Searching for an essay?

Browse the database of more than 4500 essays donated by our community members!

Cultural Intelligence Essay – South Africa


Managing and leading people, with various cultural backgrounds, require “cultural intelligence” which in a global setting is a management challenge in the new millennium.

South Africa has a unique cultural background, with a total population of 46.9 million (SSA, 2005) and a surface area of 1.2 million km2. This equates to approximately 39 persons per square kilometre, speaking more than half a dozen different languages; black Africans (almost 79%) comprise the largest group in the South African population, white (4.4 million), coloured (4.1 million), and the smallest is Indian or Asian (1.1 million). In 1975 South African immigration hit a peak with immigrants from the United Kingdom; in 2003 immigrants came from the United Kingdom, China, Pakistan, India, Germany, and Portugal.

Writing service




[Rated 96/100]

Prices start at $12
Min. deadline 6 hours
Writers: ESL
Refund: Yes

Payment methods: VISA, MasterCard, American Express


[Rated 94/100]

Prices start at $11
Min. deadline 3 hours
Writers: ESL, ENL
Refund: Yes

Payment methods: VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Discover


[Rated 91/100]

Prices start at $12
Min. deadline 3 hours
Writers: ESL, ENL
Refund: Yes

Payment methods: VISA, MasterCard, JCB, Discover

Immigrants carry more than their cultural practices with them into the South African workplace. They also bring a set of underlying values (Mertens, 1998). Claire Grave’s Theory of emergent, cyclical, levels of Existence was first published in The Futurist, April 1974, in an article titled: “Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap” Dr. Caleb Rosado summarizes Spiral Dynamics in the following key points:

Human nature is not static, nor is it finite. Human nature changes as the conditions of existence change, thus forging new systems. Yet, the older systems stay with us. When a new system or level is activated, we change our psychology and rules for living to adapt to those new conditions. We live in a potentially open system of values with an infinite number of modes of living available to us. There is no final state to which we must all aspire. [Here is where Graves differed from Maslow and most other psychologists. Maslow, before his death, told Graves that he (Graves) was correct and he (Maslow) was wrong in thinking of human development as a closed state.

An individual, a company, or an entire society can respond positively only to those managerial principles, motivational appeals, educational formulas, and legal or ethical codes that are appropriate to the current level of human – cultural – existence. A Spiral vortex best depicts this emergence of human systems as they evolve through levels of increasing complexity (Graves, 1974).

Each upward turn of the spiral marks the awakening of a more elaborated version on top of what already exists. The human Spiral, then, consists of a coiled string of value systems, worldviews, and mindsets, each the product of its times and conditions. In other words, new times produce new minds.

In an increasingly diverse business environment, managers must be able to navigate through the thicket of habits, gestures, and assumptions that define their co-worker’s differences (Drucker, 1999). Foreign cultures are everywhere—in other countries, certainly, but also in corporations, vocations, and regions. Interacting within them demands perceptiveness and adaptability. And the people who have those traits in abundance aren’t necessarily the ones who enjoy the greatest social success in familiar settings (Earley et al, 2003).

The people who are socially the most successful among their peers often have the greatest difficulty making sense of, and then being accepted by, cultural strangers (Thomas et al, 2004). Those who fully embody the habits and norms of their native culture may be the most alien when they enter a culture not their own. Sometimes, people who are somewhat detached from their own culture can more easily adopt the mores and even the body language of an unfamiliar host (Earley et al, 2005).

They’re used to being observers and making a conscious effort to fit in. The potential for defining a reliable measure of a cross-cultural facet of intelligence has enormous implications for explaining and predicting the increasingly prevalent cross-cultural interactions that occur in business settings. Cultural intelligence or (CQ) explicitly introduces the concept of mindfulness as a key component for linking knowledge with behavioural capability. It builds on previous definitions by grounding the conceptualization in the cognitive domain and differentiating CQ as a capability that includes skilled behavior.


Culture in general is concerned with beliefs and values on the basis of which people interpret experiences and behave, individually and in groups. Broadly and simply put, “culture” refers to a group or community with which you share common experiences that shape the way you understand the world (Webster, 2005).

On the other hand Schein (1992) acknowledges that, even with rigorous study, we can only make statements about elements of culture, not culture in its entirety. The approach which Schein recommends for inquiring about culture is an iterative, clinical approach, similar to a therapeutic relationship between a psychologist and a patient. Schein’s disciplined approach to culture stands in contrast to the way in which culture is referred to in some of the popular management magazines.

The same person, thus, can belong to several different cultures depending on his or her birthplace; nationality; ethnicity; family status; gender; age; language; education; physical condition; sexual orientation; religion; profession; place of work and its corporate culture.

Apart from the above, Kotter (1982) identified six fundamental patterns of cultural difference, different communication styles, attitudes towards conflict, approaches to completing a task, decision-making styles, attitudes towards disclosure, and approaches to knowing.
Digging deeper into the human physic we always find something hidden below the surface? We all have our unique beliefs, values, perceptions, expectations, attitudes, and assumptions.

2.1 Cultural Dimensions Model

The cultural dimensions model of Geert Hofstede (1957, cited in Goleman, 2002) is a framework that describes five sorts (dimensions) of differences / value perspectives between national cultures:

  1. Power distance (the degree of inequality among people which the population of a country considers as normal)
  2. Individualism versus collectivism (the extent to which people feel they are supposed to take care for or to be cared for by themselves, their families or organizations they belong to)
  3. Masculinity versus femininity (the extent to which a culture is conducive to dominance, assertiveness and acquisition of things versus a culture which is more conducive to people, feelings and the quality of life)
  4. Uncertainty avoidance (the degree to which people in a country prefer structured over unstructured situations)
  5. Long-term versus short-term orientation (long-term: values oriented towards the future, like saving and persistence – short-term: values oriented towards the past and present, like respect for tradition and fulfilling social obligations)

To understand management in a country, one should have both knowledge and empathy with the entire local scene. However, the scores of the unique statistical survey that Hofstede carried out should make everybody aware that people in other countries may think, feel, and act very differently from you, even when confronted with basic problems of society.

