Got a little time to kill? As we wrap up this month’s leadership challenge to develop or enhance your cultural intelligence, take a few minutes to watch a series of ads run by HSBC Bank. This link takes you to my favorite among the group of ads, but all these clever ads make the point of the importance of cultural intelligence. They are good reminders to your students and those whom you mentor that being culturally aware or culturally ignorant can be the difference between successful encounters with clients, business contacts, and others, and being perceived as boorish, insensitive, uncaring, or offensive.
Cultural intelligence helps to temper, for example, one’s expectation that a Chinese business partner will push through a proposal with the urgency and expedience of Western business culture when that individual is influenced by her culture that values harmony and waiting until the right moment. Cultural intelligence avoids wrongly concluding that an individual has nothing to contribute during a meeting when in their culture, one does not speak unless invited or questioned.
Developing and continuing to enhance one’s cultural intelligence is hard, and the learning is never done. Impressing that lesson on our students is an extremely valuable gift for their future success.
Something interesting happens at my predominantly white church the Sundays we are slated to worship in the sanctuary of our sister church, a predominantly black congregation. This happens only every other year, with our sister church visiting our sanctuary in the off years. However, there are always a few from my church who shy away from attending the service at our sister church, expecting the service to be too different for their liking. But those who opt to attend church despite their hesitancy often note how enriched they were to experience something very different in terms of music and worship style as compared to our usual Sunday fare. Their openness to experiencing the culture of the black church gives them valuable insight into their neighbors who worship differently. And someone invariably remarks that those who opted to stay home missed something very special. Indeed, they did.
As leaders, it is important to maintain an openness to learning about and even experiencing different cultures as part of our goal to enhance cultural intelligence. According to the experts, the personality trait of openness is generally believed to influence an individual’s ability to deal effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds.
That attitude of openness opens the door to new and different experiences and opportunities to gain an understanding of different cultures. People in other cultures do things differently, have different views, and follow different traditions. To fail to be open to learning about those cultures and, when possible, experiencing them, risks stunting one’s growth in cultural intelligence. The “ugly American” who travels abroad only to spend her time criticizing the different customs and cultures because they aren’t like we do it back home, misses the richness of those customs and cultural traditions. And one doesn’t have to leave the country to be the ugly American and to miss out on fantastic opportunities to connect with those from other cultures in our own backyards.
The good news is we don’t have to leave the country to enhance our knowledge of other cultures. By all means, never miss the chance to visit a new place or to become more at home in a place you’ve visited before, but there are plenty of opportunities even locally. Try the food at the new Ethiopian restaurant, spend a few hours at the Czech festival, visit the Brazilian art exhibit, or even visit the worship service of a different denomination or faith tradition. And talk to the individuals you meet along the way. People are generally happy to share their culture with outsiders who are respectful, non-judgmental, and genuinely curious.
There are certainly plenty of books, blogs, and television shows that provide a glimpse into other cultures, but dare to venture outside your cultural comfort zone, and encourage those who you teach or otherwise influence to do the same. Just as accepting failure as a learning opportunity is a vital component of a growth mindset, embracing uncomfortableness in new environments is a worthwhile endeavor as you open yourself to different cultural experiences. Maybe you’ll like what you experience, maybe not—and that’s okay. It’s the learning, and the openness to learning, that matters.
Well, he’s Trekkie Monster, and you’re Kate Monster.
You’re both Monsters.
Are you two related?
What?! Princeton, I’m surprised at you! I find that racist!
Oh, well, I’m sorry! I was just asking!
Well, it’s a touchy subject. No, not all Monsters are related. What are you trying say, huh? That we all look the same to you?
The dialog above sets up the song, Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist from the Broadway musical, “Avenue Q.” Beyond the catchy tune, the song acknowledges something we know is true: we all harbor biases about different people based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual identity, and a host of other categories like Southerner or Yankee.
