The last couple of months have been particularly difficult for me!
Actually, the last couple of years have been tough, ever since the death of Trayvon Martin. As a leader, interculturalist, social activist, woman of color, and US citizen I believe we could and should be doing better.
And I don’t know about you, but I am feeling overwhelmed with ALL OF IT!
It’s difficult to balance because I think ALL OF IT is important. So to help me and to help you, I’ve decided to channel my thoughts and feelings into what I do best:
Help you be the best possible leader, NOW!
The racial tensions and conflicts happening right now reinforce how critical it is for leaders to understand and engage difference differently. Strategies that organizations have been using just don’t work.
We need to lead difference differently.
That requires more than a Diversity Policy; it requires leaders to have intercultural competence.
What does that mean?
Intercultural competence is defined as the ability to effectively and appropriately interact with people across difference.
Age, gender, ability, race, cultural background, religion, upbringing, community, nationality, class, etc
Is intercultural competence a silver bullet?
However, it is the greatest tool you can have when it comes to leading difference.
There are very few corners left in the world where an organizational leader leads a group of people who were “just like them”. But even in the most homogeneous communities, differences still exist: personality, family traits, ability, education, community, class, and so on.
So let’s get real. You’ve got to GET IT.
- Differences exist, even though we don’t always know what they are, we experience them.
- Societal and institutional structures favor some differences over others.
- Discrimination and oppression are real, even if you have never experienced it yourself.
- The current approach to diversity within organizations is at best insufficient, and at the least a complete failure.
Because most organizations:
- Develop diversity policies or training in response to conflict, which is just too late.
- Perceive these policies and trainings as mandatory for the majority and only a problem for the minority.
And unfortunately, there are Diversity “experts”:
- Who use bullying and shaming as a “training technique” and a bad training is worse than no training.
- Whose techniques reinforce individual’s bias and stereotypes.
It is time to do something new.
Most of us minimize difference because it is easier to focus on what we have in common than to develop the necessary awareness, attitudes, skills, and knowledge to interact effectively with the complexity of difference.
It is time to face difference differently.
So how can we develop our intercultural competence and our ability to lead individuals, teams, and organizations across difference more effectively?
Here are four steps you can start today!
Step One: Let Go of the Myths
For too long, we have believed:
• Diversity is about the other.
• The more we know about “them” them more diverse we are.
• Hiring someone who is diverse will make our organization diverse.
• Diversity training is enough to meet our diversity goals.
• Opportunities to introduce or exchange culture will bridge the gap.
It is about EVERYONE!
We are all different and must be able to be aware and acknowledge how we are ALL different from one another
Step Two: Set the Intention
Creating diversity within an organization does not happen by accident and cannot be corrected by a “token” effort; it must be an intentional and integral part of your mission, vision, and values.
Step Three: Start with You
As a Founder, CEO, or leader within an organization it is up to you to set the vision and tone. If you are not interculturally competent, it just won’t work.
Start by learning more about your own culture, and how it informs your own values, beliefs, and behaviors. One of my favorite quotes is by cross-cultural researcher Edward Hall:
Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants. Years of study have convinced me that the real job is not to understand foreign culture but to understand our own.
Step Four: Make it a Daily Practice
Learning and developing your intercultural competence comes from experience and practice; it doesn’t just happen on “cultural potluck day” but in our daily interactions with one another.
We must be willing to learn from one another and explore the differences that impact:
- Employee Recruitment & Retention
- Work and leadership styles
- Group dynamics
- Conflict resolution
To exercise and practice your intercultural competence, apply the following when navigating difference:
- Suspend Judgment
- Be curious, ask questions
- Shift your frame of reference
- Take longer before you act, get more information
- Consider other perspectives, and develop multiple interpretations
Start leading difference differently today.
Here are some other postings you might find helpful in your journey to intercultural competence: