Cultural Competence: Today’s Leadership Requirement

What will be the most important leadership skill in the 21st Century? 

Our local communities are becoming more diverse and globally connected through technology and demographic changes. By 2050, the United States will consist of a majority non-white population. The organizations we work in are “internationalizing”, employees are geographically dispersed, from different countries, different cultures.

The global workplace requires individuals to be sensitive to different cultures, to interact with people from different cultures, to interpret new culture as they are encountered. The changing workforce and societal demographics have changed the learning demands for leaders today. Harvard Business Review recently devoted a “Spotlight Series” on The New Global Leader; highlighting the critical skills necessary for success in the global workplace. Cultural competence is essential for success.

Culture is like an onion.

There are many layers of an individual’s cultural identity and most are not externally visible. It is easy to define culture as just those visible characteristics but there is so much more that contributes to our identity. A working definition of culture is “the ideas, feelings, values, beliefs, attitudes and knowledge that characterize and inform society as a whole, in smaller groups and as individuals. Culture shapes our identity, provides a framework for our values and informs the lens in which we see, feel and experience the world around us.”

So what is cultural competence?

In the seminal work on this topic by Cross et al in 1989, a working definition was offered as: Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.

Cultural competence is a learning journey on a continuum from cultural destruction to cultural proficiency.

The journey begins with understanding ourselves and our own individual cultural identity. Who am I? How do the ways I identify myself influence how I interact with other?

Cultural Competence is one topic we will explore at Vista Leadership Academy. Learn more about the Academy’s mission and apply today!

Refuses to be sensitive to different cultures or sees cultural difference as a problem.

Assumes a paternalistic posture toward “lesser” groups. Does not accept multiple perspectives as valid.

Believes color and culture have no impact, all people are the same. Doesn’t see the benefits of privilege.

Recognizes some weaknesses in understanding cultures. Recognizes need for training.

Values differences. Understands cultural competence is an ongoing learning process.

Proactively models and advances cultural competence in others. Seeks to add to knowledge of culturally responsive practices.

Better You, Better World

Vista Leadership Academy is the only cross-cultural, multi-generational leadership development experience that combines a virtual classroom model with a transformative leadership journey in Oaxaca. Designed for professionals committed to social good, Academy participants learn the new skills required to spur innovation and impact in today’s global community.


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