Factors of intercultural leadership



A leader who was successful in one environment may not succeed in the other. Most situations vary because of the situation, the general context, the team members or the organizational setup. These factors may change over time whereby this complex net gets its dynamic character. Therefore, the variables that define successful leadership are not only in the individual itself but also in its environment. Theoretical analyzes reveals five different factors that influence intercultural leadership behavior which are the individual competencies, the team, the organization, the general context and the specific situation. Thomas and Ink son (2003) defined cultural intelligence as a system of interacting knowledge and skills linked by cultural meta-cognition that allows people to adapt, to select and to shape the cultural aspects of their environment.

Individual Competence

Individual competencies are the basis for adequate leadership behavior. Bolten (2005) classifies individual intercultural competence as affective, cognitive and behavior-oriented. Earley and Ang (2003) proposed in their concept of "Cultural Intelligence" four elements to understand inter-individual differences in the ability to adapt effectively to new cultural settings. They conceptualized cultural intelligence as comprising the four components:-

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(a) Meta-cognitive cultural intelligence is the mental process that individuals use to acquire and understand cultural knowledge.

(b) Cognitive cultural intelligence is the general knowledge about cultures.

(c) Motivational cultural intelligence is the direction of energy towards learning about and functioning in cross-cultural settings.

(d) Behavior cultural intelligence is the capability of appropriate verbal and non-verbal behavior in cross-culture interaction.

In Bolten's (2005) model "components of international management competencies", a leader has to acquire competencies in five different segments to be successful in an intercultural setting. The first four are general management competencies for intercultural as well as mono-cultural leaders. These are:-

Professional competence (e.g. market-, law-, business knowledge)

Strategic competence (e.g. cost knowledge, knowledge management)

Individual competence (e.g. motivation, ability for self-criticism)

Social competence (e.g. team ability, communication competence).

Intercultural competence in leadership.

To be an interculturally competent leader, one has to have - in addition to the first four competencies - the ability to describe and explain his/her own culture, the foreign culture and the intercultural interaction. He/she has to have the knowledge of the foreign language, the readiness for intercultural learning, the ability for meta-cognition a tolerance for ambiguity and a polycentric view compared to an egocentric view.

Therefore it becomes evident that In order to be a successful leader in an intercultural environment one needs to have a certain level of meta-cognitive, cognitive, motivational and behavioral intercultural competence. These competencies are improving the communication and interaction amongst people from different cultures. However, if the following four determining factors of intercultural leadership behavior are not considered, a leader with a high cultural intelligence might still fail.

Team / Group

This factor focuses on the importance of the team that a leader is integrated in. Earley and Gardner (2005) found that successful intercultural teams develop and define a new group culture and mutual trust between the team members belonging to different cultures. The implementation of this group culture takes up to three times longer than in mono-cultural groups (Lehmann and van den Bergh, 2004). It implies that multicultural groups need more opportunities to get to know each other and to develop their culture. The aspects ranges from the ability and the will to communicate with each other their problem solving and decision making skills. The "Groupthink" phenomenon (Janis, 1972) is an example that underlines the importance of the social group surrounding a leader. People tend to override their motivation to develop realistic alternatives or ask critical questions when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group decision making process. Therefore it can be said that the group spirit has an important influence on individual behavior.


The third relevant influence on intercultural behavior is the organization. As intercultural interactions are at the heart of UN interventions, organizations involved in these interventions have to foster a polycentric and open culture when it comes to interpersonal interaction and problem solving. Effectiveness in intercultural settings can only be achieved if the organization as a whole is willing to turn this into their governing statement and to adjust the organizational structure where required. Important organizational factors are the internalization strategy, the infrastructure and the selection and development of employees.

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Internalization strategies. When it comes to internalization strategies, organizations typically follow one of the three strategies:-

The strategy of cultural dominance where the are geared to their traditional culture whereby new entering cultures have to adjust to the existing culture

The strategy of cultural compromise tries to integrate different rules, regulations, attitudes, etc. into the new structure and management style.

The strategy of cultural synergies (Podsiadlowski, 2002).envisages the development of a completely new organizational structure and management style based on different cultural backgrounds of employees and their interest groups.

Organisational Infrastructure. In addition to the organizational culture, the organizational infrastructure has an important influence on leadership behavior. Are there adequate resources and communication channels in place to facilitate international interaction and knowledge transfer? These aspects are particularly important when it comes to the integration of a new group into an existing organization as the transfer of shared group knowledge helps the new group to integrate faster into the existing structure.

Selection and development of Employees. Selection of the right employees and their development is another important organizational responsibility. Selection criteria related to intercultural Intelligence, diversity of the workforce, deployment related intercultural training programs or opportunities for informal interaction between people from different cultures have an impact on individual leadership effectiveness.


The fourth determining factor of intercultural leadership is the historical and current context in which the mission is embedded. Historical circumstances or changes in the general situational context influence a leader's behavior. Historical, political or economical tensions between two or more countries can also influence the collaboration between leaders from these countries.