With this post, we continue our focus on cultural intelligence, the challenge for the month of July. We noted in the first blog post on this challenge that developing cultural intelligence involves five steps. With this post, we discuss the third step, addressing implicit bias. We challenge you to address the implicit bias you may have learned along the way.
As the song from Avenue Q notes, bigotry has never been exclusively white; we all harbor biases, some overt biases and some implicit or unconscious biases because we are human. Experts believe that implicit biases are the result of adaptive behavior, the need to “function at maximum capacity by finding patterns among information or events or groups of individuals as a way of enabling us to make decisions without really thinking about it” according to Dr. Kierra S. Barnett, a post-doctoral researcher at the Kirwan Institute. Dr. Michelle van Ryan, a professor at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Nursing notes that, “[I]mplicit biases are basically this [learning] system applying whatever information [the system has] learned, even if it’s negative and inaccurate, to whole groups of people.”
That an individual harbors biases doesn’t make him or her a bad person, unless, that individual refuses to acknowledge their own biases or acts out of those biases in ways that cause tangible harm to the people with whom they interact or the organizations with which they work. Plenty of studies in the health care field document the effects implicit bias can have on patient care. For examples, see here and here.
But the impact of implicit bias is not limited to health care. Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan conducted a field study to answer the question, “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” Bertrand and Mullainathan discovered, using fictitious resumes to respond to help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston, that having a name associated with African Americans (like Jamal and Lakisha) resulted in significantly fewer callbacks for interviews than those candidates assumed to be white because of names like Emily and Greg, even though the credentials were the same.
We in the legal field are not immune to unconscious bias. Researchers from the leadership consulting firm Nextion submitted a legal memo drafted by five law firm partners from different firms to some 53 other partners at 22 law firms who agreed to participate in a writing analysis study, in which they would evaluate the submitted memo. All evaluators were told the memo was written by Thomas Meyer, a third-year associate who was a graduate of NYU Law School. However, approximately half of the evaluators were told the hypothetical Thomas Meyer was black; the other half were told he was white. The average evaluation of the memo by the white Thomas Meyer scored almost a full point higher than that of the black Thomas Meyer, 4.1 versus 3.2. The Nextion researchers were clever; they intentionally inserted 22 errors into the memo. The evaluators of the black Thomas Meyer were more likely to find those errors than the evaluators of the white Thomas Meyer.
We urge you to consider your own biases, particularly your implicit biases. If you have not taken one of the implicit attitude tests that are part of a Harvard study and meant to disclose unconscious biases, I urge you to take one here. We acknowledge that the Harvard has its detractors, but that the IAT may be flawed is not evidence that implicit bias doesn’t exist. Rather, measuring it may be difficult.
Finally, I encourage you to review at least the executive summary of the ABA study, You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession. It outlines four patterns of bias in the legal profession: 1) prove-it-again bias; 2) tightrope bias; 3) maternal wall bias; and 4) tug of war bias. Consider whether you, or your firm or organization, may have unwittingly slipped into these patterns. Implicit biases are difficult to change, but we can start by acknowledging them.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “A Course Designed to Get Students Hired,” Professor Johannes Kern discusses how he revamped his supply chain course to be more student-focused with an emphasis on giving students the skills they need to get hired after graduation. Professor Kerns states his belief that, “To better prepare students for their futures, educators must rethink the competencies we are teaching, the way we conduct our teaching, and the content we use in the classroom.” He believes that creative problem-solving, developing judgment, and dealing with uncertainty are particularly important competencies to be taught. ” His course involves “group work, student presentations, and direct feedback from industry experts.”
We had a similar revelation when we began teaching our leadership course, Leadership Engagement and Development, at Baylor Law in 2013. We created the course, like Professor Kern, with heavy emphasis on lectures, using the textbook and case studies to examine the material. We also used a method that felt familiar – the Socratic Method. What we quickly realized was that this approach did not work for teaching leadership. The students’ feedback and our own personal assessment told us that it was not the best way to engage them with the material. So, we revamped the course to include less time with us talking and more time with exercises designed to get the students to grapple and wrestle with the material, individual and group presentations, and lots of invited lawyer-leaders to speak to the class about their experiences. (We give these invited speakers the topic we’d like them to cover and they work their experiences into that subject. We will cover how we do this in more detail in a later post.) The response has been incredible! We have had lots of students tell us that it was their favorite class in law school and reminded them why they wanted to become lawyers.
