Are we afraid of cultural diversity?

The phrase “cultural diversity” often brings up images of division and even of conflict. Is it not interesting that we often hear the words “opposites attract” when discussing differences between partners in a marriage? In marriage however, the glue keeping the partners together despite their differences, is love.

What can we do as business leaders when we are confronted with cultural diversity in the work place?


Understanding what cultural diversity is

Culture is the way we do things and includes our learned beliefs, values, norms, symbols, and traditions1. Diversity refers to the existence of different cultures or ethnicities within a group or an organization2. Knowing this helps leaders to wisely adapt their leadership approach in order to embrace diversity.

Avoiding ethnocentrism

The best leaders are those who understand diversity thoroughly and then develop their vision accordingly. Thinking that your way of doing something is ultimately the best and only option, may set you up for failure. This is especially true where multiple cultures are involved. Rather take time to grow in your understanding of others and do not be afraid of what is different! Take a moment to stand in the other person’s shoes, seeking to do what is right in the circumstances at hand from a broader perspective.

Avoiding prejudice

Prejudice usually relates to pride and a sense of superiority. Our life stories and experiences differ for a good reason. The wise leader builds a diverse team with solid expertise. Remember, the minute you set up a website, your business becomes a global player that will require you to deal with other cultures. Smart leaders are culturally smart in their teams and in their markets. This includes the replacement of pre-conceived assumptions with sound business research.

The 5-point golden rule

I developed the 5-point golden rule to help me build (and not jeopardise) my relationship with my culturally diverse team. This “rule” culminates in listen twice, see twice, and a thorough think-through before I speak. This leadership practice has helped me to reduce my staff turnover and added to our operational effectiveness and efficiency.

The 5-point golden rule for dealing with cultural diversity:

2x listen

2x see

1x think

= 5-point successful leadership

By sharing my vision with the employees and allowing their input, they discovered their creative design talents. They grew from “order-takers” to strategic owners of their designated work areas. Their skills base expanded, which not only increased their marketability in the workplace but also their self-images. They grew in stewardship and in serving in their communities apart from being loyal members in our team.

In Conclusion

To be culturally wise does not come overnight. Business leaders are encouraged to develop their skills in this regard. Your business and the life journeys of your team members are unique but can play a major role in building multi-cultural relations that benefits not only your business but also, humanity.


Dr. Santie von Below from Fundtech Consulting can guide you and your team towards effectiveness and efficiency. Contact her at 082 613 0719 or through the website at


  1. Gudykunst, W.B. & Ting-Toomey, S. (1988). Culture and interpersonal communication. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE
  2. Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership Theory and Practice. 7th Los Angeles: SAGE


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