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Intercultural Competence in Leadership

Leaders have to interact with a variety of individuals, groups, organizations, and communities that make up their constituencies, competition, and their perceived or real enemies. Almost all their interpersonal interaction can be considered intercultural. The concept of cultural differences should not be limited only to nationality and ethnicity differences.

There are many other cultural subcategories that exist within each national and ethnic group. These subcultures are often based on gender, politics, regional differences, religion, ability, sexual orientation, economic class, and occupational groupings, to name a few. Although each individual may share many culture-centered tendencies with other people who share their culture, the interpretation and understanding of these cultural tendencies remain very personalized. It would be unrealistic to expect leaders to be cultural experts on all specific subcultures in any given national culture. It is however appropriate to expect a basic level of general cultural awareness from contemporary leaders.

Intercultural competence is defined as the capacity of people to understand and interact effectively and successfully with others who differ in their cultural beliefs, behaviors, values, and worldview. When leaders and followers possess intercultural competence, they have the skill to accept their own cultural tendencies and thereby begin to understand cultural differences. They are able to process incoming information without exaggerated bias and discrimination. They recognize that their worldview is only one of many ways to understand and experience the world, and leadership concepts and functions may not have the same meaning across cultures.

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