Cross-Cultural Competency for Education Leadership Professionals

Small group of people shake hands and discuss at a table.

Cross-cultural competency is a critical skill in today’s global economy, but what exactly does it mean? It is often misinterpreted as being the same as international etiquette. If you are on a business trip to Japan, for instance, it is helpful to know that the Japanese use silence as a tool to preserve harmony during a difficult point in the conversation. But although cross-cultural competency pays homage to international etiquette, it is a far broader concept. As a professional with a leadership role in higher education, cross-cultural competency is central to furthering your mission.

Understanding Cross-Cultural Competency

The core definition of cross-cultural competency is the capacity to engage effectively with people from other cultures, based on a respect for and understanding of those cultures. You could study one particular culture to gain an in-depth knowledge of it, of course, but cross-cultural competency translates to all cultures, even if you have not studied them. It starts with an open mindset, and it recognizes that cultural awareness is as much about the everyday experiences of individuals as it is about their cultures’ major holidays, traditions and values.

Identifying the Elements of Cross-Cultural Competency

Higher education leaders can cultivate greater cross-cultural competency in themselves and their staff. It should be viewed as a process that can be continually built upon and refined, rather than an end result. Experts in global awareness have identified multiple distinct elements of cross-cultural competency.

  • Cultural self-awareness: Before you can fully appreciate another culture, you need to be mindful of the fact that you are viewing it through the lens of your own culture. Your own personal history, background, education, beliefs, and values will naturally color your perception of another person’s culture.
  • Cultural perspective: Cultural self-awareness naturally lends itself to the development of a cultural perspective, which may be defined as a new understanding of the point of view of people from another culture. This does not mean that you should try to like everything about another culture but do keep your reactions in check.
  • Cultural adaptations: Institutes of higher education in particular need to strive to institutionalize cultural understanding, given the diverse student body and the role of schools in raising global awareness. Effective school leaders should learn more about the cultures represented on campus, and adapt to diversity in order to better meet the needs of the students.

Extending the Role of Cross-Cultural Competency

School leadership professionals can look for ways of encouraging cross-cultural competency throughout all areas of the campus. For instance, perhaps your campus already has student groups that raise cultural awareness, but is the admissions office culturally competent? Student interviewers should have a basic understanding of the cultural differences in the individuals they are interviewing. For example, prospective students from South Korea will tend to downplay or understate their accomplishments, or just the opposite, they may try to compensate for their own cultural differences by exaggerating their accomplishments. Consider how to establish policies and promote initiatives to enhance understanding across the whole campus.

The College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University offers coursework on leadership theories and development across diverse cultures. Join our community of dedicated professionals today by clicking on the Request More Information button. You could advance your career by earning a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Higher Education Leadership.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.