#LeadingWhileBlack: How to Boss Up Your Cultural Intelligence

You’ve put in the work, and now you are responsible for leading a team.

Regardless of the industry, the KPIs, the mission, or the job title, being a successful leader requires a plethora of transferrable skills. Historically, skills such as conflict resolution, communication, critical thinking, creativity, and a host of others, have been categorized as soft skills. These soft skills are much harder to evaluate; however, the absence of these skills in any leader’s repertoire will prove detrimental.

Although people tend to focus on the importance and output of hard skills, I contend that most soft skills are far more technical and aren’t as easy to develop and apply. One soft skill that has been a hot topic is EQ or emotional intelligence. Those with high EQ scores can establish useful interpersonal connections.

However, I find that there is another soft skill that will prove vital to the future of leadership; cultural intelligence, or CQ.

With a high focus on diversity and inclusion, your likelihood of working on a multicultural team in high. For Black Millennials looking to make a mark as a leader, here are a few tips on building a high CQ so that you can lead a team that doesn’t look like you or comes from the same cultural background.

So grab your note pad….

Tip #1: Assess Your CQ Drive

If you are already in a leadership position, odds are you are ambitious. That ambition can be utilized to spearhead the first step in building CQ; drive. CQ drive is your level of commitment and willingness to learn about other cultures and the skills that you will need to harness that knowledge.

Most companies, non-profits, politicians, and leaders have a high drive to want to work collaboratively with others. They understand the global climate and how it impacts their missions, bottom lines, and corporate ethics. The second part is your commitment and willingness to learn about other cultures and people’s experiences actively.

CQ isn’t something that you can build overnight or through one training or workshop. CQ takes a considerable amount of work and time. More importantly, creating a high CQ is an ongoing process that will require motivation to sustain.

Tip #2: Build Your Library of Knowledge

Knowledge building is the step that will be the most time consuming and can often lead people to feel overwhelmed. The knowledge area is where you are going to put forth the effort to learn about the do’s, don’ts, and values of other cultures and co-cultures. Also, this is where you will discover historical context that may help you better understand and critically think about various cultures.

To acquire this knowledge, start with your surroundings and then branch out. Start identifying the varying cultures of those around you and learn about them. You can do this by attending events (trust me, Eventbrite will be your friend). Start asking questions but be mindful not to be invasive because of your new-found excitement for knowledge, utilize the internet, skim your library for some great reads, listen to podcasts, or a host of other ways that you can expose yourself to credible information.

Tip #3: Check your Biases

Our brains believe in working smarter rather than harder. One of the ways that it increases its efficiency is by organizing social identities into categories. Although efficient, the process of this organization strategy can lead to unconscious bias. For example, if your colleague is a new mother, you may not send her invites for happy hour, or possibly not recommend her for a unique project. These actions could be because unconsciously, your brain has categorized mothers of young children as less ambitious and unavailable. Therefore, you make decisions based on the bias, rather than the individual.

Racial minorities, women, and other underrepresented groups don’t have the systemic backing to enact their unconscious biases to the masses. So it can be easy to assume that if you are part of an underrepresented group that this step is a non-issue for you. That would be incorrect and detrimental to your growth as a professional.

We know from the ongoing research about intergroup empathy that we are more likely to have less bias against those who share our similar identities. Leading us to impart our biases on others in spaces that we dwell – making the ability to check your own biases an invaluable tool as you build CQ.

Tip #4: Repeat Tips 1-3

Self-efficacy is our own belief that we can engage and control our behaviors and social environments. However, you can test your self-efficacy if you aren’t putting in the work to learn effective practices.

Building your CQ is a life-long learning commitment, and going through just one round may get you an initial boost. Still, it won’t sustain your long term professional goals in this highly diverse world.

Although anyone can utilize these tips, these specially crafted tips are for Black Millennials looking to take on the world. Learning how to handle code-switching, racial battle fatigue, imposter syndrome, and a host of other survival techniques have given us an edge in CQ.

However, we can’t relish on that edge. Level yourself up. Take control of the trajectory of your career. Get prepared to sit at the helm of any table that you so choose. Do it with high CQ, swag, and a crown.

Lesson:
“I’m tired of Marvin asking me, What’s Going On? March to the streets cause I’m willing and I’m able. Categorize me, I defy every label.”
~ Janelle Monae, Q.U.E.E.N

Written by Crystal Lynese

Crystal is an Assistant Professor of Communication, where she teaches college courses in public speaking, human, interpersonal, and intercultural communication. She also teaches future communication professionals, personal branding, education, and career strategies to help them launch careers after college graduation. She’s an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion and leads workshops, lectures, and researches to promote creating equitable spaces. Her blog, The Emotional Tax, is dedicated to bringing awareness and eradicating the tax that people pay for their existence. 

In her spare time, she’s a self-proclaimed Blerd and lover of comic books, music, and true crime shows. On the weekends, you can catch her at an art festival, farmer’s market, or scrolling with her dog through the city.

To connect, follow her on IG @crystalclearplans or connect on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/crystalwalker5/