Cultural intelligence

Leading diverse teams: the importance of cultural intelligence

Laura-Jane Booker Diversity & inclusion, Engagement, Leadership 2 Comments

So you’ve probably heard about emotional intelligence (EQ), a key tool in a leader’s toolkit. But what have you heard of cultural intelligence (CQ)? It’s equally important but it’s a largely unrecognised leadership tool.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, here’s what you need to know:

Components of cultural intelligence

CQ is a person’s capability for successful adaptation to new cultural settings. Leaders with high CQ are culturally competent and have the skills, attitude, and behaviours to function and manage effectively in culturally diverse settings.

CQ consists of 4 components. Leaders with high CQ will possess all 4 components.

Cognitive CQ concerns an individual’s knowledge about the norms, practices and conventions of other cultures (both culture-general and context-specific). People with high cognitive CQ acquire factual knowledge about the cultures they regularly interact with.

Meta-cognitive CQ concerns an individual’s cultural awareness and assumptions during interactions across cultures. People with high meta-cognitive CQ apply what they know about a culture while in that cultural setting.

Behavioural CQ concerns an individual’s ability to use appropriate verbal/non-verbal behaviour and speech when interacting in culturally diverse settings. People with high behavioural CQ adjust themselves (e.g. rate of speaking, pausing, gestures, facial expressions) when interacting with other cultures so that they become more relatable and understandable.

Motivational CQ concerns an individual’s drive to learn about other cultures (involves intrinsic/extrinsic interest and self-efficacy). People with high motivational CQ direct energy and attention toward cultural differences.

Predictors of cultural intelligence

Unlike IQ, CQ is not a set state and can be developed over time. However, leaders with the following traits and experiences are more likely to have high CQ:

  • International experience and cultural exposure
  • Cross-cultural training and education
  • Personality characteristics e.g. openness to experience
  • Self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to achieve their goals)


Not only does cultural intelligence allow for successful cross-cultural interactions but it is also linked to the following outcomes:

  • Adjustment and adaptation: CQ positively predicts cultural adjustment but predicts general and interaction adjustment to a higher degree.
  • Performance and effectiveness: CQ positively predicts job performance and teamwork beyond the effects of emotional intelligence and it also predicts cross-cultural leadership effectiveness.
  • Cross-cultural leadership: CQ positively influences intercultural cooperation, intercultural negotiations, intercultural creative collaborations, and reduces anxiety during cross-cultural interactions.

Measuring cultural intelligence

As mentioned, CQ is not a set state and can be developed. But when looking to appoint or employ a leader to head a diverse work team, consider looking for someone who already exhibits high CQ. There is an existing assessment called The Cultural Intelligence Scale, which you can use for non-academic purposes by contacting

Cultural intelligence is important in all organisations

With cultural diversity on the rise, it is important that we consider competencies such as cultural intelligence when appointing leaders. But a lot can be said for CQ. It’s not just a great tool for leaders, but for everyone. We can learn a lot from different cultures, so I encourage all levels of organisations address cultural intelligence.

Further reading

Ang, S., Van Dyne, L., Koh, C., Ng, K. Y., Templer, K. J., Tay, C., & Chandrasekar, N. A. (2007). Cultural intelligence: Its measurement and effects on cultural judgment and decision making, cultural adaptation and task performance. Management and Organization Review, 3(3), 335-371.

Earley, P. C., & Ang, S. (2003). Cultural intelligence: Individual interactions across cultures. Stanford University Press.

Ott, D. L., & Michailova, S. (2018). Cultural intelligence: A review and new research avenues. International Journal of Management Reviews, 20(1), 99-119.


Comments 2

  1. Great to read this article. Very interested to hear how indigenous peoples perceive QC. What, for example, would be their predictors of CQ drawn from their experiences working with ‘majority cultures’? Hope to see a follow up article. This is a really important aspect of 21st century living, working and being.

    Kia ora. Thank you.

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