So, if you are looking for ideas when creating or revamping a leadership course, we would be happy to consult with you.
We also recommend checking out Professor Kern’s article:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’”
–David Wallace Foster
While Foster was urging general awareness of the world, the same should be said of culture. It is so much a part of who we are that it is often easy to forget it until we become the proverbial fish out of water or we encounter others who are unfamiliar with the water in which we swim.
As we continue our focus on developing cultural intelligence as one tool in the leader’s tool kit, the first step is awareness of one’s own culture. Culture, as you will recall, is the values, norms, and traditions that affect how individuals of a particular group perceive, think, interact, behave, and make judgements about the world. Culture is so ingrained in us that, for example, as Americans, we may fail to understand why people from other parts of the world recoil at our offer of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a quick snack, unaware that while the PB&J sandwich is a well-established part of American culture (according to a survey, the average American adult consumes three PB&J sandwiches every month, and nearly half of Americans regularly enjoy a good PB&J sandwich), many non-Americans find this combination of flavors disgusting, according to delish.com; they prefer other foods that are part of their culture. Vegemite, anyone? How about chocolate-covered locusts?
When we’re talking about culture, there’s rarely a right or a wrong; there’s just different. Different ideas on food are amusing, but imagine how harmful it can be when “different” is viewed negatively. Recently, a colleague relayed a story about an interview to hire a new professor in his department. The male candidate, hailing from one of the African countries, repeatedly referred to his spouse as “Wife” rather than using her given name, a practice the other members of the interview team found demeaning and off-putting, failing to recognize that in the candidate’s culture, his reference to her as, “Wife” was a show of respect to his spouse. They opted not to advance the candidate in the hiring process, perhaps missing out on a wonderful addition to the department. Making a value judgement about another culture, especially a negative one, can harm one’s endeavors and undermine developing the cross-cultural relationships essential to being an effective leader.
The first step to being a leader who can interact effectively with people of different cultures is to become aware of the water in which we swim. We can’t understand other cultures unless we are sensitive to our own. A simple exercise, adapted from an article in the Journal of Management Education, gives you and the individuals you teach or mentor a chance to consider your own culture. For this exercise, consider how you would describe your culture, focusing on what distinguishes you culturally from others, describing some of the customs, rituals, and ceremonies associated with your cultural group. Continue by considering a member of your cultural group, excluding family members, who is a good role model for others in your cultural group and what makes them a good role model. Finally, consider a situation when you felt out of place because of being different from others. What was it that made you feel different? To take this exercise a step further, answer the same questions, placing yourself in the shoes of a person from a different cultural background.
As you think about your culture, keep in mind that you are influenced by many cultures of which you are a member: American culture; legal culture; the culture of your race or ethnicity; religious culture; and many others. Developing cultural intelligence is not a one-time goal to be checked off on the to-do list of effective leadership. Rather it involves regularly engaging in activities to enhance one’s cultural intelligence, and regularly thinking about this first step. It’s not an easy step to take, but it is well worthwhile.
To get a better sense of your culture, consider the following questions:
How do people in your culture greet each other? With a hug? A handshake? A kiss on the cheek?
How do you address people in your culture? With a title? By first name, regardless of the age of the speaker or the listener? As Auntie or Uncle?
What response is appropriate when those in your culture are paid a compliment? A simple thank you or a compliment in return?
How do people in your culture disagree with each other? How do they criticize or correct each other? Who is allowed to be critical?
How do people in your culture treat individuals that are outside the group?
