The world has become an open village. Such globalization has made it possible to sojourn to different parts of the world, meeting different types of people who have very different practices, which of course seem strange. Despite these differences people need not only to enhance communication between them, but also the ability to understand the different cultural practices and symbols. This becomes a very intriguing phenomenon (Earley and Ang, 2003). This is because different symbols acquire different meanings when interpreted across cultures. Therefore people, not only need to have the necessary intelligence to decipher the varied cultural orientations, but also to adapt to these new cultures. This paper will define the term cultural intelligence and what it means in a multi cultural society, especially in developing effective international business managers.
Cultural intelligence can be understood better if first the term culture is defined. Thorsen (2005) defines culture as “the energy field that determines the way people think, act and view the world around them.” Business leaders need to have the intelligence that will not only help them understand the new cultural world views, but also why those people behave the way they do. Cultural intelligence is a “person’s ability to adapt effectively too new cultural contexts”, which does not merely mean understanding the different culture, but also the “motivation to respond appropriately” (Earley and Ang, 2003). Being culturally intelligent will help the international business manager to become an effective leader thus implementing effective business management practices (Alon & Higgins, 2005).
Cultural intelligence can be perceived in three perspectives: emotional, physical and cognitive. Cognitively, Earley and Ang, (2003) defines cultural intelligence as the way business managers understand how “reasoning and decision making differ across cultures”, which will also include the ability to understand that different cultures have different reasoning structures. These reasoning structures can also help a manager to “develop a cultural map of a people” (Earley and Ang, 2003).
Other than possessing the right cognitive skills in interpreting and understanding new cultures, Earley and Ang, (2003) argue that managers must also have the right emotional skills to fit into these cultures. Business leaders should be able to understand “key moods and emotions as well as evoke the relevant emotional reaction” in a multi cultural setting. This will help business leaders to “respond effectively to the emotional needs of the followers” (Early and Ang, 2003). When the business leader has developed the necessary cognitive and emotional intelligence to manage an international business they still need to acquire a different kind of intelligence; physical or behavioral intelligence. Physical intelligence helps the manager to “change (his behaviors) and adopt the necessary behavioral patterns” accordingly so as to fit and adapt to the new cultures (Thorsen, 2005). These appropriate behaviors portray a business leader who has accepted the new way of life and finds it easier to do business with the locals.
As clearly seen now, cultural intelligence needs that a business leader should adapt new mannerisms and behaviors. In adapting new cultures, it is important to consider universally acceptable behavior and isolate behavior that is limited to certain cultures. Some of the universally acceptable behaviors include a casual handshake, instead of hugging and pecking people, as exemplified by Henri, a French business manager who used to extend such, to all his clients. While this is the norm in France, the Britons found it unacceptable especially in a professional set up. It is also important to maintain a reasonable physical distance while talking to people, as some cultures are uncomfortable if a reasonable distance is not kept during a person to person interaction (Earley & Mosakowski, 2004). Therefore a manager who exhibits such behaviors does not possess the necessary cultural intelligence.
Cultural intelligence can be acquired easily through learning. Business managers who need to adapt to new cultures can take necessary actions to learn new cultural orientations. To begin with, they can enroll in formal learning courses that will provide them with basic information, such as what language is acceptable to the new culture. This equips the business leaders with basic generalizations about the new culture. At this level Thorsen (2005) explains that the business leader “has developed an awareness about the differences between him and the new culture they are about to interact with”. However, the leader must be informed that these are just generalizations. The new culture he is about to meet may vary on contextual basis and therefore they must be prepared for such variations (Thorsen 2005).
This information is just theoretical and the managers are yet to experience what the new culture is like. This is where “experiential learning” comes in. The manager can get a real life learning by simulating role plays situations either with fellow managers or people from new cultures they are about to meet. Such simulations will be enacted in a business like setting and must give the learners a chance to clarify any issues they may have. There are also other ways that a leader can use to acquire cultural intelligence. Such, are called “international culture experiential learning tools”, though their use is varied and limited (Thorsen, 2005).
Lastly it is important to appreciate that cultural intelligence cannot be acquired overnight. It needs a long process of interactions with different cultures until the business leader has acquired the right attitude. Jack Welch, the manager of GM has suggested that the best way to gain cultural intelligence is to live and be trained in many countries. He concludes that “international rotation programs and international practical experience should be included as a way of developing cultural intelligence” (Thorsen 2005).
In conclusion, the modern globe needs a business leader who has global literacy as far as culture is concerned. This because the world is shrinking and business management is expanding, requiring business leaders who are equipped with the right cultural intelligence for effective international business management. Thorsen (2003) explains those organizations that develop and effect cultural intelligence program in their leadership training will experience growth making them have a competitive edge over their rivals who don’t. As explained in this a paper, a number of practices have been developed to help firms train their business leaders on cultural intelligence.
It is also important to understand that successful business leadership is not just adapting the right behavior but also the intelligence to understand people behavior patterns and why they behave the way they do. Such kind of intelligence will help firms, especially multinationals who are venturing into new, markets to align their business practices with the way the new community they are serving thinks. Such understanding will make the businesses cultural friendly.
Alon I., & Higins, J. (2005). Global leadership success though motional and cultural Intelligencies. Business horizons. Web.
Earley C., & Ang, S. (2003). Cultural intelligence: Individual interactions’ across cultures. California : Stanford University Press. Web.
Earley, P., & Mosakowski, E. (2004). Cultural intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 82(10), 139-146. Web.