Cultural competence and humility are essential leadership attributes. Cultural competence is about having the right skills, knowledge, experience, and desire to work effectively with culturally diverse people (Stubbe, 2020). Although an admirable goal, being a culturally competent leader is just the start point. Consider, for example, the primary categories of difference like race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, and physical ability. Can you truly become competent and learn everything you need to know about one of these unique groups? Let alone how to effectively apply that knowledge to the uniqueness of individuals that straddle several categories? Well, the answer is obviously no. This is where the concept of cultural humility can add value.

Cultural humility is not about absorbing new knowledge about diverse groups but about an ongoing commitment to personal humility, self-evaluation, advocacy, and partnership (Foronda, 2020). It’s also about adopting a relational position of ‘not knowing’ and being aware of the context and uniqueness of the individual within any given group or culture. For leaders at all levels developing cultural competence and building cultural humility should be a crucial part of their individual growth and team development strategy.

So, here are two things to consider that could help you get started:

  1. Cultural Competence – deepen your awareness, knowledge, and skills – it’s evident that to lead people effectively, leaders should have at least a rudimentary understanding and knowledge of the people they lead. So don’t make assumptions, ask questions, and learn about the diverse individuals and groups you lead. Then you can reframe the way you see people and lead them in a more culturally competent way.
  2. Cultural Humility – develop mindfulness – the definition of mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Research has shown that increased mindfulness is related to increased multi-cultural competency (Bakioglu & Türküm, 2020) and emotional intelligence (Miao et al., 2018). We all have our own cultural frames and bias. The key is to deeply understand our worldview and reflect on how that influences how we lead ourselves and others. Increasing mindfulness and levels of emotional intelligence help with that and developing higher levels of cultural humility (Yeager & Bauer-Wu, 2013; Barksy, 2019).

Although this is only scratching the surface of a challenging and complex area for leaders and organisations, you have to start somewhere. How will you start? Simply by asking yourself one question. How could you be a more culturally competent and culturally humble leader?