Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Multicultural Lessons on Leadership

Written by: on May 10, 2018

David Livermore’s Leading with Cultural Intelligence is a practical multicultural guide that helps Christian leaders engage the world more effectively for Christ. Cultural Intelligence is an acquired skill that this work helps the leader gain through training and practical experience. The key to success according to Livermore is perception, willingness, and the leaders desire to learn and engage people and their differences in cross-cultural contexts. This book is a source guide and check-list for the leader who wants to be successful in today’s multicultural world. I will engage Livingston’s work and watch for themes and ideas that can help my research and understanding of spiritual warfare in cultures outside of the Western context.

My first exposure to Livermore was his book Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World during my Master of Divinity program.[1] I began implementing his ideas and recommendations in my market-place ministry service in the Middle-East with good success. Greeting others in their cultural context is probably one of the most important traits I think we can learn out of a book like this. The West is so business-driven that the greeting is often missed, and we go straight into give and take actions without any regard for the other person we are engaged with. My time in the mission field helped me change that approach and now I always look for opportunities to “slow-down” and greet others, especially from other cultures. You may remember from our 2017 Advance in Cape Town that when you shook the hand of one of the indigenous nationals on any of our field trips that they would culturally use their left hand to support their right hand during the hand-shake. They were culturally acknowledging your higher status out of respect, knowing that you were from the West, educated, and wealthy beyond their cultures practical imagination.[2]

Here are three reviews on Livermore from Miller, Kohnen, and Elems that confirm his practical approach and scholarship in cultural intelligence. First, Miller says that Livermore’s cultural intelligence thesis does not require leaders to abandon their “convictions, values, and assumptions.”[3] Instead, cultural intelligence is more of a change in thinking, especially for Western leaders, to learn how to respect dissimilar cultures and learn how to embrace and value the differences that make the difference. A strength of this book is that it “gives the reader the knowledge and skills” to develop a personalized cross-cultural action plan that not only fits the individual leader, but also the specific cultural intelligence challenge at hand.[4] Second, Kohnen supports Livermore’s use of four capabilities that measures both emotional intelligence (EQ) with academic intelligence (IQ) and formed what he calls cultural intelligence (CQ).[5] CQ dimensions of Drive, Knowledge, Strategy, and Action are the consistent capabilities used to become effective in cross-cultural leadership.[6] This model “shows leaders how to act across any cultural divide.”[7]

Third, Elems caught my eye for my dissertation research in saying, “Everyone tends to be blinded toward their own cultural heritage and influences.”[8] When an author talks about blindness, I am keen to dig deeper and see what they are really talking about. In Livingston’s case, he is spot-on by describing the leadership implications for knowing and understanding the ways cultures explain the supernatural based on their rational and mystical contexts.[9] In my journeys around the world for missions and marketplace ministry my experiences connect more with Livermore’s “mystical” approach; confirming that there are supernatural powers, “both good and evil, that control day-to-day events and life.”[10] In matters of spiritual warfare, I support Livermore’s leadership approach that encourages respect and humility. Becoming a “student” of the cultures values, supernatural beliefs, and key religious dates helps the Western leader show and gain respect in the multicultural work and ministry settings.

Knowing when to adapt and not to adapt is also a very important skill in cultural intelligence.  For example, Livermore describes the CQ Action with three sub-dimensions of speech acts, verbal behavior, and nonverbal behavior.[11] Going “native” by striping oneself of one’s own culture is often seen as deceptive, insincere, and just trying too hard to fit the cross-cultural context.[12] I agree with Livermore’s personal field examples and offer one of my own in support that helps connect me with his work.

From 2009-2011 I served as the CEO for a Mission Aviation organization in Botswana and Zambia and led a multicultural team of indigenous nationals and expatriate missionaries from around the world. My Director of CARE Ministries for orphans and vulnerable children was Saralee M.  She was from South Africa and had married a man from Botswana who had just died before I was assigned to the mission.  She was educated, capable, and very experienced in her ministry.  She helped guide me through many multicultural scenarios and I valued her professionalism, sensitivity, and willingness to help the lekgoa (white man).  There was a situation where one of her male subordinates had poor performance issues that needed to be addressed.  She brought the matter to my attention, advised what happened and what needed to be done to counsel, retrain, and empower the member.  I gave her my approval and support and asked her to advise me when the matter had been resolved.

Since I had not read Livermore’s books, yet I missed this classic multicultural difference that made a leadership difference in Botswana. First, even through Saralee was his boss with more education and experience in the performance area of concern, the employee was a mature male with grey hair. It went against cultural norms for a woman, of any age, to discipline or counsel an older male in the workplace.  In fact, when I asked Saralee to accompany me when I met with the male, she would not, because it would cause him to lose face, if she as his boss, was part of the exchange between an outsider lekgoa and the indigenous moruti (Setswana Pastor).  My Action CQ improved out of this leadership exchange and since then I have been very sensitive and watchful for multicultural differences in ministry and workplace contexts.

Overall, Livermore’s Leading with Cultural Intelligence is a “must read” for Christian leaders engaged in any type of ministry or service with cross-cultural people. It gives me a better global perspective and multicultural foundation as I continue to investigate and research the phenomenon of the wide-spread problem of spiritual warfare in the world.

Stand firm,

M. Webb

[1] Livermore, David A. Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage our Multicultural World. (Baker Academic, 2009).
[2] Ibid., 232.
[3] Gloria Miller. “Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success.” Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship 21, no. 1 (2016): 86.
[4] Ibid., 87.
[5] James Kohnen, “Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success.” The Quality Management Journal 19, no. 3 (2012): 70.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 71.
[8] Ugochukwu Elems. “LEADING WITH CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE: THE NEW SECRET TO SUCCESS.” The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership 5, no. 1 (Spring, 2011): 103.
[9] David Livermore. Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success. (New York: AMACOM, 2009) 92.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., 158.
[12] Ibid., 178.

About the Author


4 responses to “Multicultural Lessons on Leadership”

  1. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mike!

    Very interesting that you talk about “greeting” in your introduction. I have noticed, that during our Chats on Zoom, that you always start out by greeting everyone. I think it is very effective, and connects us all to what you are about to say, in the right way.

    I totally agree with you on our culture not being equal with other cultures about our understanding of spiritual warfare. Your discussion of respect and humility went a long distance with me.

    I am sure in your research and dissertation, you are going to tell us how we can catch up in America, with the rest of the world, with your topic. I look forward to hearing all you have to write!

  2. Jean Ollis says:

    Mike, thank you for connecting your mission work to this text. I’m curious how you have utilized cultural intelligence in your jobs in the US? Do you connect the need for the police force to have CQ or the military? I know you have had years of valuable leadership – home and abroad! (And almost forgot to mention the cultural gender oppression you experienced in your story)…

  3. Mike,

    I appreciated reading the story about Saralee and the cultural challenge you faced in dismissing the senior gentleman.

    Sometimes in cross-cultural settings we must surrender our way of doing things. Forcing equality by insisting Saralee fire the man as she was his boss would have not been respectful to the culture. Rather, she was giving you a work around solution that fit her culture. I love the creativity of other ways of thinking!

    Thanks for your post!

  4. Great first blog of the summer quarter Mike! I love how you bring your mission experience into the reading and loved your real live CQ Action example. I also agree that having a high CQ can help you in connecting appropriately with people regarding spiritual warfare. Wondering if you have any cultural snafoos with spiritual warfare yet?

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