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Lead by Example: Develop Your Own Intercultural Competency First

Are you leading multicultural teams? Develop yourself first

· Leadership,Personal Development,International hiring

Living and working internationally is filled with the prospect of great personal and professional fulfillment: exotic adventures, highly marketable experience, and enviable compensation packages.

Such rewards; however, don't come without the development of leadership competencies that ensure success in a multicultural context. Leading a diverse team requires far more than simply transferring what has worked well in one's home country. In a multicultural context, cognitive styles, learning styles, and communication styles may vary considerably and manifest in unfamiliar behaviors and unexpected outcomes. The successful multicultural team leader anticipates these challenges by proactively developing their own intercultural competency, strengths and emotional intelligence. In so doing, they lead by one of the most powerful and effective strategies: they lead by example.

Intercultural competence is a lifelong developmental process that fosters appropriate behaviors, constructive attitudes, and effective communication in cross-cultural situations (Deardorff, 2006).​

At the heart of intercultural competence, we find three key behaviors or skills:

  1. Active listening
  2. Anchoring
  3. Self-reflection

While there are certainly many more (e.g., adaptability, flexibility, tolerating ambiguity, withholding judgement, etc.), these three are a great place to start as they are integral to most aspects of successful leadership in diverse circumstances.

Active Listening

By active listening we open ourselves up to a greater empathy towards and awareness of what and why something is being said by taking on, if only for a moment, another's own words and perspective. With this awareness a leader is in a better position to identify appropriate, constructive courses of action. Further, active listening engenders respect and trust, two hallmarks of an effective leader.

When actively listening, a leader will…

  • Concentrate deeply on what is being said
  • Respond with statements of understanding (e.g., "What I'm hearing you say is…")
  • Ask questions to clarify
  • Use gestures and body language to indicate engagement (e.g., eye contact, head nods)


In essence, anchoring is learning process inasmuch as it is an attempt to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas or processes.

By anchoring, we respectfully identify and acknowledge what is being said in order to form a foundation of mutual understanding.

New ideas and tasks are more easily processed when diverse team members realize common points of connection.

The simplest form of anchoring comes from responding to seemingly irrelevant contributions with, "Yes, AND..." rather than, "Yes, but…".


Self-reflection is paramount to any kind of development. When we honestly analyze our assumptions, actions, and words with the intent to improve, we are being reflective. For the multicultural team leader, self-reflection should begin with identifying one's own cultural values and assumptions, and how they were determined.

By embarking on a process of self-reflection, leaders of international teams are taking the first steps of developing themselves first, and they are leading by example.

Given the complexity and diversity of our world, becoming interculturally competent is a lifelong pursuit. While the above tips might get you pretty far, coaching and formal training can put you and your team on the fast track. For more information on how U Diverse Global can meet your needs, contact us.


Deardorff, D. K. (2006). Identification and assessment of intercultural competence as a student outcome of internationalization. Journal of Studies in International Education, 10(3), 241–266.

We support global organizations holistically who want to achieve their goals of working internationally by hiring and developing global talents, leaders and multicultural teams. We offer not only customized, top-quality international talent acquisition strategy, global leadership, teams, cross-cultural and diversity consulting and training programs, but we also provide in-depth coaching from ICF-certified coaches and trainers who speak French, English, Dutch, Spanish and German. Take action and schedule a free strategy session with us today.

About U Diverse’s founder:

Magali Toussaint is the founder of U Diverse. She is a certified talent acquisition strategist, an ICF-certified leadership and career coach, cross-cultural trainer and job search strategist with an extensive career in recruitment, HR, diversity, and education. She has lived and worked in over four countries and speaks French, English and Dutch.

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