Martin Luther King, Jr., said that “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Relationships and interdependence are at the core of our survival. Peter Senge wrote that leaders of the future must have the skill set to “see patterns of interdependency.” 1 We live in an interdependent world; our actions and choices know no boundaries. Senge suggests that we must see the connections and relationships between, among, and within systems—cultural, political, legal, social, economic, familial, and so on. We need to be able to live effectively with one another, and if we can “see systemic patterns and understand the forces driving a system,” we can “start to see where the system is headed if nothing changes.” 2
To begin to see interdependence, culturally intelligent leaders need to be clear about their purpose in working with cultural groups, people, and processes. Purpose, in culturally intelligent leadership, is to understand oneself in relationship to what is being sought. In other words, understanding and exploring your motivations, your passion, and your personal journey must serve as a foundation for reaching the desired vision to create cultural understanding and awareness. You must personally explore and identify what it would mean to the organization, and most importantly to its people, if diversity and culture of thoughts, ideas, people, systems did not exist.
Simply asking yourself and others, “if we did not do this work, what would be lost,” can help people to understand the systemic nature of culture. I once worked with a manager who asked this question of himself, and then his staff. The result was a deep and authentic dialogue about the responsibility that each person brings to the process. They understood that culture and diversity was not something to control or “manage,” rather it was a human element that needed to be nurtured and cared for by everyone. The intercultural work to be explored involved everyone no matter what level of cultural consciousness they came into the organization with. In the end, people in the organization gained an understanding for the different notions of diversity, a more clear purpose and passion for intercultural interactions, and enthusiastic support for creating a culturally inclusive environment.