A Leader’s Path to Cultural Intelligence

Cultural Intelligence

“I don’t understand these people!”

My German friend and I had just come out from an unsuccessful business meeting in Indonesia years ago, and he was yelling out his frustration in competition with the noisy millions of mopeds passing us on our way to our humid and humble hotel room.

“We have an excellent product, we can all make money – so what is it they want??” he complained in frustration.

It took me another three months in Indonesia to come up with an answer to his question (…but by then, my friend was already back in Berlin.)

The answer was this:

The Indonesian people want to be successful in business just like the Germans, the Americans, or the Chinese. Each of us just travel a different road to get there.

Carving a New Cultural Highway

From a global perspective, the road we all travel on our economic journey is different depending on our national distinction or culture. When we grow and learn on our path and the paths of others, we gain something called Cultural Intelligence.

But truly, here is the best definition:

Cultural Intelligence is the ability to carve a common highway where different cultures can travel together towards the same exit.

The Top Six

According to a report from the two researchers Marcelle E. DuPraw and Marya Axner cultural differences can be cooked down to six fundamental patterns:

They have different:

1. Communication Styles
2. Attitudes Toward Conflict
3. Approaches to Completing Tasks
4. Decision-Making Styles
5. Attitudes Toward Disclosure
6. Approaches to Knowing

Cross-Cultural Negotiations

The two researchers suggest that we should use their list to “ask ourselves how culture may be shaping our own reactions, and try to see the world from others’ points of view.”

This is indeed what gaining cultural intelligence is all about!

For many businesses leaders, cultural awareness and dialogue is considered a “soft” area that can be taken lightly compared to the “hard” areas like market research and marketing strategies adding measurably value to the bottom-line.

But Cultural Intelligence can become an extremely hard issue when business negotiations begin between real people in real time on location. One might think the difficulties only come into play when negotiating with people from another country far away.

Cross-cultural negotiations, however, might very well start in your own living room.

Who Are We

Professor Horacio Falcao from INSEAD says in an interview that it is a huge misconception to see cultural differences based upon nationality only. Things like gender, religion, race, education, rural, urban, age, and many other elements are serious players when we try to understand the cultural background of another human being.

Our worst enemy is assuming that based upon a seemingly common cultural background we know another person well enough to negotiate successfully.

“The first assumption you should have is that every negotiation is a cross-cultural exercise,” the professor says.

Think about that next time your spouse asks you to do a chore in the house.

The Definitions

According to the cultural researcher Geert Hofstede:

“Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one category of people from another.”

There are many other definitions, but one thing is certain: the subject of gaining cultural intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, and intercultural competence has become synonymous with globalization.

Advanced CQ

For the modern business leader to succeed in a competitive 21st Century cross-border environment it requires high levels of CQ – cultural intelligence – and global leadership competence.

The two authors Chen Oi Chin, Ph. D & Lisa P. Gaynier, M. A. warns in their 2006 research paper Global Leadership Competence: A Cultural Intelligence Perspective about being “color blind.”

They say this:

“It is evident that no company can afford to neglect the cultural context of leadership and that no manager has the luxury of ignoring cultural differences. In fact, the western value of color blindness, while well-meaning, is misguided, because the unexamined assumption underlying color blindness is hat paying attention to color is inherently unfair, possibly racist, “I just see people as people”, when in fact in the opposite may well be more valuable.”

Being Culture Blind

In a multi-cultural environment like the US the warning of color blindness – or culture blindness – is very real. We are raised both morally and intellectually to accept the American melting pot simmering with immigrants from all over the World.

Our politicians and legal system have implemented rules and regulations that try to even out whatever cultural differences might exist in both in our working and private lives.

We are taught to embrace all people.

Yet while the intentions seem good at heart the danger exists that we forget to use those same cultural differences as an advantage both privately and in our workspace. Being culture blind is not the same as understanding other cultures.