This is a non-exhaustive list (obviously) to start to focus on those parts of the cultures in which you swim that may differ from those outside your culture. Please feel free to share your thoughts about this exercise and your observations about culture in the comments below.
Multiculturalism. Is it just a buzzword, a New Age fad for the new millennium? Or is it a meaningful concept, important to leaders now and in the future?
Growing up in the Midwest, I learned that America was a melting pot in which different cultures contributed their own distinct flavors, literally and figuratively, to American culture. There is no doubt truth to that, but how limited my worldview was through college and even into my early career. Other than a girl named Tiku, who joined my 7th grade class as an immigrant from Uganda following Idi Amin’s seizure of power, my exposure to people from different cultures was fairly limited to the occasional missionary who visited my church, often a transplanted Westerner who shared his or her experiences working in some far-flung place. In fact, there wasn’t a lot of focus on the distinctly different cultures in America, for example, African American culture or Native American culture, or even Southern culture, beyond a few units in Social Studies from time-to-time. I daresay, that was the experience of most of my friends—eating tacos (our version of Mexican food), chop suey (the only Asian meal anyone I knew ate), and of course spaghetti and pizza did little to expand our knowledge or understanding of other cultures. Misperceptions about different people, who hailed from different cultures, abounded.
Since my childhood, American has experienced a sea change in culture, perhaps because of the growth in population of individuals from different cultural backgrounds because of immigration and shifts in birth rate. Perhaps the changes are attributable to less of a willingness of immigrants to assimilate to the extent immigrants did in the past–many immigrants indeed are proud of their cultural heritage, continuing to speak their language and observing their traditions openly. Or perhaps the change is because we are more cognizant that we are part of a global economy, involving a great deal of movement of people, goods, and services that require interacting with individuals from a variety of different cultural backgrounds in a variety of different settings.
Whatever the explanation, we assume, in fact we hope, that most leaders recognize and accept the premise that to be effective leaders in this multicultural world, one must intentionally work to develop and maintain cultural intelligence, which moves beyond learning about differences to connecting on deeper and more meaningful levels. Cultural intelligence starts with pursuing cultural competence which is the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures. Culture is defined as the values, norms, and traditions that affect how individuals of a particular group perceive, think, interact, behave and make judgement about the world. As my colleagues outlined in Chapter 17 of their book, Fundamental of Lawyer Leadership, developing cultural competence involves five steps: 1) being aware of differences; 2) addressing implicit bias; 3) developing an attitude of openness; 4) gaining knowledge and understanding of different cultural practices; and 5) developing cross-cultural skills.
Toward that end, this month’s challenge involves a focus on cultural intelligence. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will address these different steps, and as we do, we invite you to share your thoughts and experiences about cultural intelligence.
Every presentation we do on growth mindset includes part of a quote from Michael Jordan: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Day 6 of the ABA’s 21 day Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge looks at “The Mindset of a Champion” in which fifth grader Carson Bylow gives a 6 minute TEDxYouth Talk. The talk starts with Jordan’s full quote: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Bylow points out not only the failures Jordan shared but the fact that Jordan actually was cut from his high school basketball team. So, how did Michael Jordan ultimately become the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) in basketball? Growth mindset, grit, and dedication to outworking others.
Bylow acknowledges that he has a growth mindset in some areas and a fixed mindset in others. In his journey to a broader growth mindset, Bylow noted appreciatively a teacher who introduced him to one little three-letter word to help in his battle against fixed mindset: “yet.” Adding “yet” to any self-defeating thoughts or self-talk can change a mindset from one that is ready to give up and go home to one that is invigorated and ready to try again. “Yet” suggests that a different future is possible. “Yet” suggests a new horizon. “Yet” suggests that it is worthwhile to work harder and believe in yourself. The power of “yet” is the power to become more than you are…currently. How can you harness the power of yet when helping students become leaders?
