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Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success

Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success

by Mike Prah on June 15, 2020

Livermore, David A. Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success Ed. 2. Amacom, 2015.

 General Overview

David Livermore, in his book, Leading with Cultural Intelligence, provides a playbook to understanding and developing CQ individually and corporately.  He shares that CQ is the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures with a set of perspectives that can be applied to several cultural situations.

Livermore describes four capabilities of CQ for success. The first is CQ Drive, which is the motivational dimension of CQ. This is the level of interest, and drive required to work through challenges and conflicts that inevitably accompany cross-cultural work. The second capability is CQ knowledge, which is understanding intercultural norms and differences. This refers to knowledge about culture and its role in shaping how people think, behave, and conduct business. The third is CQ Strategy, also known as metacognitive CQ. This helps a leader use cultural knowledge to plan an appropriate strategy, accurately interpret what is going on, and check to see if expectations are accurate or need revision. The fourth is CQ Action, which is the behavioral dimension of CQ. One of the essential aspects of CQ Action involves flexible actions to enhance effectiveness tailored to specific cultural contexts.

Livermore notes that as these processes repeat itself, our CQ keeps grows, with the potential of morphing in a linear direction from one step to another. Plus, it benefits our judgment and decision making.[2]

Power Distance

One of the ways cultural differences show up is power distance. Power distance refers to the amount of distance experienced between leaders and followers. It reveals where the power lies and how it is structured.[3] Livermore notes that Arab, Latin America, Southern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa are among countries that have high power distance. These cultures have a high regard for titles and status, preventing socialization between superiors and leaders. Subordinates in these regions do not question their superiors and reflect high uncertainty avoidance with an emphasis on planning and predictability. Anglo cultures are receptive to low power structure, emphasizing flexibility, and adaptability.

Reflectively, as a leader, when dealing with high power distance cultures, endeavor to give explicit instructions, rely on formalized policies and procedures, solicit feedback, and then offer your feedback and support for their buy-in. Alternatively, when dealing in a lower power distance cultural context (Anglo, Germanic Europe, Nordic Europe), strive to avoid dictatorial and inflexible statements, share your thought process and invite them to explore the unknown, act, and then provide feedback to them.[4]

Cooperative versus Competitive

Livermore notes that cultures that emanate from cooperative orientation accomplish results through nurturing and supportive relationships with each other while competitive cultures are oriented towards achievement, success, and competition to achieve results.

Livermore illustrates differences in how each of the cultures might respond to a political debate. A competitive oriented individual might prefer the candidate who is confrontational, aggressive, and attacks his or her opponent, whereas a cooperative oriented individual might be accepting of the candidate who is friendly, collaborative, and respectful to his or her opponent. Some of the high cooperative-orientated countries are Nordic Europe (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden), and sub-Saharan Africa. The Germanic cluster counties such as Austria, Belgium. Germany and Netherlands favor a highly competitive culture model.[5]

Reflectively, as a leader, when dealing with high cooperative cultures, emphasize collaboration and nurturing behavior to drive results. Engage actions such as establishing the relationship before completing the task, building trust based on the care of the individual(s), and their family, and provide help to get the job done. In contrast, when dealing with highly competitive cultures, emphasize competition and achievement to get results. Strive to create environments that keep things business-like and promote trust based on results to get the job done.[6]

Short Term versus Long Term

Livermore explains that cultures that expect and demand results very shortly are short-term-oriented, while those that are more focused on the long-term returns are long-term-oriented cultures. In a short-term culture orientation, people look at what has happened in the recent past to aid in making decisions that will lead to quick results. Anglo cultures, especially North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Philippines and throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, are some of the most short-term-oriented cultures in the world. Businesses in a short-term-oriented culture focus on short-term priorities to achieve quick wins. The long-term orientation is most often associated with Confucian cultures, which includes Japan, Korea, and China. These cultures strongly value perseverance, “thrift,” attention to traditional concepts over quick fixes plus order and harmony are highly appreciated. This means short-term priorities are viewed with greater caution by these cultures.[7]

Reflectively, when engaging individuals or teams from short-term cultures, emphasize immediate outcomes by helping them focus on the present to get to “quick wins.” In contrast, when dealing with long-term cultures, focus on long-term goals and action plans, as well as communicate long-term successes and forecasts.

Direct versus Indirect COMMUNICATORS

Livermore suggests that the direct versus indirect communication underpins many of the conflicts that occur in multicultural teams. Direct communicators are often turned-off when they experience confused, unclear communication from their intercultural counterparts. Indirect communicators are offended by what sounds like a blunt, rude communication style. This cultural value dimension is referred to as “context” because a direct, low-context individual pays attention to the words spoken while minimizing the context. In contrast, the high-context individual focuses on context, including body language, to infer what is not said in their interpretation.[8]

High-context cultures are places where everyone appears to be an insider; therefore, explicit instructions are minimal because most people know what to do and think. Conversely, low-context cultures are usually places where people have less history together.

Reflectively, as a leader, when dealing with individuals or groups from low context cultures (Anglo, Germanic Europe, Nordic Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Latin Europe), endeavor to engage in explicit communication, provide ongoing updates, and take ownership and apologize when things go wrong. When dealing with individuals or groups from high context cultures (Arab, Confucian Asia, Southern Asia, Sub-Saharian Africa),, emphasize indirect communication, be indirect in your connections, and apologize when harmony is fractured.[9]

Monochronic versus Polychronic CULTURES

Monochronic cultures value effective time management, which entails punctuality, careful planning, intensely focusing on one thing at a time, and carrying it through to completion. The monochronic orientation also emphasizes keeping one’s personal life separate from work life. Most Western cultures are monochronic except for some of the European Latin cultures. In contrast, polychronic cultures thrive on fulfilling multiple responsibilities at one time. They tend to react to things as they come along and weigh  priorities relative to various roles and relationships.[10]

Reflectively when dealing with monochronic individuals, strive to build trust by providing follow-through and expediency where possible. Also, whenever a deadline cannot be met, propose an alternate and stick to it. When dealing with polychronic individuals, strive to be flexible with deadlines that are less important as well as communicate the impact of missing deadlines.       


Livermore, David A. Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success Ed. 2. Amacom, 2015.

[1] David A Livermore. Leading with Cultural Intelligence (New York: Amacom, 2015), 25-31

 [2] Ibid., 39.

[3] Ibid., 104

 [4] Ibid., 109.

[5] Ibid., 110- 111

[6] Ibid., 113

[7] Ibid., 113.

 [8] Ibid., 116.

[9] Ibid., 117-119.

 [10] Ibid., 128-129.

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