The leader who embraces cultural intelligence is bound to not only carve, but to race down the fast lane of our common cultural highway toward global success.


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Claus von Ronnex-Printz is founder & CEO of BrainBridge Institute
He connects organizations to human capital globally
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Skype: BrainBridge Institute | +1.646.504.5059

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On Leadership, Marketing and Influence

Leadership Marketing Influence

“Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.” ~John C. Maxwell

We all have the potential to influence people every day. If you don’t believe that, you probably don’t buy products, share opinions with friends, or have a Facebook page. In another word, “Marketing is Influence.”

I recently read a line: “Everything is marketing.” I thought, how true!

Marketing has even been defined as: “The whole company, taken from the customer’s point of view.”

Leading in the Marketing

I have worked for marketing companies most of my career—two powerhouses, one startup. I have executed some amazing campaigns for some amazing clients. I have learned in the process that a great deal of time and money goes into building a brand, gaining attention, and telling a story to consumers. Without this funding, no growth happens and people lose jobs.

But what goes on inside the brand?  And is anybody listening?

Here’s the bottom-line: A company’s success is largely based on what its employees do (or don’t do) just as much as what their customers do (or don’t do).

  • So where’s the marketing influence directed to the employees?
  • How are they being influenced?
  • Where is the internal leadership that leads to healthy corporate sustainability?

Today’s tactic of “you’re lucky to have a job” may be one source of motivation. However, coercion that alienates employees is not the answer to winning in the marketplace. This exclusion leads to turnover, lower morale, and lower productivity.

This is not the anser; inclusion is.

Internal Marketing Leadership

Knowing that inclusion is the answer to getting the most out of people whose task it is to work together for a common goal, I decided that this was going to be my mantra.

So when I was asked to troubleshoot Customer Support at the startup company, I knew what needed to be done.

I had heard tons of complaints about the Customer Support employee’s lack of product knowledge, their inability to get issues resolved, and their habit of giving away credits (a/k/a revenue) to soothe angry customers. So I had a big challenge ahead of me to try to turn this wayward ship around and turn this loss center into a profit center.

Location, Location…

The team was based in California (our headquarters were in New York.) so they were far from the everyday action. This made for a very difficult situation. It seemed everyone in New York had something negative to say about this group, but very few actually interacted with them.

But why? Looking at this objectively, one would say “Here is a team of support agents who were fun, flexible, socially active, and passionate about our product and all kinds of entertainment media.  In short, they were our target audience. And, one more thing–they were the perfect change agents. So what is the problem?”

Why didn’t they communicate effectively and play nice?

Dialing In

Customer Service is Marketing; it is Change; and it means Revenue.

Customer Service is where the rubber meets the road. It is truly the best advantage point of influence for a company.

Yet, it is often overlooked and underutilized.  Many companies find the word ‘service’ boring. So it is not surprising how little support customer support gets. To begin to really lead your business, supporting Customer Service is another change that has to happen if businesses want to succeed.

Unfortunately, tuned-out top leaders don’t see that customer service is change management at its finest!

They simply don’t recognize that the same elements needed for employee buy-in and great service are the same elements needed for customer buy-in and great sales.

These buy-in elements are:

  • Communication
  • Participation
  • Education
  • Commitment

Just think of all the companies you love and hate, and why. When they come to mind, I’ll bet that your customer service experience played an enormous role in making up your mind, or changing it.

Am I right?

Change Though Exchange

Marketing from the inside out is effecting change through exchange.

So, I began a dialogue between Customer Support and Marketing, Customer Support and Product Development, Customer Support and Merchandising….you get the idea.

Whether you’re influencing employees or customers, the dialogue has to be continuous, connected and contagious to work.

The success you have with your internal audience will help you win your external one. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Our Marketing team got Customer Support involved in everything we were doing. and naturally, a great exchange of ideas and enthusiasm ensued. We discussed customer wants and needs, new feature buzz, targeted campaigns, and product development.

