Leaders must be able to reframe their thinking and practice of culture. Cultural intelligence is a tool that helps move leaders from a place of single perspective to one that has multiple filters for sorting through and navigating the cultural intelligence labyrinth. The idea and the practice of shifting your perspective (reframing) 1 allows leaders to move from mindlessness to mindfulness. It enables leaders to identify old thought patterns that lead to destructive and negative behaviors, which, in turn, impact and influence one’s leadership.
One of the areas that cultural intelligence can help us reframe is the changing demographics and environmental landscape we experience as a society. As we see globalization’s effects in the world, we must reframe how to think about and include different stakeholders in our work. Who we involve matters. Who we ask to be part of the conversation matters. And, most importantly, how we engage them is critical. Cultural intelligence, when used, can help to move people from the margins of work to the center, thus engaging them and creating systems of inclusion rather than representation.
I found reframing to be beneficial to leaders when developing long-lasting and meaningful intercultural relationships. For this to happen, it is vital for leaders and organizations to change their thinking about and practices concerning relationships. Leaders can create a shift in cultivating authentic relationships with different cultural groups or individuals when the questions asked are shifted from “how can this relationship help me to reach my organizational (personal) goals” to “what can I (we) learn from this relationship, and how can the learning move us toward our vision?”
I suggested this question to a woman who manages volunteers in a nonprofit. In our brief conversation, she realized that asking the question in this way helped her to see culture and diversity as a process rather than an outcome. She realized that it was important to build relationships for diversity work, but in doing so the relationships built can have a larger impact than the diversity efforts themselves. By asking questions such as “what forms of relationships need to exist in this organization,” “what do relationships mean to this organization,” and “how do people in this organization work together” enables the organization to become a learning organization based around diversity and culture.
Asking these questions enables people to be more authentic and understanding of how relationships are created. This is a critical element in cultural intelligence work as it helps leaders to tap into the power that relationships have in building trust and unity. When we engage in this type of work, we reframe how we think about culture as it relates to power, decision making, authority, and leadership. We reframe who our values speak to and who they exclude, and we gain clarity about where our responsibility within our societies exists.