Here is an exercise to try with your students:
Step 1: Give students one to two minutes to think of an area, skill or subject (or more than one, if time permits) where they are disappointed with their performance. You can set the stage for this by sharing one of your own past struggles. In law school, mine was writing. As an accounting major in undergraduate, I scrupulously avoided any electives that required written papers. Shameful, I know! As result, I continued to feel insecure in my writing abilities and missed the valuable opportunity to get better feedback. In fact, my law review article was so bad that my poor editor had to spend many, many long hours over an entire summer to help me get it in publishable condition. I felt worthless and guilty for the trouble I caused my editor. What experience like this can your students identify?
Step 2: Based on their thoughts about areas of weakness, instruct students to pick one or two areas that they think are important or beneficial to their future success. For each, instruct the students to complete this sentence: “I am not good at …”
Step 3: After all the students have had time to write or type one, two or three of those sentences, have them write or type “YET” in big, bold capital letters at the end of each.
Step 4: Next, ask them to assess if they really mean it—if they truly believe this weakness can be improved. If they do not immediately have a sense of hope about the prospects for improvement, have them pause and determine why they are not ready to “buy in.” Why can they not connect to the positivity that comes when recognizing they CAN get better even if they never become a G.O.A.T. Ask them to think about what they could accomplish if they focused positive energy and diligent, deliberate effort to improve. Encourage them to consider the effort as a step toward their future success.
Step 5: Finally, have them write a plan for their work. This could be a good time to introduce the SMART process for setting attainable goals. SMART stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely” and is discussed in Chapter 9, Setting Goals of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership.
Carson Bylow shared, “Coaches and professional scouts look for athletes who don’t just have skill. They want someone who wants to learn, is coachable, and will give 100% effort in practices. … What they don’t want is someone who thinks they are already good enough, they don’t need to learn, and are not coachable.” The same can be said about what we look for in law students, not only as they learn, but in their future employment as well.
As part of our leadership development class at Baylor Law, one of the assignments over the quarter is to read a book about leadership. Our definition of what constitutes a leadership book is broad for this purpose, so our students choose a wide variety of books, ranging from “leadership lite” (as Deborah Rhode called it) to biographies of famous leaders. The task to complete the assignment is for the students to write a short review covering the book and why someone who is interested in leadership might want to read it. So, we hope you enjoy Victoria Filoso’s review of Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
– Stephen Rispoli
Since her Ted Talk went viral in 2010, Brené Brown has established herself as the expert on vulnerability and leadership. Under the traditional, “old school” leadership mentality, these two terms were considered contradictory— leadership was about strength, dominance, and fearlessness. But Brown has flipped that notion on its head with her focus on how effective leadership is impossible without uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Dare to Lead explores how sustainable leadership requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. Brown seeks to inspire modern leaders to reject the traditional aggression associated with leadership, and to instead lean in to and understand our emotions in order to manage difficult situations.
Dare to Lead is divided into Brown’s four skill sets that make the best leaders: the ability to rumble with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. The most impactful section to me was the first. “Rumbling with vulnerability,” according to Brown, refers to how leaders deal with the fear and emotions we go through when things get uncertain and tough. Avoiding hard conversations, a lack of empathy, and increased shame are three ever-present conditions that hold us back from being courageous, the skill that Brown continually emphasizes leaders in our society need to master.
One of my favorite quotes from the book is “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” It is second nature for most of us to be concerned with politeness. We are always assessing how others perceive and are constantly crafting ways to converse with others in a way that portrays us as “nice people.” Brown says that this practice of beating around the bush is actually holding us back from being effective leaders. Kindness is not being sweet; kindness is being honest and direct without being rude. In order to make progress we have to address weaknesses and being overly concerned with politeness is counter-intuitive to that. Leaders have to stop avoiding tough conversations because they are afraid of being unkind, because the only unkind thing is being unclear about what you want and need to reach your goals. Leaders need to have the courage to sit down and face those tough conversations head-on.