We shipped our latest store merchandise out to California so they could see and feel what we were selling, We even flew our product manager out to train agents for a new launch.  The agents tested new products and shared invaluable feedback from our customers’ point of view which helped us tailor our offerings the right way.

Everyone was focused, collaborating, and on the same page: exactly where you want your customer to be.


Employees engaged in the brand, support the brand from the inside out.

It is the job of today’s business leaders to market from the inside out. It is also the leader’s job to take every opportunity to engage employees because, after all, they’re customers too.

Begin the dialogue, open doors, get people involved. Share marketing ideas, do internal market research, get product feedback. Create a culture that is customer responsive by being employee responsive too.

Be the brand you want everyone to identify with. Your best campaign and biggest revenue driver is sitting right in front of you.

Marketing has been defined as: “The whole company, taken from the customer’s point of view.” How do your employees see their company?

L2L Contributing Author

Image Sources: era-az.com

Changing Tools for Changing Times

With changing economic times comes the need to provide tools that are flexible to change along with them. Many organizational tools that were designed for yesterday’s performance standards and not proving flexible enough to be effective for today’s market conditions.

For instance, competency-based performance management systems are proving to be too rigid for these current changing economic times. Although they have beneficial components built in, like including competencies that are applicable to an entire company, they also can be limiting.  They also have beneficial components like dealing with things like strategic thinking, developing others, creating vision, etc., but they may not prove as effective when things slow down and organizational needs change dramatically.


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In a slowing economy, the organization that is set up to effectively deal with fluctuating demand dynamically changes to match market conditions. Unfortunately, the organizational support processes that is geared to serve an organization in a more robust set of economics conditions rarely changes along side the rest of the adaptive organism. These inflexible, un-dynamic systems simply remain the same.

Examples include a performance plan that emphasizes succession planning and developing bench strength when the new realities of the workplace environment show that the needs of the organizations have taken an about-face. Imagine using these tools when faced with 50% headcount reductions. Or what about polices that boast of promoting from within, while training programs are reduced and continuing education budgets are cut.

Having unwieldy tools like this at hand is like asking for a scalpel to perform delicate surgery and being handed a 4-pound pipe wrench to do the job. It just doesn’t seem appropriate.

If a performance management system encourages development, promotion from within, succession planning, and training, does the reward for leaders adhering to these behaviors continue to match the expectation of the organization?

If there is a lack of alignment between organizational expectations and leadership behaviors, what does the lack of alignment do to the management team’s morale? Who needs to address these issues?

Questions: How do you modify the organizational systems/processes without redoing all of the work done on the existing system (training, recruiting, performance management, etc.)? How do you make your toolkit more adaptive and flexible for real life economic.organizational needs? What is your leadership doing about this?

Posted on April 2, 2009 by Contributing Author Kyle Weldon

Image Source castlemanplumbing.com

Wrong Way Leadership


People make mistakes. Companies make mistakes. Some mistakes are easier to overcome than others. Here is a lesson on how not to make mistakes:

On February 23rd of this year, troubled computer chip maker Spansion layed off (actually a more correct term would be “fired”) 3000 employees.  Just like that.  No notice, no severance, no outplacement, no thank you.

Nice, isn’t it!

On the heels of that event, Spansion announced raises for key executives and employees.  Then they filed for bankruptcy protection and announced that they would try to pay the fired employees severance out of bankruptcy funds.  It appears as though Spansion’s leadership is trying to get the company sold before the bankruptcy proceedings even get started and the bottom line will look a lot prettier without the salaries of those pesky 3000 employees.



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None of the above is news to anyone who reads the business section of the paper, but it is the most egregious and flagrant example I have seen yet of what NOT to do in a financial crisis.

Why?  Let’s just skip the part about ethics and fairness and go right to the results column:  People remember.

