3 Ways for Leaders to Embrace the Cultural Quotient Ensure your business is ready for the next evolution of innovation and growth.

By Michael Shangkuan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Traditionally, organizations have put an emphasis on the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) or Emotional Quotient (EQ). In more recent years, our world has become more and more global, and the growing diversity of employees we interact with more regularly begs the question of what is the next evolution of fully understanding and embracing the global workforce? I believe the next phase is developing our Cultural Quotient (CQ).

CQ, sometimes referred to as "cultural intelligence," is the capability to relate and work effectively across cultures. Strong CQ means accepting that maybe the way you've always done or approached things is not the only path to success — it may not even be the best approach. CQ is simply broadening your horizons. Employees and leaders with a high CQ are able to embrace change and innovation, which often leads to a more inclusive and open workplace, and ultimately, better overall business results.

Leaders, especially those with younger teams, should look to build bridges across the world. Influence and leadership, longer term, is about soft power. This means that we need to be aware of our own cultures, of others' cultures and with that, build a culture of inclusion. So, how can leaders go about developing this skill set?

1. Listen and understand with full empathy

Become aware of yourself and of others. Practice and embrace the ability to be flexible when leading others and to be knowledgeable and respectful of their experiences. Fully understanding an employee's background and their cultural context lends to a fuller understanding of the person as a whole. When we're able to achieve a deeper understanding of our employees at their core, we're then able to take that knowledge and build stronger relationships, which is a trait of a strong leader.

Related: Why Empathy Is One of the Most Overlooked Skills in Business

2. Immerse yourself in different cultures

Traveling and learning a new language are the best ways to understand another culture. For example, if you went to China or France, don't just go to see the Great Wall or Eiffel Tower. Embrace the day-to-day values of that country and its people, fully immerse yourself, talk to the cab driver and shopkeeper in a small town and look for the little nuances that make each culture unique.

Pay attention to these interactions and seek to understand each moment. Maybe it's whether or not they make direct eye contact, maybe it's if they shake hands, hug or give la bise. Even domestic travel holds its own. Many countries hold considerable cultural differences within their own borders. In the United States, the Northeastern region of the country is vastly different from the Southwestern or Midwestern regions.

These exchanges and experiences help build a deeper understanding of the overall cultural context. And learning languages can be the key to unlocking understanding about others.

Related: Become a Better Leader With These 5 Cultural-Awareness Tips

3. Be open

Beyond simply traveling to different places, live in another country and learn the language. Be open to having your reality "shaken up." This is where the best ideas come from. Make friends with the locals and get out of your comfort zone. Truly immersing yourself in another country and being the "other" can have a deep impact on your ability to improve your CQ.

Having lived in eight countries across four continents, I've learned to adapt to very different cultures, especially as the first Chinese American CEO of a German company. These experiences have truly taught me to learn to embrace, appreciate and gain a fuller understanding of various cultures. The time I've spent abroad helped me to not only understand others, but also to understand myself, adding to my leadership ethos.

For example, when I studied in Japan, it was noted that the Japanese do not shake hands, they bow. The more important the person and sign of respect, the longer the bow. You might even do multiple bows. Keeping distance is important. This sign of respect is also represented in the language, with the use of the honorific (when addressing someone) and the humble (when referring to yourself) forms. I took this with me to Mexico, where I worked at a non-profit. Rather than interrupting my colleagues in the morning when I came in and saying goodbye when I left, I was expected to go around and address each person with a kiss on the cheek. The concept of distance is very different in Latin American cultures.

Related: Diversity Matters: Defining (And Developing) Your Cultural Quotient

The borders of our once small worlds are continuing to expand every day as we traverse the digital age and the fourth industrial revolution. Being a strong leader means learning to be open to change, innovation and differences. In today's business environment, it is no longer acceptable to only value or understand your own culture or point of view. We must be strategic thinkers with a worldview.

The Cultural Quotient (CQ) will continue to be important for leaders across industries in the years to come. If you're not ready to embrace this change, then you're putting yourself and your company at a strategic disadvantage, and you can expect to fall behind.

Wavy Line
Michael Shangkuan

CEO of Lingoda

Mike Shangkuan is an ed tech entrepreneur, fitness fanatic and polyglot, speaking six languages — English, German, Spanish, French, Chinese and Japanese. He is a graduate of Yale University and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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