Joseph Campbell 1 said that by going down into the abyss, we remember the treasures of life. In cultural intelligence, leaders must be able to raise their levels of collective cultural consciousness by seeking out the challenges, or our “abyss”. It is often difficult to disclose one’s weaknesses, one’s fears, and one’s vulnerabilities concerning cultural diversity: The abyss is not really a comfortable place to be, but it does serve as an opportunity to explore one’s self-concept. Cultural intelligence provides leaders with a chance to expand their capacities to become better cross-cultural leaders.
In the end, when you reach your destination, you will be changed. In our cultural intelligence journey, we all return to our core, our home, our center. We come back not as the same person, because the world we left that was familiar to us is now unfamiliar. Campbell said that when we return to our true selves—our authentic selves—we need to be willing to rid ourselves of the life we have planned in order to enjoy the life that waits. Once you begin the work of cultural intelligence, you can no longer be the same person; you cannot go back to who you were and pick up the pieces as you left them. Your leadership story is different, and how you engage with people of different cultural backgrounds will be different.
If you truly do work that is culturally intelligent, work that is meaningful and intentional, then you will come to realize that differences in cultures promote a diversity of thinking, innovative practices, and ideas that take you out of mindlessness. Cultural intelligence keeps you alert and attentive to challenges in order to help you reach your highest potential. In business, culture’s impact is to constantly test an organization’s ability to be adaptable and flexible—to be the best by letting go of old assumptions and biases. It has always been the role of culture to help us let go of what we think we know and open our eyes to the responsibility we all have, as leaders, in shaping a better society.