The Spansion organization, whether acquired or reorganized, may never be as attractive again to bright, talented people as it once was.  When this recession is finally over, good people will once again be looking for the most promising companies at which to hang their hoodies. And with the way that Spansion made their downsizing mistakes, they have made it very difficult for themselves to once again attract the best and brightest. Only time will tell. We certainly wish them the very best.

Businesses that see employees as a “cost” will inevitably look for the minimum number it will take to run the business, just as they would with desk chairs or printers.  But today’s employees cannot be commoditized. As time goes on, many talented Baby Boomers will be leaving a large void when they retire in the coming years.

In 2009, the only real competitive advantage any organization can claim is a continuous flow of new ideas and innovation.

That comes from one asset alone: people.   Keeping your talent  on board, interested, and engaged should be job one for any leader that wants his/her organization to be competitive when this recession is over. So be wary of making silly mistakes now. Learn from others who have spotlighted how not to behave while swimming around in the deep end of the talent pool.

Does that mean downsizing should be avoided at any cost?  Maybe not. But it does mean that extraordinary care should be taken to ensure that it is done as part of a thorough restructuring plan and that the accompanying jolt to the survivors is minimized.

What examples have you seen where firms or organizations have done things right when having to trim the workforce? Who are the shining examples of good talent stewardship that should be advertised?

Posted on March 10, 2009 by Contributing Author Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D.

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs – Continued (3 of 3)

Maslow's Pyramid

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid – 1943

Maslow’s Pyramid – Continued (3 of 3)

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (HON) |  Part1Part 2 | Part 3

It may be evident by now that, beyond Level 2, organizational culture plays a vital role in an organization’s position in the Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (HON) model.  It may also be evident that your organization’s level is partially one of choice.   HP, for example, throughout its early history (prior to 1999) chose to operate at level 5.  That was the choice of the founders, Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett, and the hallmark of HP’s culture, known as theHP Way.  Much of the focus in this blog will be on leadership of companies that find themselves today at Level 2.

Maslow’s theory of motivation (seen in the  illustration above) is that as humans we will naturally attempt to satisfy the more basic needs (physiological) before directing behavior and energy toward satisfying upper-level needs.  Having satisfied the need at a given level, that need ceases to motivate us and we move up the pyramid. 


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As individuals, we almost never stay at a given level throughout our lives.  Most of us have resided at different levels, depending on what was happening to and around us at any given point.

If you have ever experienced not knowing where your next meal is coming from, you have experienced being at Level 1.

People in our communities today who are losing their homes are experiencing being at Level 2.   When we lose a job, it may initially feel like we are again motivated by Level 3 needs, but it can quickly wash us down to Level 2 and even Level 1 if we can’t pay the mortgage.

Much of the premise of Maslow’s theory holds true for the Hierarchy of Organizational Needs as well.

When an organization is fighting to keep the lights on and make the next payroll, its leaders are not thinking about recruiting top-notch talent or setting the stage for the next big innovation.  However, once Stability (Level 2) has been attained, and equilibrium seems attainable, the choices and options become much broader and more interesting and leaders have the opportunity to take a longer term view of their circumstances and the future.

How is your organization doing with navigating the current economic pressures? What level is your organization in? Where are you in the mix?

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (HON) |  Part1Part 2 | Part 3

Posted on February 27, 2009 by Contributing Author Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs – Continued (2 of 3)

HON Pyramid - Continued

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs Pyramid

HON Pyramid – Continued (2 of 3)

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Level 3 – Relationship Building:

Organizations operating at this level in 2009 have not taken much of a financial hit and are operating reasonably close to normal, even anticipating the possibility of growth for the year.  Since the attention of leaders at this level has not been diverted to all-finance-all-the-time, they are able to focus on a bigger picture and are motivated to build relationships with their customers, suppliers, and partners, and to treat their employees fairly in order not to lose the talent they will need in the future.