Any person dealing with Corporate Strategy is well advised to bear the lessons from Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory constantly in mind (human beings have a tendency to think and feel and act from their own experiences), especially when working internationally.

2.2 Cross-Cultural Communication Challenges – case: eye contact

Culture is often at the root of communication challenges. Exploring historical experiences and the ways in which various cultural groups have related to each other is imperative to opening channels for cross-cultural communication. Thomas & Inkson (2004) unequivocally stated that becoming more aware of cultural differences, as well as exploring cultural similarities, can help you communicate with others more effectively. Next time you find yourself in a confusing situation, ask yourself how culture may be shaping your own reactions, and try to see the world from the other’s point of view.

In some cultures, looking people in the eye is assumed to indicate honesty and candour; in others, it is seen as challenging and rude. In the USA, the cheapest, most effective way to connect with people is to look them in the eye. Most people in Arab cultures share a great deal of eye contact and may regard too little as disrespectful. In English culture, a certain amount of eye contact is required, but too much makes many people uncomfortable. In South Asia and many other cultures, direct eye contact is generally regarded as aggressive and rude.

2.3 Culture Shock – Respecting Differences and Working Together

Failure to identify cultural issues and take action can lead to a culture shock. In order of priority, the most often found symptoms of culture shock are (Foster, 2001) feeling isolated, anxiety and worry, reduction in job performance, high nervous energy, and helplessness. Not coping with culture shock symptoms when they appear can lead to a very negative situation.

Anthropologists discovered that, when faced by interaction that we do not understand, people tend to interpret the others involved as “abnormal”, “weird” or “wrong” (Dawson, 2003). Awareness of cultural differences and recognizing where cultural differences are at work is the first step toward understanding each other and establishing a positive working environment. Use these differences to challenge your own assumptions about the “right” way of doing things and as a chance to learn new ways to solve problems.

2.4 Building Trust across Cultural Boundaries

Research indicates (Jensen, 2000) that there is a strong correlation between components of trust (such as communication effectiveness, conflict management, and rapport) and productivity. Cultural differences play a key role in the creation of trust, since trust is built in different ways, and means different things in different cultures.

For instance, in the U.S., trust is “demonstrated performance over time”. Here you can gain the trust of your colleagues by “coming through” and delivering on time on your commitments. In many other parts of the world, including many Arab, Asian and Latin American countries, building relationships is a pre-requisite for professional interactions (Thomas et al). Building trust in these countries often involves lengthy discussions on non-professional topics and shared meals in restaurants. Work-related discussions start only once your counterpart has become comfortable with you as a person.

Cultural differences in multicultural teams can create misunderstandings between team members before they have had a chance to establish any credibility with each other. Thus, building trust is a critical step in the creation and development of such teams. As a manager of a multicultural team, you need to recognize that building trust between different people is a complex process since each culture has its own way of building trust and its own interpretation of what trust is.


Culture refers to an organization’s values, beliefs, and behaviours. In general, it is concerned with beliefs and values on the basis of which people interpret experiences and behave, individually and in groups. Cultural statements become effective when executives articulate and publish the values of their firm which provide patterns for how employees should behave. Firms with strong cultures achieve higher results because employees sustain focus both on what to do and how to do it.

3.1 Levels of corporate culture

Roger Dawson (2003) said Corporate Culture is shaped by sour past and learning, formed from a pattern of commonly held attributes values, beliefs and assumptions.

With the Three Levels of Culture, Edgard Schein (1992) offered an important contribution to defining what organizational culture actually is. Schein divides organizational culture into three levels depending on our ability to adapt:

1. Artifacts: these “artifacts” are at the surface, those aspects (such as dress) which can be easily discerned, yet are hard to understand;
2. Espoused Values: beneath artifacts are “espoused values” which are conscious strategies, goals and philosophies
3. Basic Assumptions and Values: the core, or essence, of culture is represented by the basic underlying assumptions and values, which are difficult to discern because they exist at a largely unconscious level. Yet they provide the key to understanding why things happen the way they do. These basic assumptions form around deeper dimensions of human existence such as the nature of humans, human relationships and activity, reality and truth.

Dawson (2003) reciprocated Schein’s levels artifacts, espoused values, and basic assumptions and values into surface level, middle level and deepest level respectively.

Surface Level: At this level, culture is both enacted and reinforced through visible appearances and behaviors, such as physical layouts, dress codes, organizational structure, company policies, procedures and programs, and attitudes.

Middle Level: Here, culture is manifested through our beliefs and values.

Deepest Level: At this level, culture is manifested through basic assumptions – our long-learned, automatic responses and established opinions.

3.2 Corporate Culture – Adaptive vs. Unadaptive

The table below clearly indicates the manager’s ability to adapt in the organisation.Table -1 Corporate Culture and Performance



Most managers care deeply about customers, stockholders and employees.

They also strongly value people and processes that can create useful change. Most managers care mainly about themselves, their immediate workgroup or their product. They value the orderly and risk-reducing management process much more highly than leadership initiatives.


Managers pay close attention to all their constituencies, especially customers, and initiate change when necessary to serve their legitimate interests, even if that entails taking some risk. Managers tend to behave somewhat insularly, politically and bureaucratically. As a result, they do not change their strategies quickly to adjust to or take advantage of changes in their business environments.

