Cultural Intelligence in Cross-Cultural Business Leadership Development

Effective leadership is a source of competitive advantage. Globalization is accelerating, so companies must support leaders to compete with global competition. Companies must train leaders to overcome cross-cultural barriers that did not exist before.



There are many ways to view cross-cultural differences. One theory I suggest to companies is Cultural Intelligence Theory (CQ Theory). CQ is “an individual’s capability to function effective in culturally diverse contexts” (Ng, Van Dyne & Ang, 2009, p.512). Practically developing CQ competencies can help companies develop flexible, proactive leaders. These leaders are more capable of adding value by overcoming challenging cultural differences.

Day off in Krakow, Poland – It was -9 degrees C

CQ Theory is simple for businesses and individuals to understand. It has four pillars: CQ-Knowledge, CQ-Drive, CQ-Strategy and CQ-Action. Each describes knowledge and skills (competencies) required in cross-cultural interactions. The idea is to measure these and improve them. In my work with companies, I make the theory as simple as possible to understand.

Putting it into Practice

I describe a typical model I use for leadership development in corporate clients.

1) CQ-Drive

The focus is on measuring the level of motivation individuals have. How motivated are people to understand and work to overcome cultural differences?

I find many leaders in multi-national firms have some motivation to overcome differences. Often their job can depend on it. Not all people are motivated and some people lack confidence more than motivation.

Good training activities should bring participants into contact with different cultures. This allows them to observe differences themselves. By providing positive feedback, participants gradually grow in confidence and their motivation increases.

2) CQ-Knowledge

The idea is that people must have knowledge of cultures. To overcome cross-cultural bounderies, building up a knowledge of differences is essential. Low awareness can make people more prone to failure.

In a leadership development course, I apply the CQ questionnaire (available here). Participants start to build awareness of their own cultural intelligences. I recommend activities which promote awareness and reflection. Participants then bring their own experiences to the table. Learning and development becomes more relevant and reinforces drive.

3) CQ-Strategy

In this phase, I help individuals develop an effective strategy. They discover how to develop a strategy to overcome cultural differences they observe.

When possible, make training experiential by generating direct contact with different cultures. This is not always possible. So, simulated learning roleplays or case studies can suffice. Participants have different scenarios and take time to prepare their strategy. They get the opportunity to pool ideas with other participants and with trainers.

After creating a strategy, I encourage reflection. I also promote a critical approach to consider strengths and weaknesses. This allows participants to connect with their own experiences.

4) CQ-Action

The last facet focuses mainly on behaviors. Participants must now develop the soft-skills to carry out their strategy.

Here, I build activities focused on development of soft-skills. Roleplays (either face-to-face or via video conferencing) are popular. Roleplays cannot replace the real thing. But, when structured and designed around a client’s specific industry and culture, they can be equally effective.
My clients have cited well-written roleplays as a key success factor. This interative process can be long, but very valuable.

It’s a Cycle

The four elements go in a cycle. Leadership development is continuous, so leadership training should be too. Provide leaders with tools and opportunities to use them. The more opportunities, the better. Experiential learning can yield especially effective results.

Now what about you?

Interested in knowing more about how your business can enhance their leadership development? Contact

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