As companies are tapping into the global workforce, their diversity index is increasing at an accelerated pace. It is true that the benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion have been extensively highlighted by several organizations, especially during the past few years.  

Nonetheless, the fact remains that certain types of diversity, such as cultural diversity, may lead to miscommunication, tension and decreased performance if not managed correctly.

There are several potential conflicts that may arise in such a scenario whether in the context of how to get the work done, how to address behavioral norms, or how to communicate effectively. 

This is where an experienced leader is required to step in and manage people’s expectations. Some cultures thrive on urgency and strict deadlines, while others prefer to take their time and conduct in-depth analyses. Some are used to flatter hierarchies while others favor the top-down approach. Some communicate directly and explicitly, while others utilize indirect forms of communication. 

As mentioned in our previous guide to Leading Multi-Generational Workforce, although each culture can display similar patterns and cultural traits, some people might not identify with their cultural group and there are several exceptions like in any group profiling. 

So how can one leader address all of these differences?

Check your biases

First and foremost, leaders should question their own biases by asking themselves a set of questions:

  • How might my core beliefs limit or enable the team?
  • Do I make assumptions about people based on their cultural background?
  • Am I inclusive enough? Do I see the positive aspects of diversity and leverage them?
  • What would my team members say about my leadership style?
  • Am I empathetic enough?

Spread Awareness

Cultural intelligence picks up where emotional intelligence leaves off. Psychologist Daniel Goleman describes it as “a propensity to suspend judgment—to think before acting.” When leading a multicultural team, it is highly important to consider cultural intelligence as one of the main factors when assessing the leader. Additionally, it is just as essential to educate the team members about it in order to avoid any potential pitfalls.

Clarity is Key

One of the main cultural differences lies in communication patterns and methods. The role of the leader in this case is to ensure that every message is delivered with the utmost clarity to every member of the team. The best way to achieve this is through factoring in communication preferences and  keeping an open communication channel.

Action Speaks Louder

Very often, small issues are brushed aside until their accumulation leads to a bigger and more serious problem. Leaders must keep an open eye on any recurring issues or challenges that could hinder productivity and address them on a regular basis. These interventions can be in the form of direct individual or group communication, coachings sessions, team gatherings or team-building activities.

Set Guidelines

Guidelines play a big role in reducing confusion and in standardizing processes. As an experienced multicultural leader, it is important to take cultural nuances into account when setting guidelines and to ensure that by following these guidelines, people will feel more at ease with their day-to-day work.

Encourage Collaboration

Allowing people from different cultures to come together and unite over a project, a brainstorming session, a presentation, or any similar activity will help them break barriers. These activities will teach people to listen, communicate effectively, and respect differences.

Diverse teams need diverse leadership with emotional and cultural intelligence. At the end, the goal is to allow every individual to feel heard, safe and respected in their workplace. When this is attained, companies will be able to reap the benefits of diversity.

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