Multicultural Leadership – Hidden Gems


I have read a couple of articles lately – ‘The Rise Of Multicultural Managers’ by Yves Doz, ‘L’Oreal Masters Multiculturalism’ by Hae-Jung Hong and another article that discuss the many benefits that culturally intelligent leaders can bring to their organisations.  Doz highlights that many multinational organizations have ‘hidden gems’.  A hidden gem being a multicultural manager who is culturally intelligent, whose skills and knowledge have not been recognized and as such are under utilized. Multicultural leaders capture the diversity and complexity that exists within organizational structures and systems and integrate these in a creative and innovative manner.
Multicultural leaders work well and often thrive in environments of uncertainty, ambiguity and change.  They have a level of openness and flexibility that allows them to observe new techniques, processes and structures and apply them to current and future products and processes within their own organisations.  They know how to use their intuition, flex their behaviours and attitudes; and how to fuse disparate ideas and viewpoints, by molding them into their approaches and strategies.
The benefits that multicultural leaders bring to their organisations are many:

  • They can co-exist in and between cultures, they can see through multiple lenses.  They can often foresee cultural conflicts and know when problems arise due to cultural differences rather than other causes.
  • They act as cultural bridges, particularly useful at integrating and assimilating new members of staff and culturally diverse teams. They know how to deliver feedback in a culturally appropriate manner and how to influence and communicate effectively in culturally diverse settings.  They listen to different points of view, communicate in an open manner and welcome new ideas.
  • They know how to listen and observe, how tap into local mindsets and preferences.  This is useful not only in terms of people management but also in terms of new product development and identifying untapped opportunities, which is particularly useful in emerging markets.

The multicultural manager consists of many ‘components’.  I would argue, as does Doz, that just because a person speaks another language and has lived and traveled in other parts of the world does not automatically make him/her a successful multicultural manager.  I know several individuals who have lived and worked overseas for many years who I would sadly not describe as culturally intelligent. They live within their own expatriate communities and navigate their work and private lives in a culturally sheltered manner. They lack the cultural curiosity and mindfulness or awareness that allows them to think and act in a culturally intelligent way.
The challenge organisations face is:

  1. How to identify where the ‘hidden gems’ are located?
  2. Once identified, what is the most effective way to utilize their skill-sets, in terms of the individual, their teams and the wider organization?
  3. How will the skills and knowledge of the ‘hidden gems’ be shared within the organization?
  4. How can the organization support the ongoing growth of multinational managers/leaders?

Please find below a couple of articles if you would like to read further on this topic:
Doz, Yves: ‘The Rise of Multicultural Managers’. Forbes. 8/01/2013
Hae-Jung Hongand Doz, Yves: ‘L’Oreal Masters Multiculturalism’. Harvard Business Review June 2103.