The Irreplaceable Value of Cultural Intelligence

Here’s a thought I put out there in an article I wrote last spring for entitled, Strategies for Moving from Gaps to Gains: We’ve Got What It Takes!

The social, political, and business landscape of diversity today is populated by a new multi-generational coalition. The members of this coalition are purposeful players ready to leverage the power of their cultural intelligence and diverse talent to have the greatest impact. We’ve got what it takes! Businesses, organizations, communities and neighborhoods need to tap this thriving coalition to continue our movement from gaps to gains!

The importance of cultural intelligence keeps coming up everywhere I turn – like just this past week. On Wednesday I attended a workshop on Creating a Culture of Creativity and Innovation, Danny Guillory, presenter, Northeast Human Resources Association, (NEHRA) 2013 Fall Conference. Organizations thirst for the creativity & innovation (C&I) needed to remain competitive. Yet often times C&I is thwarted by the limitations of people’s paradigms at all levels of the organization.

Danny encouraged workshop participants to discover greater C&I as individuals and as organizations by moving beyond such limiting paradigm as hurriedly thinking, “I need to just define a solution and get it done now!” He artfully moved us through a series of exercises that exemplified how seeking “people outside your comfort zone” can access a rich diversity of thought, perspective, and life experience. This strategy can counter your “blind spots” (everyone has them), and even counter the fear that sometimes accompanies the altered reality of creativity and innovation.

Nice! Essentially, this is practicing cultural intelligence by intentionally seeking out cultural intelligence!

Years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Kenny Contreras, who at that time was the Director of Bilingual Education for the Clinton (MA) Public Schools. I was in the midst of doing something new for me – teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) courses at Quinsigamond Community College. Kenny shared with me an approach to building meaningful relationships with individuals whose racial, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic identities and backgrounds were different from mine. I’ve never forgotten what she said to me: “You need to validate what people bring.” What Kenny was saying was that people’s diverse identities and backgrounds were by no means a deficit (even in learning English), but an irreplaceable asset that can and must be recognized and tapped.

Cultural intelligence then and now.

Glenn Llopis, Founder & President, Center for Hispanic Leadership was the keynote speaker at that same Business Forum that I wrote about last spring. Joining the group via a teleconference link, Glenn defined recognizing and tapping cultural intelligence as a business imperative! “American leadership is still trying to catch up! …Companies need cultural intelligence to remain competitive. Cultural intelligence is about others AND self. Cultural intelligence is today’s economic and business engine!”

The Center for Hispanic Leadership works with colleges, universities and Fortune 500 companies to strengthen their ability to tap Hispanic talent and markets. The Center also focuses on affirming the power of Hispanic culture and identity. It offers leadership training to enable Hispanic professionals to “seize control of your future, your Hispanic leadership voice and embrace the competitive advantage of your authentic identity.”

Cultural intelligence now and for tomorrow.

It’s fitting for me to close with a recognition of Kenny Contreras who became Vice Principal of Clinton Elementary School in 2001, and retired just this past June.  Congratulations, Kenny and thank you for all you years of service!


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