Leaders in organizations at this level are taking a reasonably long-term view and are preparing for the future.  Some alternative energy companies fall into this category.  One example is Sunpower.

Organizations at levels 4 and 5 are in good shape financially and are seeing opportunities in the crisis.

Level 4 – Attraction & Reputation:

Level 4 organizations are focusing on innovation and preparing for future growth.  Their leaders understand that the financial crisis will not last forever, and that competition remains keen, even during the downturn.  They are motivated by a desire to keep their employees happy and committed by treating them well and avoiding layoffs, thereby keeping their reputation positive.  They are looking for creative ways to grow and prosper, even in 2009. Examples include Oracle.

Level 5 – Corporate Citizenship & Responsibility:

At Level 5, the motivation shifts.  Leaders of organizations at this level have evolved beyond the traditional healthy-mix focus on markets, strategy, structure, technology, and people.   They are including the environment, both local and global, in the mix and prioritizing issues like community partnerships, lowering their carbon footprint, and being socially responsible in their policies and activities.

Internally, cash-rich companies like Cisco and Google are giving employees the opportunity to innovate within through a flat management structure and employee inclusion policies.  These are companies that run little-to-no risk of losing valuable talent to a competitor – in good times or bad.  Another example is Apple, whose leaders are quietly snapping up some of the high-quality employees being dumped by struggling competitors.

So, where is your organization? How are you competing in the present economic climate? Are you adopting any of these ideas?

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Posted on
February 23, 2009 by Contributing Author Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D.

Leadership & the Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (1 of 3)

HON Pyramid

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (HON) Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

One way of examining your organization’s current condition and what is motivating you as a leader is with the Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (HON).

Leaning on Abraham Maslow’s well-regarded model of human needs, we can look at organizational needs in a very similar way.  And, just as Maslow proposed his needs hierarchy as a way to explain motivation in humans, we can use the HON to better understand the motivation of corporate leaders as their organizations move up and down through the levels in the hierarchy.

Understanding where your organization currently resides in this hierarchical scheme will enable you to focus on the specific demands and challenges you face in today’s financial crisis, thereby enabling you to make (or help others make) better decisions moving forward.

This model is not meant to represent organizational growth, and it has no correlation with the age or size of the organization. It is a way of looking at a state of being.  The bottom two levels are where many corporations, small businesses, and non-profit agencies are residing in this turbulent economy.

The HON Pyramid

Level 1  – Survival:

is a state in which the organization is just trying to stay alive.  The current financial crisis (or some other devastating event) has rendered it non-viable.  It is not only not profitable, but is hemorrhaging cash at an alarming rate.  Organizational leaders will be focusing their attention on drastic actions, such as plant closures, reorganizations through bankruptcy filing, accepting government monies, and heavy layoffs.

Examples of companies in dire straits in 2009 are General Motors and many of the Wall Street investment houses.  Leaders of organizations at this level are motivated by the need to keep the doors open, for themselves, the shareholders, and for employees.  They are willing to do whatever it takes to regain viability; they are living quarter to quarter and can think about little else during their waking hours.

Level 2 – Stability:

is a condition of tenuous equilibrium characterized by minor and/or temporary loss of profitability.  Leaders see the current financial crisis as a serious threat to the organization’s financial health and continued growth, but not life-threatening.  Their motivation is on maintaining or regaining equilibrium during the crisis.

This state may be characterized by hiring freezes, plant consolidations, small layoffs and a variety of other cost-cutting mechanisms.  The organization’s revenue has taken a hit, and costs must be brought in line.  Income is more-or-less the same as outflow.  Growth is not on the near-term horizon.  Employees in organizations at Level 2 are looking to their leadership to steer the ship back to profitability, with as little pitching and rolling as possible.

Levels 3, 4 & 5

See Part 2 to see how leaders at those levels are motivated.

Hierarchy of Organizational Needs (HON) Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Posted on
February 17, 2009 by Contributing Author Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D.

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