So, just catching up with Week 2 of ‘Developing Cultural Intelligence for Leadership’ from Common Purpose/Futurelearn.

Talking Core and Flex

Do you know what your central values and purpose are – do you know what to hold onto, and what you can adapt to fit different (cultural) circumstances?

Our Core comprises the things that define us: our own personal ‘over my dead body’ list. These are things that won’t change (or won’t change easily). Their solidity is our strength. In our Flex are things that we can choose to change – things that we can adapt to circumstances, or to other people or other cultures. Their fluidity is equally our strength. (Common Purpose)

This video is suggested as worthwhile to watch:

More than Identity

In many ways it appears that as a child we have very strong ideas of our core identity, and then as we meet others our identity is challenged as we engage with different beliefs and backgrounds.

I would never

List what you believe to be in your own Core and Flex. Think about values, behaviours, skills, beliefs and identity. List them fast. Don’t stop to put them in any order.

Is it Core or is it Flex?

This is really interesting, and summed up in the final paragraph:

Over time, we will also find that our Core is likely to get smaller and contains fewer things that really must be there. It is important to have the duality of having core values and, at the same time, the openness to challenge our beliefs and assumptions from experiences of different cultures. As it gets smaller, our Core will also become sounder and more robust. Though this may sound counter-intuitive, the more inflexible our Core becomes over time, the greater our abilities to Flex become, because we’ll know where we genuinely can and where we genuinely can’t move. All this improves our trustworthiness, and with it, our Cultural Intelligence.

Nothing but Core

Those who are too certain about their core tend to be inflexible (and therefore poor) leaders. Can you identify something that has moved from Core to Flex or from Flex to Core in each decade of your life?

Learn to Flex

Another interesting paragraph here, before it goes onto questioning beliefs:

We have to get the basics right. Flex generally starts with behaviours which are very important signifiers as we operate in other cultures, not least because they demonstrate that we have Flex and we’re not too arrogant (or frightened) to actually change. Take every opportunity to understand how other people express their values through behaviour. It is not about changing who we are but helping us to change how we express it. There’s no quick way to learn it either.

The exercise goes on to consider Julia Middleton heading into an Arabic country where she would have to cover up head-to-toe. Originally thinking this went against everything she stood for, she then decided to go with it, and learnt a huge amount about what life was truly like as a woman in that position. Having taken a flex position, she was then able to speak with an Arabic man more deeply about how he struggled with the behaviour of western women. Flexibility opens your eyes.

Not too much

An interesting analysis of those who have ‘not enough’ core, and become over-flex, including ‘going native’, proving that one is ‘in’, as an immigrant want to ‘fit in’ (losing roots), avoiding polarisation, or hiding that don’t have enough core.

This reminds me of many a conversation that I’ve had about ‘Christian distinctiveness’ – how do we engage with the earth whilst holding onto the core of heaven?!

Our personal perceptions

Does our self-perception match those of others? ‘People assume that I am………..’

I’ve done this several times during coaching – so I’m just going to link to my outcomes from that exercise.

The anchor

A useful analogy:

The analogy that someone once said to me was somebody who’s into boating. Not my strength, but it was quite an interesting analogy. And he was saying if you moor a boat and anchor it, if you make the anchor very strong but the anchor rope very, very short, the boat, as soon as you get any waves or winds, begins to fight the waves and begins to crack and crash on the waves. If, however, when you moor your boat, you make the rope long enough, then the boat has this ability to float and go with the waves. And it doesn’t end up crashing.And I think that it was quite a useful analogy is that if your Core is strong enough and clear enough, then it allows you to be enormously flexible.

If you are going to become a strong leader, then you need to allow people to see your core (vulnerability).

The Sliding Scale

A consideration of whether any of your core are problematic, and could they become flex? Is any of your core putting up barriers to others, or even offending them? Could you relax some of them?

A moment of realisation

A video with Myrna Atalla, the Executive Director, of Alfanar and Faraz Khan, the CEO and Co-founder, of SEED Ventures, highlighting when they noticed these subtle shifts in their Core and Flex; and how that impacted their ways of working.

Interesting re growing up in the United States with a ‘work all hours’ ethic, then working for an American Law firm in Paris, where the demands were endless (and a desire to finish kept her going), and often found herself the only one in the office, as the French workers had a clear approach to work and had gone home. Set up own company so could work with what she thought was core to ‘make things happen’, then had a child – realised her core to be with husband/child was more important than spending all hours at work!

The intersection

Once we understand our own core/flex, we need to think about how we are engaging with others, and whether they are working in core or flex? Are they in an area of comfort/discomfort, and is there space for manoeuvre? Operating effectively at the intersections requires:

Sometimes the best evangelism is simply telling people you're a Christian and then not being a complete jerkDeep beliefs

What happens when we are working in an area where our core beliefs are never going to flex? This is particularly key in the area of faith – where there are solid cores … are clashes inevitable? Think the following quote is from Bishop Tim Stevens, who has had extensive conversations with Skaykh Ibrahim Mogra from the Muslim faith:

And I think as a person who’s a religious leader, what that does is make me realise that any claims I make about God are always somewhat partial. That God is, in the end, God and cannot be reduced to any formulas, however profound and however deep seated I might live by.

Reminded me of this pic to the right that I agree with heartily!

Mistakes happen

Misunderstandings can occur and destroy trust – particularly likely to happen in cultures that are not that far apart, so may feel comfortable – but have misread the core.

…. official company policy:  Making any mistake once was OK, so long as it was an honest mistake made while attempting to do what they felt was the right thing. Making any mistake once was OK, but repeating that same mistake a second time was NOT OK. The hard, fast rule was that if you made any mistake for the first time the entire team would have your back in fixing that mistake if anything went wrong. However, if you ever repeated the mistake a second time, then you were 100 percent on your own to face the consequences.  This rule applied for every first-time occurrence of each new mistake you made. (Forbes Article)

There is so much that can be learnt from mistakes and can be taken into the next situation.

Papering the cracks

Someone once said that leaders are like teabags: ‘You only know if they are any good when you put them in hot water’. For those constantly working in flex, there’s nothing to fall back on. For true trust/relationship development then you need to converse at the level of core [I’m sure I’ve seen this happen on Facebook plenty of times!] – so worth seeking out those of differing faith beliefs, political convictions, or other culture/society and seek to understand where people are ‘coming from’.

Stop, start, continue

Think about what you are going to stop, start and continue doing based on your learnings from this week!

This week’s material fitted well with Chapter 42 that have just read from We Make the Road by Walking, and with conversations I had yesterday with City of Sanctuary in Manchester, who are seeking to change the perception of refugees, and ensuring that the city is a place of welcome to fellow human beings.

The Cultural Intelligence muscle

Needs to be engaged with to progress – can’t just go out and talk to others, need to understand and question your own culture:

Where does my own culture add enormous value? Where does my culture give me blind spots? What are my views that are based on facts? What are my views the are based on I’m not sure what? What is based on judgement ? What’s on prejudgment? Where does it give me biases? Where does it give me strengths? Where does my own culture give me stumbling blocks or prevent me from understanding or even hearing what you’re saying?

In conversations with others, be prepared to understand a little more about them – and yourself – and be ready to expose a little of yourself…

This week’s material finishes with:

Go and find somebody who is 25 years younger than you, or 25 years older than you, or from the other side of the world, or from the other side of your city, or works in a sector that’s an absolute mystery to you. Get out there. Have those conversations, and tell us how they go.

Thanks commonpurpose for another interesting set of material.


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