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The Value of Cultural Competency in Leadership

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The Value of Cultural Competency in Leadership

Is cultural competence the key to an inclusive workplace? The modern working world is home to the most diverse generation in history (Gen Z), representing a wealth of different experiences, ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, sexual identities, and value systems.

For a leader to build a sense of true belonging, they’ll need to understand, appreciate, and effectively communicate with people from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. Why is it so important exactly? And what can a leader do to become culturally competent? 

The Value of Self-Awareness

It’s safe to say that most people probably have a memory of a manager with no self-awareness, someone who asks you to ‘think outside the box’ when the box is nailed shut.

Hopefully, most people have a memory of a great manager too, a person who showed kindness and understanding, who had the humility to recognise a mistake, to recognise achievements, and to take the time to understand the unique needs of their team members – all traits typically rooted in self-awareness.

Why it’s important: Self-aware leaders can identify where they need to improve, where their biases lie, and ultimately, how to make the most out of the uniqueness that their team members bring to the table.

Lifelong Learning

Cultural paradigms are always evolving, and leaders need to evolve alongside them. Whether that’s through formal education, attending community events, developing mutual mentorship programs or travelling the world – cultural curiosity is a world-class trait, and it’s enhanced by a commitment to continuous learning.

Why it’s important: leaders must keep up with change. Be it changes in technology or cultural paradigms, those who make decisions based on outdated or irrelevant experiences risk failing to understand the needs of their team.

Globally Minded

Communication is an infinitely complex maze of cultural nuances, including paralinguistics, unspoken assumptions, and historical influence. Most leaders who’ve managed international teams will have encountered stark differences in the way nations communicate at work, and it can be extremely difficult to navigate with cultural IQ.

Regular check-ins are essential, as is making a real effort to understand the difference in preferred communication techniques. Globally minded managers can widen their perspective to better understand the macro influences affecting their team dynamics. The shift to remote work at the start of the pandemic resulted in an even greater reliance on cross-cultural communication. With limited in-person interactions, virtual check-ins become an essential platform for ensuring everyone is seen, heard, and respected.

Why it’s important: Cultural miscommunication can lead to frustration, conflict, and exclusion. When you prioritise clear and effective communication, you minimise the risk of inadvertent hostility and start to build a more psychologically safe environment.


One-to-one coaching offers both parties a chance to learn from one another. By equalising the setting, a space is created for open dialogue and respect. In many cases, leaders struggle to know what kind of questions to ask (regarding cultural identity) or what language to use – removing that barrier and practising mutual mentorship can help strengthen connections in a meaningful capacity.

Why it’s important: Communication barriers can prevent leaders from adapting their management style to fit the needs of their employees. Through one-to-one coaching, leaders can develop the cultural competencies needed to ask insightful questions, actively listen, and collaborate to create an environment in which everyone feels safe to share their voice.