The following list of leadership tips will be added to on a continuous basis. I hope you find them thought-provoking, inspiring, and helpful.
1. Cultural Similarities and Differences
Avoid highlighting cultural similarities at the expense of differences. Give cultural differences the equal attention and respect they deserve.
2. Social and Cultural Context
Learn about and reflect on the social and cultural context in which you work and the related dynamics, for example, perceptions and ideas about status, leadership, power, and hierarchy, etc.
Be aware that your interpretations and understanding about these social constructs are likely to be different from the culturally different employees and team members you lead and the customers you serve.
3. Capability with Cultural Difference
Be aware that you may not have the same capability as your employees or team members when engaging with cultural differences. It can be especially challenging for employees to work in an environment where they are more capable in this area than their leaders.
4. Cultural Self-Awareness
Improving cultural self-awareness is key to building and improving your leadership capability with Cultural Difference.
Improving cultural self-awareness enhances your ability to understand, accept, and adapt to cultural differences rather than deny, polarize or minimize them.
Without understanding, accepting, and adapting to cultural differences, leaders will struggle with building inclusion and equity.
5. A quote from the poet, Maya Angelou:
The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself
so that you can be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.
Somebody who may not look like you.
May not call God the same name you call God – if they call God at all.
I may not dance your dances or speak your language.
But be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think.
6. Gain Exposure to Different Speech Patterns
In situations of domestic diversity, for example, at the workplace, remember that it is not just the person who sounds different to you, or from you, who has an accent. To the other person, you have an accent, too. After all, communication is a two-way street, and so is the perception of accents.
One type of leadership initiative, then, is to gain exposure to individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds and to become more familiar with their speaking patterns. The more practice you have with listening to them, the more skilled you may become with understanding and appreciating them.
This means that you may also learn to focus on, value, and acknowledge your team members for the ideas and other gifts they contribute, rather than judge, underestimate or discount them for not conforming to the specific speech patterns you endorse.
In an effort to achieve equity, it is important to note that one speech pattern, communication style, or language is not more or less valuable, or more or less prestigious, etc. than another.
7. Think Outside the Box
When engaging with diversity, it’s important for leaders to think outside the box. Question prevailing or long-standing practices that predate demographic changes in your workforce and teams. Avoid the limitation of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. Instead, ask yourself, “what practices do I need to review and adapt to my current situation that will benefit my team?”
8. Check your Habits and Assumptions
Refrain from putting people into rigid cultural categories or boxes that only you are familiar with. Avoid inaccurate and offensive assumptions by, for example, asking open-ended or general questions or by modeling an introduction.
If you have already made an error inadvertently, be humble and apologize. Most importantly, do not argue with the other person, deny, or contradict the cultural information you have been offered, but accept it graciously as if it were a special gift.
9. Invest Time and Practice in Building Intercultural Competence
It takes time and practice and other important factors to improve your capability with Cultural Difference. You cannot do it simply through osmosis, for example, by eating the food of another culture!
10. Avoid Underestimating Talent because of Cultural Difference
Be mindful of negative comments you may have heard about employees who are culturally different from you with regard to their workplace attitude and behaviour and how those comments may influence your decisions.
Trust that diverse employees have the capability to perform well. Trust that they have the potential to develop further. Assign them work that is at, or above their level; not work they are overqualified for.
Avoid expressing doubts, especially in public, about their qualifications, knowledge, experience, or skills and avoid overestimating your expertise in comparison to theirs.
Be curious and open to learning from them.
11. Curiosity and the Fear to Offend
When interacting with individuals at the workplace who hail from a different culture from you, it is quite appropriate to be curious. In these situations, refrain from hiding behind the fear to offend as this will hold you back from learning and growing in intercultural competence.
Avoid using this fear as an excuse for not engaging with someone you perceive has a different culture from you. Perhaps, you may be more afraid of being embarrassed by what you did not know or revealing that ignorance. If you do offend, apologize, but cross that bridge if or when you come to it.
Remember that if you are not curious in the first place, you won’t gain clarity about the kinds of questions or subjects your colleague, boss, employee, or client may or may not be offended by. Moreover, you won’t give yourself the opportunity to learn how to respect those boundaries and find other ways to move forward.
12. The Evolution of Culture
Culture is not static or made of stone. Values are not statues.
Leaders may need to consider this idea when they create their vision and design their strategy for diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Inclusion is not inclusive, for example, if organizations only seek and recruit talent from minority backgrounds that will completely align themselves with and assimilate into the prevailing organizational culture.
This could create an atmosphere of fear if diverse employees feel their career and social advancement may be compromised by any expressions of differentiation from the dominant culture.
It could also create an atmosphere of pretense if they perceive advancement is achieved mainly by imitating the promoters and activities of the dominant culture.
13. Cultural Bias and Different Communication Styles
Listen past your cultural bias against your co-worker’s, employee’s, manager’s or student’s style of communication.
Avoid negative judgements about them/her/him for using different verbal and non-verbal communication patterns that are consistent with their/her/his primary linguistic background and culture.
Be patient, flexible, and creative rather than prescriptive about how they/she/he should communicate with you. You could describe your communication style to them and it is advantageous for you to learn about their style in return. Remember, though, that they have the freedom and right to imitate your style or not, as you have the choice to do the same.
An ideal situation would be one where both of you make the effort, collaboratively, as team members, to learn each other’s style, adapt as you go along, and become more proficient in adapting through frequent practice.
14. Flexibility and the task-oriented approach
When interacting with individuals at the workplace who may have different values, beliefs, and practices from you, consider whether you are a task or relationship-oriented person.
If you are a task-oriented person, you may tend to focus on adherence to rules and regulations more than on the needs of the culturally different employee or co-worker in your organization, or the culturally different customer or client that you serve. Even a task-oriented individual from a different culture may find this approach frustrating and unhelpful, let alone a relationship-oriented one.
Placing a higher priority on enforcing policies and procedures that do not take cultural differences into consideration may prevent you from successfully completing the task at hand. That would be ironic for a task-oriented person.
It may then be in your best interest to focus on being flexible and adapting to the needs of the culturally different individual that you interact with. That would be one way of achieving your goal of reaching a positive and timely outcome.
15. Accept your employee’s culturally different way of understanding and managing conflict
If, for example, you expect the individual to approach you to discuss the disagreement, you may be disappointed. If you decide to initiate a discussion, be aware that they may not be willing to share the reasons for the conflict. They may be embarrassed to admit there was a misunderstanding as it may adversely affect your perception of their job performance or character. Ultimately, the employee may want to preserve a good impression and a good relationship for fear of the possible repercussions (your loss of confidence in the employee, loss of opportunity for them, promotion, job security, etc.)
If your employee’s relationship with power is more hierarchical than egalitarian, then, you, as the team leader, manager, or boss are expected to know what they need and are capable of doing. It is not for them to tell you how to do your job. This includes your knowing what would cause potential conflicts in your situation and what you should do to avoid them.