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Revisiting the best way to Bridge Building: Cultural intelligence

In 1957 an American entrepreneur named Russel Simmons was quoted saying “If we are open and we prepare for promoting dialogue and love, and a better understanding of each other, and tolerance and so forth, that’s what the world will become, a more tolerant, loving place”. There has always been an irony in finding quotations of great people, thinkers, leaders, entrepreneurs from decades ago, and we shall continue to find great quotations as we move forward. These quotations are near ideal and reflect how we, as citizens of the world should be living our lives and the actions, we need to take in order to create a prosperous, safe, just, and sustainable future.

Having said that, and being a millennial, I put on my pessimistic hat and believe that words have a life of their own and are completely hollow if it's not followed with actions. This is not to say that famous entrepreneurs, leaders, politicians, thinkers have not followed up on their actions. But in retrospect, in modern history, famous entrepreneurs, thinkers, leaders, politicians have caused far more damage in our society than good, and their disconnect between words and actions overshadows any good they or their peers may have done. A lot of critics would retaliate or argue against this by answering with typical rhetoric’s like “that’s how the world is” or “stop being so negative” and or “look at the positives”.

Granted these criticisms are welcome and important to have meaningful discussions however, I merely want to provide everyone with an alternative view on how we can be leaders, build bridges and collectively make the world a better place to live in.

Why do most leaders contradict between their words and actions

Before suggesting the alternative view it's important to shed light on some of the reasons that can explain why we are in the current predicament or how did we get there in the first place.

Corporate leaders, political leaders, and entrepreneurs turned corporate magnates are alpha personalities. They are mostly people with strong self-motivation, determination, resilience, and desire to be in control. Most importantly they are result-oriented and are likely to judge success based on numbers or in other words profitability! While this is not wrong, I suspect most of the great leaders to name a few, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Jack Ma of Alibaba among many other prominent leaders started off their companies with great values, collective successes, and bridging their countries and companies with the world. However, there is no doubt that a fast-paced, brutal, competitive world that is mostly outcome-based can completely change a person. Despite these leaders and among many others have managed to build successful businesses, they have regularly been engulfed in scandals, unethical practices and gotten away with it. (“That’s how the world works”)

In the case of Jack Ma’s Alibaba who has been engulfed in malpractices since 2011 from cheating foreign merchants on its international website to malpractices against its own domestic sellers on its platform for monopolistic behavior to the recent accusations of sexual assault by one of their managers on a female worker have put leadership practices in the spotlight.

Amazon on the other hand has been engulfed for similar reasons in India, by favoring bigger merchants and conducting malpractices on smaller sellers. Tax avoidance has also been a big accusation and constant warehouse abuses are common in Amazon warehouses across the globe.

A few more examples and we will get straight to the point of how this articulates into the context of leadership. The “big four” financial companies where young graduates and students dream to work have quite easily paved their way to success through uncountable scandals. To name just one of their malpractices from the KPMG scandal in South Africa to PWC being banned in India, EY being at the heart of the German Wirecard fraud, and Deloitte being accused of auditing violations in China.

Ironically, it's also all the above-mentioned companies who religiously and regularly hold huge conventions, events, gatherings on topics such as sustainable business practices, cultural diversity, innovation, and creativity. Why and how are they allowed to preach about right practices with wrong actions? How are these companies allowed to and looked up to despite practices that do not respect human beings let alone embracing cultural differences, values, and collective progress? Well, in short, that is how the world works right? And there is not much we normal people can do about this, or can we? We’ll get back to this. And let’s not even get started with political leaders.

So, why is this kind of leadership a problem for future leaders?

Future leaders consist of millennials and Gen Z’s who represent most of the early-stage workforce or students in universities right now. These future leaders are witnessing an era where they see successful leaders get away with anything and everything and still maintain a very clean image by being part of social campaigns, charitable work, investing in startups, and giving speeches about right business practices across the globe. If we continue down this path the world will continue to deteriorate over time. We become who we admire and keep reading about. This is not to say that all future leaders will get carried away. A fair number of youths today know how to judge between right and wrong but as we established before, the world is a competitive place and everyone hopes for a share of the pie.

An alternative perspective

Cherry-picking. Sounds too idealistic? It's worth giving it a try. In times like that of today, we really need future leaders to be cherry-picked because we now know it's not all about numbers, profitability, and success at all costs. But instead, it is about ethics, honesty, understanding different people, and building bridges between different parts of the world whilst conducting successful businesses. However, this of course requires lots of learning, reading, experiencing, and studying at top-notch universities. Or does it?

Most highly educated leaders at top companies, banks, and governmental positions have played along through all the corruptions and not acted in the interest of the common people. So, what do we need? We need more cultural intelligence. We need to understand people as we continue to grow in this globalized world. Traveling abroad, taking internships, volunteering abroad, studying abroad, and experiencing other cultures, people, and how they think is a luxury that most well-off people or citizens of wealthy countries enjoy. Not everyone can pick, pack their bags, choose a destination, and travel. Granted traveling still remains the best way to experience firsthand the lives and thinking of different people and is the first step towards building bridges. However, technology has enabled us to build bridges without having to leave our doorstep and the ongoing pandemic has only accelerated the importance of being able to leverage technology to become culturally intelligent.

Highlighting leaders of a different kind

As we just read about the importance of popular corporate leaders, political leaders are sometimes helpful to look at leadership from a different perspective. One that helps build bridges between people across the world. These people aren’t the dashing alpha personalities that we regularly see on the tabloids and news but they are leading change in their own unique, simple, creative and meaningful way. Let’s give them the credit and attention they deserve:

  • Mark Wiens: This amazing food and travel blogger with 7.95 million subscribers on YouTube has uniquely brought people from all over the world together by simply showing the beauty and simplicity of normal people in every country. He portrays food, culture, happiness, and the common ground that binds humans together, good food, and collective prosperous existence. He is definitely a leader we can all look up to and learn the importance of respecting, understanding, and building bridges.

  • Miss Mina: This amazing food and travel blogger with 1.09 million subscribers also uniquely manages to show cultures and food from different countries. Her content allows one to learn, live, love, smile appreciate and understand different parts of the world from the screen of your computer or phone.

  • Drew Binsky: This YouTube vlogger has been to 197 countries including the much talked about Afghanistan, a country that has been embroiled in absolute turmoil for the last two decades and ever more so even as you read this. Yet, he managed to show a beautiful side of Afghanistan where people happily wanted to sell their goods, conduct business, and know people from different countries. Contrary to what the world thinks of places like Afghanistan and other middle eastern or African countries are labeled by western countries as “unsafe”.

  • The Food Ranger: Food just seems to be one of the best ways to understand people. Trevor James a.k.a The Food Ranger with 5.24 million subscribers has extensively shown Asian countries' culture, food, and beautiful hospitality of people.

This article does not seek to show you between right and wrong but offers a newer perspective to cultural intelligence, leadership coupled with the importance and contribution of the creator economy. The key takeaway for highlighting these YouTube stars is due to their humility and eagerness to understand common people and create a bridge for people across the world who are not privileged enough to travel as and when they please. You may or may notice, but if you are a seasoned traveler and interact with people from many countries you would notice that in most instances, people just want to live their lives and be happy.

Yet we find the world in complete chaos, cheating, dishonesty, misunderstandings, wars, climate change and so much more. Something is not right and we hope that more cultural leaders and creators like Mark Wiens, Drew Binsky among many more are given more importance for the content they create and the effort they make in bridging the world together. More urgently than ever does the world needs to plant the seeds of cultural intelligence that leads to strong, responsible leadership. It is never too late.

Author: Adit Rastogi


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