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Leading Change: Effective Cross Cultural Communication


Change is inevitable; actually, change can be thought of as being a constant because nothing ever stays the same. The nature of life is that it is like a constant evolution that calls upon us to adapt and reinvent ourselves to keep up with new and different circumstances.

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Leaders in society are meant to be agents of change; they are the ones who play a major role in instigating change and ensuring that change is accepted. However, in any situation, some are resistant to change and find it more difficult than others to accept and embrace new concepts or trends. This is especially so when the change taking place affects people of different cultures. Leaders have to learn the finesse of implementing cross-cultural change.

How leaders can instigate change effectively in a culturally diverse context

Improve cultural intelligence (CQ)

In any given culture, there are nonverbal cues of communication that sometimes speak louder than words. A leader planning on bringing about change has to be aware of these cues so as. The leader is thus called upon to enrich his knowledge on these cultural nonverbal cues because it will help ease communication as well as help the leader formulate the best strategy to help the team welcome the change that is to be implemented (Dodd, 1977).

As an example, a leader working with people from diverse cultures can take it upon himself to learn what would be considered ‘crowding’ a team member, or what distance if maintained would be interpreted as a show of stiff formality to demarcate the person in authority and the sub-ordinate. Learning such simple things would go a long way in making a difference in how the leaders are accepted.

Passion and teamwork

It falls upon the leader to ensure that those with whom he is to work in bringing about change, share the same zeal and enthusiasm as he does for it. The leader must completely integrate his team into his plans and objectives. This is doubly important when working with a culturally diverse team because, with a common drive and objective, team members will put aside their differences and focus energies into successfully seeing the changes implemented (Harris, 2004).

The team leader can come up with a slogan or catchphrase with which members of his team can identify and use to boost team morale. The leader can also have sessions where team members encourage each other as they monitor progress. The leader can also build morale by awarding members of his team whenever they make an achievement or notable progress.

Time frame

Though most change is gradual, when a leader is keen on instigating it, there must be a viable time frame within which his/her plans have to be in place. Having a time frame will help in monitoring the progress and success of the planned change. The leader can apply his cultural intelligence to better understand how to ease the transition for his culturally diverse team. The leader will be able to know just how much time can be allocated to implementing change without it being too abrupt and being met with resistance or being considered to take too long and thus ineffective (Dodd, 1977).

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The team leader can draw colorful charts with a timeline to indicate what s meant to be achieved under what duration of time. The leader can then constantly keep referring to the charts so that the team members keep uppermost in their minds that there is a time frame within which they have to work.

Clear lines of communication

Without effective communication, very little progress is ever made. Communication breakdown can result in unnecessary tension and misunderstandings as well as a waste of energy and resources. The team leader should give definite assignments to all team members so that everyone is held responsible for something specific. If the team leader has information on how a particular aspect of his team’s cultural traits can be used to effectively get the work done, he could use this as well. The team leader should treat his members as individuals, not lump them into stereotyped heaps. Just because a team member comes from a particular cultural background, it does not mean that that member will fit the mold of what the team leader expects him to be. The team leader should also avoid playing favorites at all costs (Harris, 2004).

The best way a team leader can maintain clear lines of communication is by one, addressing all employees in the same manner, with the same tone of voice and attitude, sticking with the basics, and giving the employee a chance to indicate that he has understood instructions. The team leader should try and designate roles so that areas of command are made clear and avoid the use of jargon that might be found offensive by a particular cultural group that might be under him.


Leaders who are agents of change have unique characteristics that make them stand out. They are daring, bold, and adventurous because they are always willing to try out something new and attempt to see situations from a different angle. They are ‘people persons’, meaning they are friendly and approachable. They are people who focus on the future and try to anticipate the needs and situations that may arise (Harris, 2004). They have effective communication tools. Above all, they are visionary; they have a vision and know-how to turn their visions from a castle in the air to a concrete and tangible reality.


Dodd, C (1977). Perspectives on Cross-cultural Communication. Seattle: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co.

Harris. P, R., & Moran. S, V (2004). Managing cultural differences. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

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