(Source: “Corporate Culture and Performance”, Kotter, J.P and Heskett, J.L., 1982”)

3.3 Competitive Culture

Based on ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu, app. 500 B.C. Competitive philosophy is described by Sun Tzu as “The Way” or “The Path.” In business, it is called “corporate culture” or, as a focus, the “company mission.” Your core as a competitor is your competitive philosophy. A clear philosophy makes decision-making easier.

See also  Explore the Presentation of Revenge in "Hamlet"

Philosophy guides everything else you do in competition. Nothing is as important as having the right way of thinking. A competitor with a strong philosophy is a strong competitor. Understanding your competitor’s philosophy allows you to predict them.

At General Electric (GE), corporate values are so important to the company, that Jack Welch, the former legendary CEO of the company, had them inscribed and distributed to all GE employees, at every level of the company (Welch, 1995).

The sum is greater than its parts at GE as both business and people diversity is utilized in a most effective way. A major American enterprise with a diverse group of huge businesses, GE is steeped in a learning culture and it is this fact that makes GE a unique company.

As Jack Welch puts it: “What sets GE apart is a culture that uses diversity as a limitless source of learning opportunities, a storehouse of ideas whose breadth and richness is unmatched in world business. At the heart of this culture is an understanding that an organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive business advantage.”


When psychologists began to write and think about intelligence, they initially focused on cognitive aspects, such as memory and problem-solving. However, there have been researchers who recognized early on that the non-cognitive aspects were also important:

Robert Thorndike was writing about social intelligence in 1937, David Wechsler defined intelligence as the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment (Wechsler, 1958:7). As early as 1940 Wechsler referred to non-intellective as well as intellective elements (Wechsler, 1940), by which he meant affective, personal, and social factors.

Furthermore, as early as 1943 Wechsler was proposing that the non-intellective abilities are essential for predicting ones ability to succeed in life. Howard Gardner began to write about multiple intelligence in 1983, when he proposed that intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences are as important as the type of intelligence typically measured by IQ and related tests.

4.1 Emotional Intelligence

Salovey and Mayer actually coined the term emotional intelligence in 1990 and made popular by Daniel Goleman’s book (1995), wherein he condenses the essentials of several hundred people’s research on emotions and intelligence between 1975 and 1994. They described emotional intelligence as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor ones own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide ones thinking and action” (Mayer et al, 1990).

Salovey and Mayer also initiated a research program intended to develop valid measures of emotional intelligence and to explore its significance.

Granted that cognitive ability seems to play a rather limited role in accounting for why some people are more successful than others, in doing the research for his first book, Daniel Goleman becoming aware of Salovey and Mayer’s work in the early 1990s, trained as a psychologist at Harvard where he worked with David McClelland, wrote the popular bestseller “Emotional Intelligence” (1995), in which he offered the first ‘ proof’ that emotional and social factors are important.

Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence implies that, to be successful, we need to be aware of our own emotions in order to manage them and to motivate ourselves. We also need to be aware of and take into account other people’s emotions in order to interact with them.

4.2 The Five (Four) Domains of Emotional Intelligence

Goleman (1995:43) agrees with Salovey’s Five Main Domains of Emotional Intelligence Knowing one’s emotions (self-awareness – recognizing a feeling as it happens), managing emotions (the ability of handling feelings so they are appropriate), motivating oneself (marshalling emotions in the service of a goal), recognizing emotions in others (empathy, social awareness), and handling relationships (skill in managing emotions in others).

More recently, Goleman (2002) favors only Four Domains of Emotional Intelligence Self-awareness (Emotional Self-Awareness, Accurate Self-Assessment and Self Confidence)Self-management (Emotional Self-Control, Transparency (Trustworthiness), Adaptability, Achievement Orientation, Initiative, Optimism, Conscientiousness)Social awareness (Empathy, Organizational Awareness, Service Orientation)Relationship management (Inspirational Leadership, Influence, Developing Others, Change Catalyst, Conflict Management, Building Bonds, Teamwork and Collaboration, Communication)

An important thing to understand is that -at least according to Goleman – these EI competencies are not innate talents, but learned abilities.

According to some scientists, IQ by itself is NOT a very good predictor of job performance. Hunter and Hunter (1984) estimated that at best IQ accounts for about 25 percent of the variance. Sternberg (1996) has pointed out that studies vary and that 10 percent may be a more realistic estimate. In some studies, IQ accounts for as little as 4 percent of the variance. In a recent meta-analysis examining the correlation and predictive validity of EI when compared to IQ or general mental ability, Van Rooy and Viswesvaran (2004) found IQ to be a better predictor of work and academic performance than EI.

However, when it comes to the question of whether a person will become a “star performer” (in the top ten percent, however such performance is appropriately assessed) within that role, or be an outstanding leader, IQ may be a less powerful predictor than emotional intelligence (Goleman 1998, 2001, 2002).

4.3 How can we assess and measure Emotional Intelligence?

Instruments used for measuring Emotional Intelligence include EQ-I (Bar-On, 1997): a self-report instrument to assess those personal qualities that enabled some people to possess better emotional well-being than others. Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 1998): a test of ability where the test-taker performs a series of tasks that are designed to assess the person’s ability to perceive, identify, understand, and work with emotion. Emotional Competence Inventory (ECI) (Goleman, 1998): a 360-degree instrument, where people evaluate either the individuals within an organization (Individual Feedback Reports) or the organization as a whole (WorkForce Audits).

These audits can provide an organizational profile for any size group within the company. The Emotional Competence Inventory works with the 19/21 competencies that Goleman’s research suggests which are linked to emotional intelligence.

4.3 Are emotional and cultural intelligence related?

According to Earley and Mosakowski (2004), CQ is related to EQ, Emotional Intelligence, but picks up where EQ leaves off; it is the “seemingly natural ability for an outsider to a culture to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous actions or gestures the way that person’s cultural compatriots would”. This might happen across national cultures, such as a South African in India or even inside co-cultures, such as in different areas of South Africa.

