Cultural Agility: Leading on the Playing Field of Business

Business leaders are like athletes: They need to be able to adapt to rapidly changing things in their environment and respond with speed, power, and accuracy.

Unlike in sports, however, where it’s typically very easy to perceive what your opponents or teammates are doing and respond accordingly, the things business professionals need to pay attention to and respond to are often very subtle, and can be hidden in nuance.

That’s because, while sports require physical agility, business requires cultural agility.

In today’s global market, business professionals need to be able to recognize, and respond appropriately, to different behaviors and worldviews in order to build strong working relationships across cultures. Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as it might sound.

When we meet on the playing field of business, we tend to dress alike, and we speak about the same things that are important to us. But this often masks the different assumptions and worldviews that we have, causing us to miss information that’s critical to building relationships and working together more effectively. Other times, we do notice cultural differences, but simply don’t know what to make of them.

This is where cultural agility becomes critical. Perception is the first step. The second is then, how do you act in a way that will be relevant and important to the other person, and that he or she will understand and respond to favorably?

To begin, there are six key skills that will help you master cultural agility:

1) Self-awareness. Be aware of your own cultural biases, behaviors, and worldviews.

2) Be attuned to your environment, and to cultural nuances.

3) Adapt to cultural differences and ambiguities.

4) Be authentic.

5) Acquire knowledge about other cultures.

6) Continually assess how you’re developing in each of these areas, and look for opportunities to grow.

If you’re looking to succeed in this global economy, it’s time to hunker down and get serious about improving your game. Put these skills of cultural agility into action on the playing field of business, and you’ll have a real shot at taking home the gold.


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