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Cultural competence & culturally competent leadership training

Developing Culturally Competent Leaders - core leadership program elements

The UGM program for developing culturally competent leaders targets specific cultural competence components in four clusters - personal qualities and attributes, knowledge and ideas, communication and relationships. Value of the cultural competence development program is enhanced by first conducting a needs analysis and then customising content to address specific issues, most revelant to the context and also the individuals who will participate.

  1. Personal qualities and attributes for cultural competence
    Leadership effectiveness in culturally complex settings demands a range of personal qualities linked to emotional strength, sense of direction and adaptability. Leaders need to have the motivation to seek out variety and change, while having a strong internal sense of who they are and what they believe in. Emotionally, they need to have well developed ways of dealing with stress, as well as the ability to remain positive when things go wrong. They need to be able to accept and cope with behaviours that may go against their sense of what is normal and appropriate. Leaders also need to be conscious that their own behaviour, while normal for them, may be considered strange or confusing by others. So, leaders need to be willing to adapt their behaviour to suit other cultural contexts, and sustain trust with colleagues and key stakeholders.

  2. Knowledge and ideas for cultural competence
    When working across cultures, there are special leadership challenges in drawing the right conclusions about the behaviours, ideas and perspectives that may be encountered. Everyone tends to see the world through their own cultural filters. When leaders work with counterparts from other cultures, they can quickly misevaluate what they see, allowing negative stereotypes of others' behaviour to replace positive, flexible thinking. Knowledge of how value systems can vary across cultures can function as the key that opens the door to insight, understanding and accurate interpretation of others' behaviour. This knowledge greatly assists in challenging personal assumptions about those brought up in different societies from one's own. This prevents jumping to quick opinions about the behaviours that are encountered. Surfacing different perspectives on an issue promotes problem solving and creativity - important components of a leader's job.

  3. Communication and cultural competence
    A core resource leaders bring to a complex project with international counterparts is the quality of their communication skills. Drawing on new knowledge and insight, leaders may have come to some useful initial conclusions about how others operate but they then need to build on this through effective communication strategies so that they can establish shared meaning. These strategies include:
    • the ability to adapt their language to suit varying levels of proficiency in English as an international language;
    • active and attentive listening;
    • observing indirect signals and interpreting them in context;
    • building shared knowledge; and stylistic flexibility and influencing skills.
    Essentially all this concerns a repertoire of communication skills that focus on the clarification of meaning and the repair of misunderstanding. Such skills are transferrable across settings and will serve an executive well in their career advancement. In addition, senior managers need a sound understanding of relevant protocols, preferences and business practices appropriate for a range of functions, including dinners and banquets.

  4. Relationships and cultural competence
    When working internationally, trust can often be fragile and differences in cultural assumptions can be a source of division. Research shows that a lack of cohesion and trust between people can be a factor leading to poor relations. An explicit focus on the 'glue' of rapport and trust becomes a must-have for leaders, not a nice-to-have. Trust and rapport require more conscious effort to establish and maintain in the midst of cultural differences. Trust cues are known to vary across cultures and the various components of trust can be ranked differently by different cultures.

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