They both give an example of the latter in the 2004 October issue of the Harvard business review: a sales manager from a California medical devices group owned by Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals who was accustomed to a very competitive environment where senior managers hounded unproductive sales people to perform better and rewarded them heavily when they did. However, at the Company’s HQ in Indianapolis, to which the sales manager was transferred, criticism was restrained and confrontation was kept to a minimum. To motivate people, Lilly management encouraged salespeople and rewarded them marginally in monetary terms.

The transferred sales manager expressed his (cultural) dilemma: “Back in L.A., I knew how to handle myself and manage my sales team. I’d push and confront them if they weren’t performing, and they’d respond. I was evaluated highly and people respected me. Here in Indianapolis, they don’t like my style, and they seem to avoid the challenges I put to them. I just can’t seem to get things done as well here as I did in California. Why is that?”


Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a person’s capability to function effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity (Ang, Van Dyne, & Koh, 2005; Earley & Ang, 2003; Earley & Mosakowski, 2005). In today’s increasingly global and diverse work settings, this capability is important for employees, managers, and organizations. Cultural intelligence is an individual capability. It is consistent with contemporary conceptualizations of intelligence that recognize intelligence is more than cognitive ability (Sternberg et al, 1986).

For example, research recognizes the importance of interpersonal intelligence, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence. Like these other forms of intelligence, CQ complements IQ (cognitive intelligence) by focusing on specific capabilities that are important for high quality personal relationships and effectiveness in culturally diverse settings.

Cultural intelligence provides insights about individual capabilities to cope with multi-cultural situations, engage in cross-cultural interactions, and perform in culturally diverse workgroups. Building on the work of Earley and Ang (2003), Lin Van Dyne and Soon Ang have developed and validated a four-factor measure of Cultural Intelligence. To date, this work has been presented at numerous national and international conferences in the United States, Europe, and Asia. There are four factors or aspects to CQ: CQ-Strategy, CQ-Knowledge, CQ-Motivation, and CQ-Behavior.

5.1 The Four Factors of Cultural Intelligence

CQ-Strategy is how a person makes sense of inter-cultural experiences. It reflects the processes individuals use to acquire and understand cultural knowledge. It occurs when people make judgments about their own thought processes and those of others. This includes strategizing before an inter-cultural encounter, checking assumptions during an encounter, and adjusting mental maps when actual experiences differ from expectations.

CQ- Knowledge is one’s understanding of how cultures are similar and how cultures are different. It reflects general knowledge structures and mental maps about cultures. It includes knowledge about economic and legal systems, norms for social interaction, religious beliefs, aesthetic values, and language in different cultures.

CQ-Motivation is a person’s interest in experiencing other cultures and interacting with people from different cultures. Motivational CQ is the magnitude and direction of energy applied toward learning about and functioning in cross-cultural situations. It includes the intrinsic value people place on culturally diverse interactions as well as their sense of confidence that they can function effectively in settings characterized by cultural diversity.

CQ-Behavior is a person’s capability to adapt verbal and nonverbal behaviour so it is appropriate for different cultures. It includes having a flexible repertoire of behavioural responses that are appropriate in a variety of situations and having the capability to modify both verbal and nonverbal behaviour based on those involved in a specific interaction or in a particular setting.

5.2 Why Cultural Intelligence?

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) – a new domain of intelligence that has immense relevance to the increasingly global and diverse workplace. Some aspects of culture are easy to see, the obvious things like art and music and behavior. However (Earley et al, 2003), the significant and most challenging parts of other cultures are hidden. These might include our beliefs, values, expectations, attitudes, and assumptions. Our cultural programming in these areas shapes everything we do. Most importantly they help us to decide what is ‘normal’ in our eyes.
It is the perceived deviation by other cultures from our version of normality that causes the problems. In short, ‘us’ and ‘them’ live on.”(Gosling et al, 2003)

Cultural intelligence will help you manage effectively cross-cultural differences, in particular, lower the cultural barriers caused by ‘us’ and ‘them’ and to allow you to predict what ‘they’ are thinking and how they will react to your behavior patterns, and harness the power of cultural diversity

5.3 Research Results on Cultural Intelligence

Although empirical research on cultural intelligence is relatively new, the initial results are promising. To date, results demonstrate that CQ predicts cultural judgment and decision-making (CJDM) and task performance. More important, CQ increases our understanding of these performance outcomes over and above demographic characteristics, general cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, and openness to experience. In other words, even after accounting for the effects of these other predictors, CQ further increases our ability to predict and understand decision-making performance.

A sample of five managers was taken from my organization (M-1 being the lowest level of management)), empirical questionnaire equally distributing 25% amongst the four factors of CQ, as results are shown below:
Chart – 1 ( CQ in the Organisation)

As shown from the above chart, the experience is also an important factor in CQ, previous encounters and business experiences also increase your CQ, mind racking problems when tackling cultural dilemmas for low-level managers become common or routine tasks for those with extensive experience and cultural exposure.

CQ is not an innate talent but a learned ability, which is cultivated as time passes you cannot expect a low level manager as talented and as educated as he may be to handle all situations with a high level of cultural intelligence. The higher ups in management (the old guard) have already mastered CQ in my organisation although not familiar with the term; they are used to calling it “global business practices”.

Thus, those who have higher CQ are more effective at making decisions about inter-cultural situations. Research (Earley et al, 2003) also demonstrates that CQ predicts adjustment in situations characterized by cultural diversity. As with predictions for CJDM, research shows that CQ adds explanatory power over and above demographic characteristics, general cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, and openness to experience.

