Does Cultural Intelligence make today’s manager truly global and effective?







Does Cultural Intelligence make today’s manager truly global and effective?

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In the current business environment, cultural intelligence is a reality. One of the issues that are most frequently talked about is the ability by managers to adapt to diverse cultures. In the global workplace of the twenty first century, individuals must be sensitive to cultural differences. They must also be able to interact in the right way with people from diverse cultures. Regardless of whether one works in his home country or abroad, there is a need for cultural intelligence.

Today, many companies are faced with the need to send some of their workforce to emerging economies where they have recently opened shop. Such employees suddenly start operating in an environment where they are not conversant with local culture. This phenomenon is common among Western companies that send expatriates to subsidiaries in emerging economies. The trend is also common among Chinese, Russian, and Indian companies that are expanding their operations in Europe and the US.

            Joo-Seng (2004) defines cultural intelligence as the ability by an individual to adapt successfully to unfamiliar settings attributed to cultural context. The aim of this report is to determine whether cultural intelligence makes today’s manager truly global and effective. The main body of this report focuses on literature review and analysis of various scholarly articles.

The objective of undertaking this review is to examine what different authors think about the ability by cultural intelligence to make today’s managers truly global and effective. The articles are critiqued on the basis of different issues, including trends in management theory, time factors, and the kind of evidence relied upon in deriving conclusions. Practical implications are evaluated to determine if managers can rely on this information.

Literature review and analysis

There is abundant literature on the subject of cultural intelligence. In this literature, expatriate executives are said to face serious culture-related challenges (Leung, Bhagat, Erez & Gibson, 2005). These challenges are common particularly for expatriate managers from Western countries who are forced by circumstances to work in these emerging economies. Some of these managers mistakenly think that the challenges that brought about success in the western countries will automatically bring success in the emerging economies (Financial Times). In these economies, the expatriates must operate within a new culture (Financial Times). Many Chinese companies going abroad today continue to face similar challenges (Selmer & Lam, 2004). Some of these companies end up hiring and training employees within their host countries. However, in most cases, the companies lack an appropriate business strategy within which such a solution can be provided.

These cultural challenges have led to the emergence of the concept of cultural intelligence. According to Joo-Seng (2004), cultural intelligence is a crucial concept in today’s global economy. It addresses the various ways in which individuals are able to adapt effectively in different cultural contexts. The notion of cultural intelligence is used to explain differences in the ability by different people to face the challenges posed by cross-cultural contexts (Earley & Mosakowski, 2004). In simple terms, cultural intelligence enables individuals to deal with people and situations in the context of unfamiliar surroundings.

Many scholars have carried out research on the subject of cultural intelligence. For instance, Joo-Seng (2004) has researched extensively on the meaning of cultural intelligence and its relevance for managers in today’s global economy. Joo-Seng highlights three parts that constitute cultural intelligence: cultural strategic thinking, motivational thinking, and behavioral thinking. In cultural strategic thinking, people think and solve their problems in particular ways. In motivational thinking, people feel energized in a way that enables them to persistently follow up on their actions. In behavioral thinking, people tend to respond to new cultural contexts by acting in certain ways.

            Through cultural strategic thinking, individuals use general thinking skills to understand how and why individuals in a certain cultural behave in a certain manner. An individual understands not only what the people value but also the routines and procedures that they are required to use in their actions and work. Most of the information that Joo-Seng (2004) relies on in his analysis is derived from scholarly work, particularly in the form of contributions from other researchers. For instance, Joo-Seng (2004) takes note of the fact that psychologists view cultural strategic thinking as higher-order thinking.

For managers to succeed in working productively in cross-cultural settings, they need to be motivated. Joo-Seng (2004) gives the example of a Korean manager who faced serious challenges while working with a multinational team. The manager noted that the Korean employees did not want to listen to him. They even tended to change the topic after he had spoken. The manager said that this continued for about two months. After going through this unpleasant experience, the manager had to give up trying to communicate with the Korean employees (Joo-Seng, 2004). According to Joo-Seng (2004), this manager understood what was going on but lacked the motivation to continue trying to deal with the challenging cultural situation. Low motivation and lack of confidence in his communication skills influenced him to eventually disengage from his team. In light of this experience, Joo-Seng (2004) concludes that cultural intelligence mean both “knowing” and “trying”.

According to Triandis (2006), one of the main characteristics of many organizations of the twenty first century is that they are multicultural. Triandis (2006) says that it is common for a product to be designed in one country only to be produced in about ten other countries. Moreover, marketing for the same product may end up taking place in more than one hundred countries (Triandis, 2006). However, Triandis (2006) does not provide the source of his information. Nevertheless, this illustration provides an idea of the cultural differences that characterize today’s business environments. These differences take many forms, including ethnicity, language, politics, religion, and social class.

In Triandis’ (2006) view, every culturally intelligent individual should be able to suspend judgment until he gets access to additional information instead of relying only on the person’s ethnicity. Moreover, such an individual should assess the current behavior and compare it with the individual’s past behavior. The situation in which the behavior is exhibited also plays a critical role for all culturally intelligent people.

