TWG Blog

Leadership, Management and Cultural Intelligence

Taylor Wilks Group - Friday, May 04, 2012

Leadership, Managment and Cultural Intelligence, Authored by H. Duane Taylor, Esq., MPP, MPCH
Leadership and management are distinct yet overlapping skills.  To many people, the word “lead” means to “direct.” In contrast, “manage” means “control.” One employs skills in working with others to enlist their best efforts in accomplishing an organization’s goals. The other method attempts to reach a goal using only the ideas of one person - the manager. Most professionals would rather lead but often have difficulty navigating on a road they do not “control.”

Leader’s Lesson One
To motivate a team a leader needs to give clear direction. Giving clear direction means the leader must understand exactly what he or she wants to communicate and then must communicate that direction in terms followers can understand.

Executing your organization’s compelling strategic mission by clearly communicating what part your team plays in carrying out the plan is truly a mix of leading and managing. An exceptional leader will facilitate what the team does well, remove barriers that might block members of the team from performing effectively, and overall, help the team shine.

So what are some of the characteristics of exceptional leaders? Research shows that the best leaders work with the people they lead to seek their mutual maximum potential as a team; they co-create their success.1   The best leaders also create work environments in which workers experience the deep gratification of achieving a worthy goal. Organizations can go from “good to great” under the right leadership and with the right people in place.

Leader’s Lesson Two - Cultural Intelligence
Another way organization leaders can enhance their leadership capacities is to develop their sensitivity to and awareness of Cultural Intelligence. Cultural intelligence is a concept that involves bridging and benefiting from cultural differences.  Our own cultural backgrounds influence the way we think and act and the way we interpret each other’s contributions. Often an individual’s life experience and her or his environment serve as a wall or gap that limits what the person can learn about others. Not seeing the benefits of cultural differences may hinder progress. In the end, the success or failure of a project may depend on a leader’s competence and skill at bridging culture gaps among members of his or her staff.

Cultural Intelligence can be defined as the ability of a leader to create a successful collaboration in situations where cultural differences play a significant role. Cultural Intelligence consists of three dimensions that correspond to the classical division between emotion, understanding and action.

The three dimensions of Cultural Intelligence are:

  • Intercultural Engagement
  • Cultural Understanding
  • Intercultural Communication

Each dimension influences the other.  For instance, the courage for a leader or an employee to allow him or herself to be changed in a cultural encounter will enhance his or her listening capacity and increase his or her understanding of fellow employees.

Cultural Intelligence involves openness to the whole culture as well as the sub-cultures within the overarching one. Cultural Intelligence comes about when there is an understanding internally and externally of people who have different ways of thinking and acting and who come together to succeed in accomplishing an agreed upon goal. Cultural Intelligence creates a framework, language and dialog to understand and capitalize on differences among coworkers rather than tolerating or ignoring the (potentially creative) friction caused by difference.

Emotionally intelligent leaders also know that listening is critical to forming strong bonds and developing an environment conducive to creativity, productivity and high quality. They also know that listening reduces conflict and encourages more creative problem-solving. Conversely, negative listening habits can erode the abilities of leaders and diminish their ability to build high trust bonds with employees.

Leaders who embody these characteristics can use them as catalysts to craft contexts in which the team realizes potential. Human beings are born with an innate urge for triumph, but are not born aware of this need or how to meet it. Leaders must meet this challenge. It is up to a leader to create an environment in which every employee can open themselves to others and create a context in which people to realize their potential. 

In the context of Cultural Intelligence, leaders who combine critical thinking, awareness, realistic optimism and practiced listening skills achieve the highest success rates on behalf of their teams and their organizations.  And finally, leaders who can learn and then tap into their own Cultural Intelligence also can become expert communicators who create a positive cycle that elicits people's best selves — the selves who overcome significant challenges, realize their potential and ultimately create success for an organization.

1 Menkes, Justin, Three Traits Every CEO Needs, Harvard Business Review Online, May 11, 2011,

*The Taylor-Wilks Group (TWG) is a leading nonprofit health care management consulting firm specializing in training, technical assistance and strategic/operational innovation for small to mid-size nonprofit organizations and governmental entities.  TWG’s results oriented experts have over 30 years of experience in consistently and professionally executing trainings, consulting engagements and operational technical assistance. For more information email us at

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