In sum, higher CQ capabilities are positively related to feeling adjusted in situations characterized by cultural diversity. Looking at specific factors of CQ enriches our understanding of these relationships. For example, CQ-Strategy and CQ-Behavior predict task performance. As one progresses to higher levels of management the capability to make sense of inter-cultural experiences (such as making judgments about their own thought processes and those of others) perform at higher levels in multi-cultural work settings.

The higher the CQ-Strategy, the higher the performance. Similarly, those who have the capability to adapt their verbal and nonverbal behavior to fit specific cultural settings have a flexible repertoire of behavioral responses that enhances their task performance in culturally diverse settings. Thus, the higher the CQ-Behavior, the higher the performance.

Finally, CQ-Motivation and CQ-Behavior each predict three different forms of adjustment. Those who are interested in experiencing other cultures and feel confident that they can interact with people who have different cultural backgrounds are better adjusted in culturally diverse situations.

See also  John Adams The American Leader Considered Dictator

Likewise, those who have a broad repertoire of verbal and nonverbal behavioral capabilities feel better adjusted in situations characterized by cultural diversity. This pattern of relationships applies to the three types of adjustment typically included in international research: general adjustment, interaction adjustment, and work adjustment. In sum, the higher the CQ-Motivation, the higher the adjustment; and the higher the CQ-Behavior, the higher the adjustment.


According to Geert Hofstede (1992), there is no such thing as a universal management method or management theory across the globe. Even the word ‘management’ has different origins and meanings in countries throughout the world. Management is not a phenomenon that can be isolated from other processes taking place in society.

It interacts with what happens in the family, at school, in politics, and government. It is obviously also related to religion and to beliefs about science. While it shares many of the properties of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Intelligence goes one step further by equipping a person to distinguish behaviors produced by the culture in question from behaviors that are peculiar to particular individuals and those found in all human beings.

You can find a strategic competitive advantage in an organizational and cultural context by seeking to leverage, rather than diminish, opposite forces. “An important but widely overlooked principle of business success is that integrating opposites, as opposed to identifying them as inconsistencies and driving them out, unleashes power. This is true on both a personal level (the balanced manager is more effective than his or her peer at one end of the control spectrum) and on an organizational level as well (Thomas et al, 2004).

6.1 Manager’s Worldly Mindset

People tend to think of the world as an increasingly homogenous place but it is really a collection of worlds within worlds, with definite boundaries and edges. Just because a company sells products globally it may not take into account how those products are perceived and used in different cultures. Managers with a worldly mindset spend time in places where products are made, customers served, and the environment threatened.(Ribbens et al, 2000)

One advantage of cultural diversity is the potential for innovation arising from the presence of multiple perspectives. Yet, it is clear that not all multicultural teams/organizations are able to harness this benefit. Cultural intelligence (CQ) may enhance the likelihood of innovation success in culturally diverse teams/organizations. CQ facilitates the reconciliation of differences and conflict, and enhances the probability of arriving at a culturally synergistic solution that embraces the ideas or interests of various parties

6.2 Cross-Cultural Training: What is it?

Culture-specific know-how is a next step that builds upon the basics of tolerance and appreciation of differences common to Diversity training. OK, so people are different. HOW do I manage diverse people? What motivates Asians, Middle Easterners or Europeans? What forms of feedback and performance incentives are culturally appropriate and will help our company achieve goals?

Cross-cultural training helps us understand specific cultural differences in the way people are wired to think. Identifying differences between people in terms of culturally-rooted behaviour builds understanding of the causes behind the differences: the reasons WHY people from certain groups might behave as they do. Cross-cultural training has both international and domestic applications.

Why might a first-generation Latino employee be hesitant to participate in 360-degree feedback or ask for a promotion? Why does it take so long to complete agreements with Asians? Both of these questions can be answered by culture-specific training (based on social science research) on the differences in how people have learned from their cultures to think, perceive, interact, work, negotiate, learn or be motivated. Professional cross-cultural training then focuses on skills and competencies that help bridge differences and solve common problems that arise when people from different cultural backgrounds work together.

6.3 Hiring, staffing and incentives

HR professionals need new, relevant information on issues related to recruiting, hiring and retaining diverse employees. Simple, well-intentioned mistakes abound in corporate America. One common problem is hiring a third or fourth generation individual to interface with newly arrived immigrants. (Thomas, 2002) The U.S. born liaison person may not have the language skills or cultural competencies to relate to new employees.

A large hospital in Dallas hired a Hispanic translation supervisor who did not speak Spanish and was not able to decipher the hierarchical dynamics of both employees and patients. Another high-tech assembly client in Dallas implemented an “employee of the month” incentive program for employees who are mostly Asian immigrants. Performance did not improve! Because of a cultural emphasis on harmony and cooperation, Asians often do not feel comfortable winning an individual prize or gaining personal recognition (Earley et al, 2003).

Intercultural professionals can facilitate the development of cross-cultural competencies and skills essential to an increasingly multicultural marketplace.

In Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation, Bill Murray’s character, Bob Harris, has an intriguing rendezvous with Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson). While visiting Japan, both victims of jet-lag, they meet in the hotel bar, unable to sleep because their bodies are 12 hours behind. In our increasingly diverse and global marketplace, we have observed that many companies are also behind; culture-lagged instead of jet-lagged. Assumptions about the best ways to recruit, hire, manage and retain high-quality team members often remain static, even as the marketplace changes with the speed of sound.

6.4 Why raise your Cultural Intelligence?

To help us keep from losing sleep, we’ll take a closer look at how basic cross-cultural competencies can make a world of difference. The following stories are true (mentioned in Dave Thomas’s 2002 book Essentials of International Management):

Nancy Lane is a non-Spanish speaking director of marketing for a majority Latino team at a TV station in LA. A talented and intelligent leader, she implemented the management style that had always produced success for her in other organizations. As the weeks progressed, she ladled out more and more projects, pleased with her team’s ability to take on such a load. The group remained silently diligent, and because no one said anything to her, she thought that everything was great. Eventually, one of the employees came to her office and said, “Nancy, you’re killing us. We can’t take it.”

