Identity and Cultural Intelligence

I used to think…… I had a strong sense of identity. I knew who I was and where I came from.

I am learning….. Through the stories of others I am uncovering the role identity plays in the development of cultural intelligence. Having a true sense of self and where you come from is important.

The last few months I have had the pleasure of hearing the stories of others through my research on leadership cultural intelligence. Many of the individuals who have participated come from very diverse cultural backgrounds. They are proud of their heritage. The diversity of their experiences impact who they are and how they view the world.

Those that are married to partners from other cultural backgrounds see the richness in the layers of culture that create their identities. Those with children consciously nurture the development of the unique cultural identities of their children steeped in their heritage and language as well as the local culture. Children are encouraged to learn who they are through immersion in the culture of their parents and the culture of the country in which they live.

In the words of my participants:

Cultural intelligence is”ensuring that we are grounded in our own culture and understand who we are and what history molded us.”

“Understanding that cultures influence each other and the importance of the preservation of culture. Take necessary steps to ensure that the two situations can exist in harmony.”

“Cultural intelligence is knowing, understanding and accepting that people each have inner circles-developed from their identity, family, community, country, language and ethnicity.”

“Cultural intelligence does not mean creating an entirely new approach–it can also involve looking for what you know (what is familiar) and making adaptations to the new context. In this way, cultural identity of leaders and learners is fluid.”

“In this process of unlearning, our identities may be somewhat challenged–we may no longer recognize the person we once were. This is not a negative reality; it is empowering. As our lens on the world changes (and widens), we may begin to look at ourselves in a new light.”

Culturally intelligent leaders:

1. Know who they are and where they come from.
2. Hold onto their culture and use it to help them understand others.
3. Are comfortable unlearning and exploring bias/stereotypes and judgements in order to see
themselves and others in a new light.
4. Accept the complexities of culture in order to enrich their identities.

One participant summarized this perfectly….

“The concept of the oneness of humankind, far from claiming uniformity, celebrates the notion of unity in diversity. This approach to cultural diversity allow me to remain open to all cultural perspectives without compromising my value system-just finding new ways to express it.”

What are you learning?

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