The ability to live, work, and interact with people across a wide variety of cultural and social backgrounds.


Successful cross-cultural leaders learn how to recognize the competencies of others in any culture, adapt to different cultural practices, and do not use a lack of cultural comfort as an excuse for not taking action.

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4:2

Skilled Characteristics

  • Awareness

    Is aware of one’s own culture and the cultural differences of others

  • Courage

    Has the courage of one’s own convictions

  • Flexible

    Understands and appreciates the need for flexibility in style, approach and timing

  • Confronts

    Won’t let unresolved issues or misunderstandings remain unaddressed

  • Dialogue

    Engages in-country locals in dialogue about how to get things done

  • Adjusts

    Is willing to start something and make adjustments to the approach along the way

  • Original

    Is not afraid to try something never done before

  • Promotes

    Will advocate for a locally driven project, initiative or idea

“You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.”

– Unknown

Unskilled Characteristics

  • Fear

    Has difficulty taking on tough situations that may involve conflict among people

  • Lacks Understanding

    Does not understand or appreciate the local culture and their ways of doing things

  • Hands Off

    Lets others deal with conflict, but personally avoids it

  • Withdraws

    Won’t take charge in difficult situations

  • Disregards

    Won’t confront performance issues or behavioral issues with staff

  • Rigid

    Doesn’t adjust to local conditions or to different ways of doing things in the local culture

“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”

– Cesar Chavez

Causes of Weakness

  • Confidence

    Lacks confidence in interacting with people of different cultures – or is OVER-confident that one’s own way of doing things is best

  • Analytical

    Overthinks cultural issues and freezes at all the possible difficulties

  • Discomfort

    Is uncomfortable taking action in culturally ambiguous situations

  • Learning

    Needs to better understand nuances of a culture before taking action

  • Fear

    Has a fear of offending cultural norms that keeps one from taking any action

  • Understanding

    Does not understand or appreciate the local culture and their ways of doing things

  • Conflict Skills

    Does not know how to handle conflict

“Our cultural strength has always been derived from our diversity of understanding and experience.”

– Yo-Yo Ma


Review the simple application steps below and choose 1 or 2 things you can do to spur yourself on to further growth.

  • Seek Understanding

    SEEK UNDERSTANDING: Getting things done in international settings must involve an understanding of where others are coming from and why they think like they do. The beginning point of cooperation is mutual understanding. The rest is mutual problem solving along with flexibility about exactly how things are to get done.

  • End Result Focused

    FOCUS ON THE END RESULT: Stay focused on the end result but flexible on the methods. In any multi-cultural assignment, there will be uncertainty around what is the right thing to do. More often than not, by staying focused on the end result, a solution will present itself. Don’t let your experience limit your creativity. Let local conditions help lead you to the solution. Look for and take advantage of what another culture offers.

  • Language and Words

    LANGUAGE AND WORDS: Language, words, and timing set a tone that can be positive or negative. You can cause unnecessary conflict with the wrong or culturally insensitive approach. Do you use insensitive language in a different culture? Do you raise your voice when frustrated? Do you use terms and phrases that unnecessarily challenge others? Do you use terms that are considered demeaning in that culture? Do you use humor inappropriate for that country or culture? Do you offer conclusions, solutions, statements, demands, or answer too early in discussions? Pick words that are culturally sensitive and neutral. Pick words that don’t challenge or sound one-sided or culturally arrogant. Pick words that give others a chance to save face. Pick words that are about the problem and not the person. Avoid direct blaming remarks; describe the problem and its impact. Don’t introduce conflict with inappropriate or insensitive language or non-verbals. Until you learn the culture, use a degree of caution in your approach. Do not criticize the practices of other cultures until you fully understand the implications of your remarks.

  • Be a Learner

    BE A LEARNER: Treat any mistakes or failures as chances to learn. Don’t take a major stand on something just to prove your boldness. Start with trying to understand smaller issues. Review your actions to see what you did well and not so well in the multi-cultural environment. Set a goal to do something differently and better each time. Challenge yourself. See how inventive you can be in taking thoughtful action with people of different cultures.

  • Get Counsel

    GET COUNSEL: Get the counsel of others. Being effective across cultures requires leaning on others for advice and counsel. Spend time building working relationships with those in a position to help. Find people who know and who have experience. Find people experienced in the culture and country. Test out what you want to do and say ahead of time. Have a trusted local write out what you should do and say to get the result you want. Talk to your predecessor, if possible.

  • Observe

    OBSERVE: Watch and do as the locals do. Most cultures have a unique way of handling difficult situations. In some cultures, direct confrontation is a no-no, while in others confrontation is expected and accepted. In some cultures, an intermediary is used to deliver tough messages. It is important to know and understand both local practices as well as understand that individuals also react according to general cultural norms for tough situations. Watch and learn and, as a rule of thumb, move with caution until there is a full understanding of what locals do and what the cultural context may be.