Culturally intelligent managers are able to tolerate different organizational attributes. For example, it takes cultural intelligence for a manager to realize that some organizations such as mass production facilities and the military require behavior that matches up with exact standards, hence the tendency to adopt collectivist attributes (Van Meurs, 2007). In contrast, in research institutes, voluntary organizations, and academia, individualistic attributes are normally adopted because of the nature of activities carried out in those institutions (Van Meurs, 2007). Triandis (2006) concludes by asserting that cultural intelligence is extremely important for managers who want to become effective at the global level. Sometimes, the need for training through the experiential learning approach is required in order to impart in managers the necessary skills relating to cultural intelligence (Triandis, 2006).

However, not all scholars agree that cultural intelligence is indispensable for all managers who want to be truly global and effective. According to Morris (2005), too much focus on cultural differences can make the manager lose sight of his counterpart’s individuality, thereby lessening his effectiveness in the negotiation process. In his research work, Morris’ interest is in understanding the factors that lead to culturally-based thinking. Morris (2006) acknowledges the fact that we live in an era of globalization and cultural diversity. In Morris’ view, culturally-based thinking matters a lot only to the extent that three main factors are at play. These factors include attentional pressures, emotional stressors, and cognitive context.

Imai & Gelfand (2010) also discuss the role of cultural intelligence in the negotiation process. They observe that very few scholars have undertaken research on the predictors of effectiveness of intercultural negotiation. This is despite the tendency by scholars and practitioners to tout the importance of effective cross-cultural communication (Imai & Gelfand, 2010). Imai & Gelfand (2010) coded East Asian and American negotiators for behaviors relating to sequences of cooperative relationship management and integrative information. The findings of this study showed that cultural intelligence is a key predictor of effectiveness in intercultural negotiation (Imai & Gelfand, 2010). This implies that managers endowed with cultural intelligence have greater chances of becoming truly global and effective.

Brett, Behfar, & Kern (2006) also highlighted the difficulties that are often generated by multicultural teams. According to Brett, Behfar, & Kern (2006), cultural differences tend to created obstacles to teamwork effectiveness. One bad thing about these obstacles is that they may be subtle and extremely difficult to identify until too much damage has already occurred. Another major problem is that managers may end up creating more problems than they are able to resolve during the intervention process (Brett, Behfar, & Kern, 2006). The solution suggested by Brett, Behfar, & Kern (2006) fits into the functions of cultural intelligence as described by Joo-Seng (2004). In this solution, Brett, Behfar, & Kern (2006) point out the need for a manager to recognize all the underlying cultural factors that are likely to cause conflict. The manager should address these cultural subtleties in such a way that all the members of the teams are empowered to deal with similar challenges whenever they arise in the future.


            The issue of cultural intelligence has far-reaching practical implications for today’s manager. From the analysis presented in this paper, cultural intelligence enables the manager to survive the initial moments of culture while working in multicultural contexts for the first time. At one time or the other, today’s manager may have to work in a multicultural context. Without cultural intelligence, he will be unable to identify the subtle cultural differences that end up triggering many organizational problems.

            When managers acquire cultural intelligence, they engage in three main mental activities: cultural strategic thinking, motivational thinking, and behavioral thinking (Joo-Seng, 2004). Motivational thinking is of the greatest importance for managers who have to undertake all their activities in multicultural contexts. In many cases, problems will have arisen by the time the manager identifies the cause to be cultural differences. At such a time, the manager needs to be endowed with the power of motivational thinking to be able to gather the courage and confidence needed to understand all the cultural differences. In conclusion, cultural intelligence makes today’s manager truly global and effective.
























Brett, J., Behfar, K., & Kern, M. (2006). Managing Multicultural Teams. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 84, No. 11, pp. 84-91.

Earley, C. & Mosakowski, E. (2004). Cultural Intelligence. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 73, No. 6, pp. 102-147.

Financial Times (2013). Is there such a thing as cultural intelligence? 11 March 2013.

Imai, L. & Gelfand, M. (2010). The culturally intelligent negotiator: The impact of cultural intelligence (CQ) on negotiation sequences and outcomes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 112, No. 3, pp. 83–98.

Joo-Seng, T. (2004). Cultural Intelligence and the Global Economy. LIA, Vol. 24, No. 5, pp. 19-21.

Leung, K., Bhagat, N., Erez, B. & Gibson, C. (2005). Culture and international business: Recent advances and their implications for future research. Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 357-378.

Morris, M. (2005). When culture counts and when it doesn’t. Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, Boston.

Selmer, J. & Lam, H. (2004). Third Culture Kids: Future Business Expatriates? Personnel Review, Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 430-445.

Triandis, H. (2006). Cultural Intelligence in Organizations. Group and Organization Management, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 20-26.

Van Meurs, N. (2007). The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Blended. Mixedness and Mixing E-Conference, Commission for Racial Equality, New York, 3 July 2007.




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