Shocked, Ms. Lane learned that for months, her staff had felt suffocated under an impossibly heavy load. Rather than complaint to her, they stayed late every night and even worked weekends, something she never intended them to do. Thanks to trusting relationships, she learned that many Hispanics don’t feel comfortable “pushing back” at managers. Latino employees often do not critique or give negative feedback to superiors. To do so would be disrespectful. Ms. Lane adjusted her style and opened communications for her employees. Lane is an excellent example of a leader who acquired cross-cultural skills.

Imagine you are an expert engineer in the world’s leading wind energy company in Europe. Proud of your company’s pioneering achievements in 17 years, you are suddenly acquired by a huge American multinational. The global giant brings its policies, procedures, practices and values and imposes them without consulting your tried and true leaders. The Americans lead from overseas, and most speak only English. Within 24 months, attrition reaches 20%. Finding replacements is a long shot at best. After receiving the international Engineer of the Year Award, you and your staff of 6 resign and go to work for a competitor.

The American multinational could have retained their top talent by investing in basic cross-cultural education – and by cultivating the respect of the acquired company. Instead, the six sigma training was perceived as a religious cult by the acquired Europeans.

The good news: Most cross-cultural management issues, including the ones described here, don’t require a Ph.D. in sociology to correct. They do require cultural knowledge. They do not require radical changes to policy or procedures, rather an intelligence about cultural differences. When working with diverse people or developing new policies, asking the right questions is the best way to start (Bloisi et al, 2003).
Culture-specific skills can be learned and have a direct correlation to the bottom line. Cultural competence is essential for maintaining competitiveness in a market that becomes more diverse and more international with each passing minute.

Don’t get lost in the transition!

In the Star Trek TV series, the Voyager crew is a metaphor for a future where multiculturalism works. Human, Klingon, Vulcan, Borg, Talaxian and Hologram all function together with super-efficiency that only fantasy can make believable. To us here on lowly Earth, it feels more difficult to work with a mixed group of “them” than it does a group of homogeneous “us.” But before you conclude that Star Trek is only dramatic idealism, know that research supports the idea that a diverse mix of people increases both the resources and opportunities for strength.

Earley and Mosakowski (2004) conclude that anyone reasonably alert, motivated, and poised can attain an acceptable CQ, recommending a 6 step approach to cultivating your cultural intelligence:

  1. Examine your CQ strengths and weaknesses in order to establish a starting point
  2. Select training that focuses on your weaknesses
  3. Apply this training
  4. Organize support in own organization
  5. Enter the cultural setting, starting with focus on strengths
  6. Reevaluation (360º), possibly define further training


One of Canada’s leading international banks recently acquired three banks in Asia. This stalwart institution translated their “Leadership Competencies” into Asian languages and had HR implement them as guidelines. Savvy enough to avoid the American tendency of a forced fit; the Canadians sought cross-cultural competency training for their highest levels of executives. They learned that not all of their competencies translated, culturally. Among these were relationship building, strategic influencing, communication styles, change management and self-awareness and personal development. Asian values such as group harmony and interdependence determine how such practices differ in Asia.

Cross-cultural research reveals (cited in Thomas et al, 2004) that Asians have a low tolerance for risk or a high need for structure. Change management therefore must be implemented in Asian-friendly ways. Armed with cultural intelligence, the bankers avoided imposing culturally biased criteria and ill-fitting expectations, which in all probability would have proven counterproductive.

It is not always enough to translate policies or values into other languages. In cases like these, the concepts of what makes a “good leader” must be reevaluated to achieve the best employee buy-in and to fit with the local business structure. Failure, cross-culturally is assured by imposing a set of policies or values that are culturally incompatible with the way business is done in a particular region or with diverse people (Thomas et al, 2004).

7.1 Different Leadership styles

There is no such thing as a universal leadership method or leadership theory across the globe. Even the word ‘leadership’ has different origins and meanings in countries throughout the world. Do you think Gandhi’s leadership would have fitted the British in world war two? Sun Tzu’s art of war guidance be accepted from the Arabs in the dark ages? The idea of great individuals is one that has a great deal of influence on how we think about leadership.

While researchers have used different ways of describing leadership styles, two dimensions have shown up consistently (Thomas et al, 2004) concern for tasks (getting things done, achieving organisational goals) and concern for relationships (getting on well with people, involving them actively in decision making). We can then assume then that relationship-oriented leaders tend to have more satisfied subordinates, but when push comes to shove most organisations prioritize task accomplished leaders at least nowadays they are interested in employee satisfaction.

Both dimensions are clearly stated in Robert House’s Path Goal Theory where a cultural leader can affect the performance, satisfaction, and motivation of a group by offering rewards for achieving performance goals, clarifying paths towards these goals, removing obstacles to performance. However, whether leadership behavior can do so effectively also depends on situational factors.

According to House, there are four different types of leadership styles depending on each individual in the group’s cultural background, Directive Leadership: The leader gives specific guidance of performance to subordinates, Supportive Leadership: The leader is friendly and shows concern for the subordinates, Participative Leadership: The leader consults with subordinates and considers their suggestions, Achievement-oriented  Leadership: The leader sets high goals and expects subordinates to have high-level performance

Different culture means different types of leadership, the Arabs always expect male leadership, merit is nullified(as apposed to the American culture) and tribal linage and heritage is all you need to become a leader, such rules, religion, and regulations are adhered to without hesitation or doubt, emphasis on loyalty is very crucial. Japan is somewhat similar to the Arab loyalty factor as their leadership is influenced by the cultural value of amae (Indulgent love , emotional debt) this runs across the whole organisational structure in Japan, where On (debt or obligation), and Giri (moral obligation to repay debt). A Japanese leader who neglects obligation to reciprocate will soon lose trust and the support of his subordinates. (Thomas et al, 2004)

The French and the Russian leadership is highly influenced on hierarchy, the French being based on social (education and status) while the Russian a more centralized approach where the top leaders and managers bare all the responsibility.