Other context variables are the general situation as to the nature of deployment as to whether it's a peace keeping or peace enforcement mission, Is the environment relatively stable or is it a high-risk area, the rules of engagement (ROE), the infrastructure in the camp, the composition of the military unit, the degree of interaction between the troops and the local population, etc. All these elements drive the flow of interactions and create a basic spirit within the intervention forces that has an important influence on a successful leadership style.


The fifth determining factor that influences personal behavior in intercultural interaction is the imminent situation. The Milgram (1963) study of obedience illustrates in an impressive way the influential power of the situation. Ordinary people showed a behavior that was potentially deadly for others as they were following instructions from an accepted authority.

Each situation has specific characteristics and based on former experience, a situational assessment takes place. Often leaders have to act under ambiguous situations and a situational assessment is based on fragmentary information. Under such conditions, the tendency to fall back to proven behavior and problem solving strategies in previous situations can be observed (Kaempf et al., 1993; Morrison et al., 1997). Often these strategies are based on mono-cultural experiences in different environments and are therefore not appropriate for the new situation. It can be observed that the interpretation of a situation is strongly influenced by the problem solver's cultural background. The more dangerous the situation is, the more influence the cultural background will have as the leader's behavior will be less controlled and will be based on basic cultural patterns.



India had assisted UN with a contribution of nearly 100,000 troops, and participation in more than 40 missions in maintenance of international peace and security. Our history of UN peacekeeping dates back to 1950s. It has also provided and continues to provide eminent Force Commanders for UN Missions

we have seen in the previous chapter that peacekeeping operations are special operations requiring a doctrine and special techniques from a synthesis of research and experience. United Service Institution of India - Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping (USI-CUNPK) New Delhi is the agency in India that conducts International Training Capsules for Military Contingent Officers, Military Observers, and Staff and Logistics Officers. This Centre organizes Seminars, Joint Working Groups and Command Post exercises at the National and International level. CUNPK is considered to be a repository of information on India's involvement in UN Peacekeeping operations.The training capsules are aimed at preparing personnel for specialized duties while serving under the UN flag. The curriculum is aimed at making the trainees conversant with UN history, past conflicts, background, culture and religious aspects of the conflict and about other UN organizations and procedures in the conflict area.

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This centre also prepares Contingent officers to train their troops in UN Peacekeeping techniques, Military Observers who are expected to monitor cease-fire agreements and withdrawal of forces etc, Staff Officers who are to perform their duties in the Headquarters of Peacekeeping Missions and Logistic Officers to formulated and execute logistic plans to support Peacekeeping Missions.

Un Military Contingent Junior Officers Capsule (UNMCJOC). UNMCJOC is a training capsule of three weeks duration conducted every year in English for selected potential instructors from the contingent and up to 25 foreign participants. The focus of this course is to train the soldiers in their respective functions and in cooperating within the unit, training in special skills necessary for the effective performance of the unit and prepare Junior Officers for effective execution of their tasks as part of Military Contingents and to equip them for training their troops in UN Peacekeeping techniques.

UN Military Observers Capsule (UNMOC). UNMOC is a training capsule for three weeks conducted once in a year in English for selected potential instructors from the contingent and up to 25 foreign participants.The job of a military observer requires professionalism, self control and courage. The task is exhausting and dangerous. Moreover, officers serving as military observers are unarmed. Military Observers monitor and observe. They recover and report changes. In doing so, they make sure that threats to agreements are recognized, relayed to those responsible and made known to the international community. This, in most cases, is sufficient to avoid escalation. The UN Military Observers Capsule provides a unique opportunity for future Military Observers to interact with one another prior to deployment, and develop strong inter personal bonds so crucial for a successful mission.

UN Staff & Logistic Officers Capsule (UNSLOC) is a training capsule for three weeks conducted once in a year in English for selected potential instructors from the contingent and up to 25 foreign participants. Logistic for UN Missions is a very complex affair, there being a multiplicity of agencies in the field involved in the gargantuan task of sustaining a Mission. A logistic Officer must be able to function in a cross culture environment, be adept in logistic management of the Mission and be able to formulated and execute logistic plans in accordance with the progress of peacekeeping operations.

The task of a staff officer is equally important. Staff Duties in international operations is a demanding and specialized task that offers a fascinating opportunity of working with people from all over the world. The tasks include planning, issue and monitoring of operational instructions/orders collections and dissemination of information; planning and execution of logistic tasks and maintaining databases of personnel and material resources. Minimum supervision and constrains of time requires a staff Officer to display foresight, initiative, independence of thought, meticulous planning and execution of complex tasks.

National UN Course (NUNC) is conducted for a week eight times in a year. The course is restricted only to Indian Armed forces Officers for effective execution of their tasks as part of United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. The course includes Introduction to Role, Organisation and Functioning of the UN, Organisation and Function of DPKO and DFS Principles, Techniques and Nature of Peacekeeping Operations, Code of Conduct for Peacekeepers, Negotiation and Mediation Techniques, Logistics and Administrative Aspects in Peacekeeping and Mission specific Computer Based and/or Map Exercises.

The centre is member of the International Association of Peace Keeping Training centre (IAPTC), partner in the Standard Training Module (STM) Project, a training initiative by the Integrated Training Service (ITS) at the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO) and their courses are recognized by the UN Institute for Training and Research, New York, as certified programmes.