Courage is the entire foundation of leadership in Dare to Lead, but courage is impossible to achieve without rumbling with vulnerability. Vulnerability is not a weakness, and we need to stop thinking about it as one. Brown dedicates an entire section in her rumbling with vulnerability chapter on the “armor” we all wear to shield ourselves from fear and how armor is the problem, not the solution. Armored leadership drives perfectionism, operates from a scarcity mindset, squanders opportunities for joy and recognition, and rewards exhaustion as a status symbol. Daring leadership, on the other hand, acknowledges and embraces emotions and clarity, encourages empathy, and cultivates a culture of belonging rather than fitting-in. The daring mindset embraces the inevitable risks and fear that accompany leadership, whereas the armored mindset tries to deflect those risks and fears and they therefore stay unaddressed and unconquered. Brown says that being armored all the time should never be rewarded, and that instead we need to reward those who accept and venture into the unknown.
Being a law student through COVID-19, uncertainty has been the constant undertone of my thoughts this past year. After some cursory internet researching, I randomly selected Dare to Lead from the class syllabus to fulfill the book review requirement, but it ended up being one of the most beneficial tools to help me manage my anxiety surrounding the uncertainty. I was meant to read this book at this time, and I encourage everyone who is struggling to navigate our unpredictable world to read it. Because the truth is that the world will not get more certain once we overcome this pandemic. We are still going to face times where a good outcome is not guaranteed and we are still going to endure anxiety as a result –that is just the reality of being human and of being a lawyer. The only place we can make a difference is in our approach: we need to dive right into the water since we are going to get wet anyway. But if we dive in wearing armor, it will instantly drag us down to the bottom. The only way to swim across is to shed the armor, stay in the water, leave our eyes open, and keep moving forward. As Brown said, “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”
We believe that managers must also be leaders (and vice-versa). They must focus upon the details and ensure that the trains run on time while also keeping an eye on the bigger picture. Part of that bigger picture is growing their team and setting everyone up for future success. From the article, “as Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in the field, defined it, skilled coaching involves ‘unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.’” This article in the Harvard Business Review is a great discussion of the acknowledgement of that shifting role of managers in the field. In our modern world, managers must become better coaches to help their teams grow – they must exercise leadership skills as well as managerial ones. The article discusses the barriers to doing this well, a couple of models to consider, and some tips to improve. It also provides some basic steps and further reading about coaching.
Here’s my favorite paragraph: “We live in a world of flux. Successful executives must increasingly supplement their industry and functional expertise with a general capacity for learning—and they must develop that capacity in the people they supervise. No longer can managers simply command and control. Nor will they succeed by rewarding team members mainly for executing flawlessly on things they already know how to do. Instead, with full institutional support, they need to reinvent themselves as coaches whose job it is to draw energy, creativity, and learning out of the people with whom they work.” Overall, excellent discussion of what managers and leaders should be and I highly recommend it. Kudos to Victor Flores for recently posting about this article. Although it’s not a recent article (originally published in late 2019), it is a great refresher about the importance of good managers.
The Power of Yet. Professor Carol Dweck labels Growth Mindset as “the power of yet” because you believe that you can improve. She adds that people with growth mindsets are “luxuriating in the power of yet” while those with a fixed mindset are “gripped in the tyranny of now.”
Both phrases remind us to value and reward effort, strategy and progress as we evaluate our students’ current performance. Helping our students push themselves out of their comfort zones in healthy directions allows them to learn and develop in new ways.
Fear of failure and rejection can often be a barrier to new learning and a growth mindset. In Chapter 7 of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership, we offer a reflection exercise for students in a leadership class or program designed to help them normalize failure as an acceptable aspect of learning and growing.
You’re Not Perfect and That’s Okay!
Think about a mistake you made in the last couple weeks, preferably one that is not too emotionally charged. It could be anything – a mistake you made while learning something new, maybe you misunderstood the instructions for a task at work and did it incorrectly, or maybe a social faux pas where you said something you wish you hadn’t, or you snapped at someone and regretted it later.
What happened? What were the consequences? Did you have the opportunity to correct the mistake? If so, how did it go and how did it make you feel?