7.2 Key cultural values and their affect on leadership

Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski in HBR of October 2004 stated that CQ (the ability to make sense of unfamiliar contexts and then blend in) key cultural values are likely to affect leadership traits:

  1. The Head / Cognitive (rote learning about the beliefs, customs, and taboos of foreign cultures, the approach corporate training programs tend to favor, will never prepare a person for every situation that arises, nor will it prevent terrible gaffes),
  2. The Body / Physical (you will not disarm your foreign hosts, guests, or colleagues simply by showing you understand their culture; your actions and demeanor must prove that you have already to some extent entered their world), and
  3. The Heart / Emotional/motivational (Adapting to a new culture involves overcoming obstacles and setbacks. People can do that only if they believe in their own efficacy).
See also  Character Analysis of Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird


8.1 Cultural diversity effects on a team

Cultural diversity can have both positive and negative effects on work group performance (Cherniss et al, 2001). Outcomes are related to key factors including the number of different cultures represented in a group; the extent of cultural differences; the nature of the tasks; the structure of the group itself; the length of time the group works together, and the support and empowerment provided by management.

Initially, cultural diversity in a work team may actually decrease overall group performance. (Thomas et al, 2004) But over time, cultural diversity can increase it. As groups age, members find ways of dealing with the problems of intercultural interaction and increasingly demonstrate more creativity, higher quality decisions and superior performance. This can include the development of a hybrid “team culture.”
Groups with high degrees of interpersonal interaction, such as teams, will be more susceptible to both diversity gains and losses (Goleman, 2001:443). Less structured tasks such as creative problem solving and decision making are more open to the influence of cultural differences than are highly structured and regulated production tasks. On the production line, cultural differences might be overlooked, becoming obvious in a weekly team meeting where improvements or changes are being discussed.
Cultural communications – both national and organizational – differ along many dimensions. Four of the most important are (Goleman, 2004):

  1. Directness (get to the point versus imply the messages)
  2. Hierarchy (follow orders versus engage in debate)
  3. Consensus (dissent is accepted versus unanimity is needed)
  4. Individualism (individual winners versus team effectiveness)

8.2 How can I manage multicultural teams better?

Even after diversity training, learning that we need to be more tolerant, understanding and respectful of cultural differences. But how do we apply such knowledge, how do we manage diverse employees? Our HR staff has limited time– we cannot be expected to become experts on a number of different cultures. What can we do? How do we harness the potential of global diversity?

The first step is to understand where your diverse staff members are coming from, culturally. Whether an employee or team member is a Dutch with many generations in the South Africa, or from Asian, Indian or Middle Eastern backgrounds, there are tools for understanding. Cross-cultural researchers have identified specific factors that are primary contributors to cultural identity and keys to behavior. These include the influence of a person’s traditional ethnic culture; the influence of the dominant culture, and previous experiences in interactions with the dominant culture (Goleman, 2002).

8.3 Traditional Influence – Transitional influence

Traditional influence (Van dyne et al, 2005) refers to cultural patterns that reflect a person’s original roots. The closer one is culturally to one’s ancestry, the more traditional the values and attitudes.

First-generation employees who have emigrated from other countries are most likely to carry strong influences of their traditional culture. But it is possible to live in South Africa for generations and remain isolated in a cultural enclave — even for the forced dominant-culture whites. Cultural silos are more the norm than the exception. Asians, Indians, African or others who remain immersed in traditional culture or have limited interaction with the dominant white mainstream can be very traditional. If you identify traditional influence in your diverse employees, culture-specific knowledge and cultural training will help you manage them.

As immigrants settle into the 2nd and 3rd generations in the South Africa, whether from Germany, Holland, India, China or England, people start the process sociologists call assimilation. This involves becoming mainstream or blending into the South African way of living. The longer people have been here, the greater the influence of the dominant culture. Second generation employees can be particularly valuable as “bridge” people. They know how to navigate two cultural worlds and have two sets of skills they can utilize at will. Too often, the dual skills of these people are overlooked by organizations.

8.4 Group Process and Performance – i.e. Acculturation

Multicultural employees can sometimes have the look but not the feel of diversity. There are many Europeans and Asians who although they look ethnic and have traditional-sounding names, function and self-identify as South African first. Some German South Africans are offended if expected to speak German when they do not. Asians often acculturate rather than assimilate (Thomas et al, 2004). That is, they learn to be successful the “South African way,” without the normal sacrifice of their traditional cultures. In both of these cases, people are strongly influenced by the dominant or mainstream South African culture, and workplace behaviour will reflect this.

An important feature of how groups work is the difference between task and process (cited in Thomas et al, 2004:146). In groups tasks are activities or means by which the group achieves its goals. Processes on the other hand are the way the group goes about the task. Process can be either positive or negative. Groups have many forms as they are all not the same, you could be in an airline cabin crew, or a special police task force ; where the latter is heavily dependent on cultural intelligence the former is quite the opposite where procedures and technology clearly override the need for high levels of cultural intelligence.

In order to work effectively in an international setting companies’ are increasingly turning to trans-national teams (Castells, 1996; Lipnak, 1997; West, 1997). These are seen as an effective and flexible means of bringing both skills and expertise to bear on specific problems. Working in a distributed environment will affect the teams in that they will lose many of the opportunities for informal collaboration and knowledge sharing. Base on personal experience working in more internationalised context places further strains on the way a team works as they not only have to cope with geographical distance, but also time, culture, and possibly language differences.

