understanding new markets, finding a way to make your business processes work locally, or finding a culturally appropriate way to advertise your product without alienating or possibly offending the entire local market.

Without CQ, you might not even be able to say “Hello” without insulting your host and destroying your usually solid first impression. And all for the sake of two simple letters.