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The Impact of Cross Cultural Leadership

Influence or Leadership?

The problem with being a leader is that you’re never sure if you’re being followed or chased. Oddly enough, the world is desperate need of leaders who are mature enough to be followed, chased, and constantly in demand. In addition, the world needs leaders who can lead followers that come different shapes, sizes and colors. Unfortunately, social media has convinced countless leaders that cross cultural leadership is just as easy as a click of a button or a thumb stroke. While influence can somewhat be obtained through those elementary gestures, cross cultural leadership requires continuous internal development which is demonstrated through the cross- cultural leader’s impact across cultures.

By definition, influence is ability of an individual to impact the behavior or character or another. As Christians, the world heavily invests in their ability to influence by the power of suggestion. In fact, large companies pay celebrities millions of dollars to influence (or fool) their consumers into buying their product. Influence is great commodity, but it does not single handedly encompass the impact cross cultural leadership has on culture.

The Impact of Cross Cultural Leadership

Cross cultural leadership is not synonymous cross cultural dictatorship. Cross cultural leaders must lead through impact – not tyranny. This requires every cross cultural leaders to have a very particular set of skills. Consider this excerpt from a speech made by Liam Nelson in the movie Taken:

…I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.

In the movie, Liam Nelson is speaking to a man, on the phone, who has held his daughter hostage. In this scene, he planned on getting his daughter back by using his “specialized skills”. As Christian leaders, we are in service to God. As part of our service, we take delight in getting God’s sons and daughters back from sin’s captivity. In order to rescue these lost souls, God has endowed cross cultural leaders with a specialized skill set that will allow them to function in areas of education, finance, business, media, and religious organizations. Consequently, the devil’s biggest nightmare involves cross cultural leaders being equipped enough to impact every tribe, nation, and tongue to not only hear the gospel of Jesus Christ but experience the love of God through the people he appointed as leaders to the nations.

Cross Cultural Leadership

On a surface level, a great leader may be defined by the sharpness of their tailor-made suits, the color of their hair, their weight or their associations. While these traits may cause others to see a distinction between leaders, it does not define leadership. Here are two concepts that must be established before moving forward in this conversation:

  1. Leadership is bigger than the leader.

  1. Cross cultural leadership is bigger than one culture.

Leadership is an infinite. It is impossible to have one single definition for leadership because of its diverse nature. Cross cultural leadership is only one small facet in the overall definition of leadership. Inadvertently, cross cultural leaders are held to a higher standard of integrity because of the extent of their influence and their impact on the culture. It’s not enough for a cross cultural leader to be nicely dressed and have a charismatic personality – cross cultural leaders must be able to: 1) adapt, 2) effectively communicate, 3) lead without bias, 4) and be a follower.

Operation Adaptation

Cross cultural leaders must be the masters of adaptation – not alteration. Cross cultural leaders must be able to walk into environments and adjust to complete their task. As Westerners, we often think that American culture is the standard for a utopian society, but that is not accurate. Cross culture leaders must be able to adjust to the customs of the culture they infiltrate without trying to change it to fit a westernized level of comfortability.

Often times, Christian cross cultural leaders want to be pursue, overtake, and “alter” all. While this might have been the motto for the Crusades, it is not an effective method of Christian cross cultural leadership. Even the Apostle Paul saw the need to become all things to all men in order to save them (1 Corinthians 9:22). Furthermore, God himself is not a tyrant. God is a leader who has given his children the ability to adapt to every culture with the intention of bringing them to the knowledge of splendor and sovereignty. God alone completes the alteration while the leader humbly submits to the power of the Holy Spirit by adapting to the environment of their assignment.

Communicating as a Leader

Cross cultural leaders must be effective communicators – verbally and non-verbally. Keep in mind, followers have no idea that they need to be led until it is properly articulated to them. In order for followers to carry out the directives of their leader, they must be able to comprehend the vision. Below are 3 tips to increase communication as a cross cultural leader:

  1. Speak clearly and concisely. Avoid the use of colloquialisms and ebonics. It may cause the audience to feel culturally distant. Cross cultural leaders must use their language to engage, not divide.

  2. Smile. Non-verbal communication communicates an individual’s acceptance of the culture. Even though cross cultural leaders may not understand every facet of the culture(s) they actively engage, something as simple as a smile will open doors for continued education and partnership.

  3. Ask for feedback. Request for one or more members of a culture that you engage with for their honest opinion concerning your communication style. One on one conversations may be convenient, but many cultures, it is inappropriate to discuss conflict without third party involvement. Consider administering an anonymous survey to insure the integrity of all parties. Additionally, always allow time for interaction and questions when directives are given to a cross cultural group. When a cross cultural leader permits two-way communication, this helps prevent misunderstandings and makes room for relationships to be formed.

Leading Without Bias

Cross cultural leaders must have a heightened sense of self-awareness. Being aware of blind spots, weaknesses and strengths are essential to understanding one’s effectiveness in cross cultural leadership. Cross cultural leaders must be intentional about acquiring cultural competency in order to integrate into diverse cultures. Additionally, a leader’s emotional state significantly affects their ability to lead without bias. Certain emotional states, such as: anger, depression or disgust, can intensify implicit bias of stigmatized cultural groups. Therefore, it is wise for Christian cross cultural leaders to be led by the Holy Spirit because it is the Holy Spirit that will guide them into the knowledge of grace and truth (John 16:13).

Following the Leader

Leadership is bigger than the leader. No one is a leader 100% of the time. As Christian leaders, we bounce between leading and following, but Christians leaders cannot lead without following the ultimate leader. Overall, leadership is the desire to imitate God. God is the only leader whose love permeates through every culture. In order to impact culture for the glory of God, we, as Christian leaders, must follow in his footsteps. This goes beyond loving our neighbors (Mark 12:31), it involves listening to our neighbors. It involves more than praying for the sick (James 5:15), it involves developing infrastructure where sick people given medical care despite their ability to pay. It involves more than rehearsing the gospel in our local churches, it involves taking the gospel to nations that have never heard of the gospel. This is followership at its best – exemplifying the leadership that God gives his children freely.

In summary, cross cultural leaders will always be in high demand. They will be sought out and utilize because of their personalized skill sets until every nation hears the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God is manifested on earth as it is in heaven.

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