Fundamental changes have taken place in the business environment which forces people and organisations to operate in “two spaces” simultaneously: the physical space and the electronic space, thus virtual teams were created. Issues of trust and identity always exist in virtual teams, Chris Kimble (2000) argues that, due to certain barriers only a small proportion of this team reach a satisfactory level of performance. Thomas and Inkson (2004) replied by stating that it is then the manager’s duty to be a little more patient with such a group and related three keys to overcoming the difficulties of geographic dispersion (virtuality) are:

  • Developing a shared understanding among group members about goals and group processes
  • Using information technology to integrate member skills and abilities
  • The development of trust among group members.

However teams and groups can also develop negative processes that negatively effect the output and performance either on an individual or a group level, some of the common processes are shown below:

  • Group Think: Irving Janis said it was a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. . It is based on human social behavior in which maintaining group cohesiveness and solidarity is felt as more important than considering the facts in a realistic manner.
  • Social Loafing: a tendency for people who work in groups to exert less effort than if they worked individually – ultimately it leads to lower group satisfaction and lower group productivity.(Bloisi et al, 2003)
  • Cultural Stereotyping: a cultural concept held by one culture about another. They are often used in a negative or prejudiced sense and are frequently used to justify certain discriminately behaviors.
  • Pygmalion effect: if a supervisor thinks her subordinates will succeed, they are more likely to succeed.
  • Galatea effect: if a person thinks he will succeed, he is more likely to succeed.

Different cultures leads to a diverse workforce which in turn augments the array of ideas and approaches available for the team when tackling tasks and assignments. The key is to create a process that encourages them and capitalizes on them to create synergy. (Thomas et al, 2004)

The challenge for all of a manger of a multicultural team is to find ways to maximize the positive consequences of multiculturalism while minimizing the negatives. We may not come close to a Star-Trek-like world, but asking the right questions and learning how people are influenced by their culture is a good place to start.

8.5 Culturally Intelligent Team Management

All managers aspire for one thing whilst managing a team, some even consider it the holy grail of high-performing teams and that is synergy. What can a manager do in order to set his team on fire, how can he facilitate the process on the team?
Thomas and Inkson (2004) acknowledged three things a culturally intelligent manager can do in order to facilitate the latter process and capitalize on the team’s diversity. These are to manage the environment of the group, to allow culturally diverse groups to develop, and to foster cultural intelligence in the group.

Management support, rewards, group status, and self-management are vital for group success, (Thomas et al, 2004) cross-cultural groups especially require a manager who understands the cultural differences of his subordinates and respects their input and performance.

Maintaining the group status and rewarding the group when deserved is essential to maintain the group’s self-esteem however that also depends on the different cultures the manager is dealing with. In the end self-management, goal setting is also necessary sometimes in order to harness the unique and individual abilities of each of the team members’ culture.

8.6 Developing cultural intelligence in the group – effective team management

The best way to capitalize on cultural diversity in groups is to ensure that group members have high CQ and the group leaders have the will and the skills to explore the process issues within the group. (Thomas et al, 2004) In that essence, it is therefore the manager’s responsibility to engender CQ into the group, facilitate the training of the group in order to reach a cross-cultural understanding and skills to enhance their performance for the benefit of the organization.

But is a high CQ all that a manager requires? The answer is no, a manager and leader also require the knowledge and the ability to clearly characterize the specifics of his group. (Thomas et al, 2004:160) Whether that group is a team, task force, or a crew; whether they are performing a routine task or a complex one; the degree of cultural diversity in the team and the amount of culture clash the team can sustain; and ensuring that all group members regardless of who they are or where they come from contribute.

Depending on the nature and the cultural composition of the group it will always be the manager/leader’s responsibility to be proactive especially when dealing with interpersonal sensitive issues among the group, it goes even further to help the group realize those issues and ease the confrontation process; and so the development of cultural intelligence in the team leader/manager and the team can create a basis for common understanding and esteem that will permit people to find ways to resolve problems to capitalize on the positive effects of cultural diversity while lessening the negative effects, such an objective is only achievable by using group process knowledge, practicing mindfulness in group interactions, adapt behaviour to accommodate the unique circumstances of the group, and encourage and train members to be culturally intelligent as well.


Among the twenty-first century skills that are frequently talked about are the ability to adapt constantly to different people from diverse cultures and the ability to manage the interconnectedness of today’s world. The global workplace requires individuals to be sensitive to different cultures, to interact appropriately with people from different cultures, and to analyze new cultures as they are encountered. To do all this, individuals, whether they are at home or abroad, need cultural intelligence.

It is needed to manage the stress of culture shock and the consequent frustration and confusion that typically result from clashes of cultural differences. It is essential in facilitating effective cross-cultural adjustment. One could use the metaphor of a “lens” through which you view the world. It is central to what you see, how you make sense of what you see, and how you express yourself.

But what have we established?

Culture is persuasive. Everyone, every organization, every region, and every country has a culture. Understanding cultural beliefs, values, and perceptions of others is a key to success, and vice versa. Learning diverse cultural heritage is rewarding, inspiring and empowering. Teamwork in the increasingly global and diverse workplace is impossible without CQ. “Us” and “Them” cultural programming and divide can be eased through a better understanding of their perceptions. Rapport starts with an understanding of where the other people are coming from and acceptance of their point of view and style.

Exploiting cultural diversity is the key to unlimited innovation and growth.

Cite this page

Choose cite format:
Cultural Intelligence Essay - South Africa. (2021, Feb 02). Retrieved February 7, 2023, from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.