Who Is a Multicultural Leader: Facts and Myths
Multicultural leadership has been a buzzword in business for a few years. It’s one of those phrases that everyone has heard, but few have taken the time to understand. This leads to misconceptions about what it is and what it means to a company. A multicultural leader is the leader of the 21st century.
There are a lot of myths about multicultural leadership. Here are 11 things that are absolutely true:
“Multicultural leadership is simply feel-good political correctness.”
False. Multicultural leadership is the idea that you will tailor business to new customers and new audiences. It’s a business concept that is solidly anchored in the bottom line.
“Multicultural leadership is about making employees from other places feel comfortable.”
Maybe. That might be a side effect, but in reality, it’s about taking your business to new countries and cultures. If you approach a Russian country with German cultural references, you’ll fail. It’s about speaking people’s cultural language.
“Multicultural leadership is expensive.”
False. It doesn’t have to be. It’s about taking time to learn what your customers really want and giving it to them more than it is about spending money
“Multicultural leadership is just for multinational corporations.”
False. The most diverse place in the world is New York City. With over 100 languages and thousands of ethnicities, each with their own references and tastes, being multicultural is a matter of survival, even if you only have one shop. Europe is a melting pot of cultures; speaking to each culture promotes your company and product, even if you only have a few locations.
“Multicultural leadership is about giving up your company’s identity.”
False. Ikea is Ikea everywhere, but they offer different products and use different terminologies to speak to different cultures.
“The best way to advance multicultural leadership is to hire multicultural leaders.”
True. KFC has a 40% market share in China after decades of being the quintessential American fast food company. They did this, in large part, by hiring local managers who understand the local populations’ wants and how to speak to them.
“Multicultural leadership is a great way to maintain market share at home.”
True. In Europe, where large numbers of Arab immigrants have recently arrived, along with imported goods from China, European companies can hang on to market share against lower prices by expanding their customer base. In the United States, the growing Hispanic population represents the same opportunities, a new customer base that will combat market share loss due to competition.
“Multicultural leadership is one of those “in the classroom ideas” that’s not really applicable in the real world.”
False. KFC and Ikea in China are great examples. Aldi and Fiat in the United States are making in-roads by delivering European concepts/products in terms that Americans understand.
“Multicultural leadership can only happen by hiring natives to work for the firm.”
False. Managers can be trained to value multicultural leadership. Include this in their trainings and performance reviews, and they will learn to understand other cultures. Moving managers from culture to culture over the course of years can make a huge difference creating transformational managers
“Multicultural leadership is only about cultures from different countries.”
False. One of the most dramatic examples is African-American and white cultures in the United States. Both groups have been in America for the same length of time, but the two cultures are, in many ways, very separated, including differences in language, values, and concerns.
“Multicultural leadership is only for young managers to learn.”
False. The only time you stop learning is when you choose to. No matter how old you are, you can learn to operate in a different culture. All it takes it takes is a commitment to doing it.
Rene Blum is a transformational director who has led several companies to full understanding of multicultural leadership paradigm.