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July Challenge: Cultural Intelligence

By Pat Wilson

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.

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Another Growth Mindset Exercise Inspired by the ABA 21-Day Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge

By Leah Teague


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.