One of the best-known episodes of the US television show “The Office” is called “Diversity Day”. The setting is in a “typical” American office workspace, where the staff has to attend a mandatory “diversity sensitivity” event. Part of the reason that this episode is so memorable for people, is that the basic premise of enforced sensitivity training rings true.
For Michael Scott, the clueless boss in the episode, he ends up inadvertently using racial/ethnic stereotypes to insult and offend the people who are there. This is the vision that many people hold for what talking about “cultural intelligence” might mean. The question is asked: “Do we really have to do this?”
In his book Leading With Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success, author David Livermore brings an impassioned presentation for why growing in “cultural intelligence” is so necessary and important in the increasingly interconnected world today. It goes far beyond attending a “diversity day” event.
Livermore brings his topic to life by using real world examples from people he has met, along with his own personal stories of cultural missteps and mishaps, as well as insightful research. In laying out the “why” question, Livermore writes, “Although most leaders readily acknowledge the multicultural landscape of today’s leadership journey, many still view it as a ‘nice-to-have’ soft skill rather than a non-negotiable.” This is a book that seeks to convince the reader not only of the importance of growing in cultural intelligence, but also to give applicable tools and ways of developing it.
Livermore defines cultural intelligence as, “the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures”, and he goes on to lay out the four “capabilities”, including: drive (motivation), knowledge, strategy and action. Since the idea of leading with cultural intelligence is closely related to my own research area, this is a book that immediately caught my attention. Of Livermore’s four capabilities, I am most drawn to the first one, which is about “drive”.
For the average business traveler who sees this book in the airport bookstore, or who has it recommended by a work colleague, Livermore’s writing and perspective will make a lot of sense. However, in my context, which is also increasingly multicultural and interconnected with the wider world, there is much more resistance to reading a book like this, much less to enacting the practices that it describes.
Livermore states that “one of the reasons diversity-training programs often fail”is that people don’t feel motivated by the experience. They don’t see the benefit. It can feel like a requirement or even an implicit judgment of them as people. And this is a real challenge for working within a church, whether it is with staff or lay leaders, or just with members. As Livermore puts it, “there is a direct correlation between your level of motivation for adapting cross-culturally and your effectiveness.” Simply put, unless this topic is approached in a careful and strategic way, people will reject it out of hand, or will do it out of obligation, with no real interest or attention.
This is the challenge that leaders will face in taking this information back to their teams or organizations. When I read Livermore’s description of his own outlook, I see a lot of myself in him. He writes, “I’m very energized by cross-cultural encounters. Put me in a room full of people and the internationals in the room draw me like a magnet… book me on an international flight and my adrenaline starts pumping… My international work has been well served by my insatiable wanderlust.” However, many of those on my team or those who I hope to energize or train in my church, do not share this orientation toward cultural differences.
So, a big part of the work, is to frame the questions, and set up the context where people are interested enough, or invited in, or are woo’d into being part of this conversation. One review points out that Livermore “contends that cultural intelligence can be acquired through training and practical experience by anyone who perceives the need and is willing to learn. Therefore, he believes there is always room for improving upon one’s ability to function across multicultural boundaries.”
Indeed, Livermore writes, “the emphasis of cultural intelligence is that through learning and interventions everyone can become more culturally intelligent.” When it comes to using this material with my own staff or leaders, this calls to mind what Samuel Chand has written in Leadership Pain. “Do you want to be a better leader? Raise the threshold of your pain. Do you want your church to grow? Do you want your business to reach higher goals? Reluctance to face pain is your greatest limitation. There is no growth without change, no change without loss, and no loss without pain.”
Livermore provides tools that are helpful for me personally as a leader, but also the means to build up and motivate the other leaders that I work with as well. Even those who are not “naturally” interested in this topic, it is a growth area that may be painful, yet, is also necessary.
The good news, as one review points out, is that this is an exceedingly approachable and practical book. The author, “gives advice for how to develop cultural intelligence. He proposes that readers be sincere with themselves, evaluate their self-confidence, eat and socialize with people of different cultures, count the benefits of cultural intelligence…”These strategies are not only useful while in cross-cultural settings, but also in preparing for them, and encouraging leaders to try out new practices.
In all of this, I find a lot that will translate well back to my own setting. Rather than setting up a “Diversity Day” event, my hope is to use Livermore’s material in a variety of settings, to weave it into the fabric of my community.
Ugochukwu Elems, “Leading With Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success,” Journal of Applied Christian Leadership 5, no. 1 (Spring, 2011): 103, https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1116&context=jacl (accessed May 10, 2018).
Dr. Gloria J Miller, review of Leading With Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success, by David Livermore, The Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship 21, no. 1 (January 2016): 87, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/293637344_Book_Review_Leading_with_Cultural_Intelligence_The_Real_Secret_to_Success(accessed May 10, 2018).