“It is those that adjust and adapt that thrive and survive.” – anonymous

I’m sure you’ve heard this line many times in many different contexts. It was true for species that survived massive ecological changes over the eons as it was true for companies that survived the advent of the internet.

The current shift is globalization. It’s not just about companies that go into many markets, but even in our day to day life, we find ourselves with colleagues and neighbors who look, act and think differently than us.

When I throw a last-minute party here in San Francisco, my group of friends looks like the United Nations, and this is the direction the world is going.

So why does global leadership matter? Let’s dive in.


Cultural diversity is often no longer a choice.

There is an increase in migration, both due to economic reasons and also as a lifestyle choice. Some leave war-torn countries while others seek to better monetize their skills.

When a tech company in the San Francisco Bay Area wants to build a top-notch team, they cannot be selective along cultural or ethnic lines or their team will either be very small or not very skilled.

Cultural differences have always been around except they were less noticeable. There can be significant cultural gaps within a group of people who share the same national culture: generational, gender, faith-based or regional, among other differences.

We all hear of – or have personally experienced – situations where cultural differences and miscommunication created big problems. What few people realize is that this can be avoided and it’s not rocket science.


Cultural diversity can be a liability or an asset; the choice is yours

When cultural diversity is the problem, we know what it looks like: different communication and working styles lead to a lot of frustration, resentment and missed deadline.

Luckily it doesn’t have to be like this.

If a culturally diverse team is led the right way, it not only performs well but it consistently outperforms homogeneous team according to research by David Livermore.

So if we don’t have a choice when it comes to the cards we are dealt, we do have a choice about how we play with them.


The ability to work effectively across cultures can be learned

The ability to lead a culturally diverse team effectively is called Cultural Intelligence or CQ. It’s a form of intelligence, just like IQ and EQ and it becomes critical when there is more than one culture at play.

Your CQ does not depend on where you’ve lived, worked or how many countries you’ve visited. (All those frequent travelers watch out, don’t be too quick to assume that having visited 50 countries means you have a high CQ)

Fortunately, anyone can improve it. It’s not always easy but then again, anything that’s worth having will require some effort.


It’s an Ability that’s useful for everyone

A high Cultural Intelligence or CQ is not only useful for the top leaders of organizations. Cross-cultural interactions can happen anytime anywhere. As a junior member of a team, developing your cultural intelligence can help you get ahead in your career as well, or you can increase the impact of your volunteering or non-profit by better relating to those you are trying to help and understanding what they really need. And not what you think they need.

I use these skills on my travels, connecting with locals to experience the real day-to-day culture of a country. It helps me create the kind of experiences I couldn’t pay for.


What does a Global Leader look like

It’s foremost someone who knows patience and humility.

It’s not someone who doesn’t make mistakes or who’s always right. After all, how else would you learn?

It’s someone who can intuitively appreciate the differences and similarities between cultures and adapt his or her behavior accordingly. It’s someone who sees differences as an opportunity to learn and not something to fear.

It’s someone who can successfully navigate the complexities of today’s world and consistently achieve his or her goals, even if some course corrections are sometimes necessary along the way.


Looking Ahead

When we look back at historical changes, a few success stories always stand out. We often think how lucky they are, but we ignore the path that led them there

It’s rarely only luck.

These successful few saw a trend and worked hard to prepare for the coming changes instead of sitting on their laurels. And it paid off.

Now you have the opportunity to see the changes coming and get tips on how to best handle it.

One winning strategy is developing your cultural intelligence or CQ. It’s an ability that anyone can pick up and it’s transferable to a variety of situations.

You can start now by checking out our free Leadership Development Webinar Series. It’s a collection of training led by experts in their field with the goal of making you a better leader so you are better prepared for tomorrow’s increasingly borderless world. We continue to  add new modules each month. Check it out today

How do you see the relevance of these global leadership skills in your life? Let us know in the comments below.