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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Illinois Leadership Competencies: Interpersonal/Team: Cultural Competency

Effective leadership requires working with and influencing others to achieve common goals and shared vision. Leaders need to develop skills for building personal, authentic, and productive relationships.

What is cultural competency?

A great leader possesses the skills, knowledge, and attitude necessary to create authentic relationships with those from different cultures. A leader also demonstrates cultural competency when he or she recruits diverse membership within groups or teams.  

Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively in cross-culture situations. It means understanding different cultures and their values, even if they do not align with our own. Becoming culturally competent takes time, patience, and above all, the willingness to embrace the cultures different from our own, both on a personal level and as leaders in any organization. 

A culturally competent leader possesses the skills, knowledge, and attitude necessary to create authentic relationships with those from different cultures. These aspects of cultural competence, which are crucial in today’s global society, require us to be open to exploring new cultures, build relationship with people outside our own culture groups, and facilitate cross-cultural understanding within groups. These resources can help leaders become aware and let go of our unconscious biases, and be open to understanding different cultures. 

The Surprising Solution to Workplace Diversity | Arwa Mahdawi

In her ironic Ted Talk, Arwa Mahadawi discusses the many issues surrounding workplace inequality, including the unequal pay scale for different races, the harmful nature of the current methods of diversity training, and "tokenism." The vast majority of "power" in the workplace is still held by white males, and Mahadawi suggests the only way to bring diversity and equality to the workplace is to start with small changes. Speaking up and becoming aware of and getting rid of unconscious bias are the first steps towards creating a diverse work environment. Small changes can make a difference! 


These articles shed light on both the qualities of a culturally competent leader and ways in which to implement cultural competence in any organization. The first article gives an overview of all types of diversity including gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc., and steps on how to become more inclusive. The second article focuses on prominent CEOs and their personal mission to combat gender inequality in the workplace. Becoming a culturally competent leader takes constant awareness and these articles can help you become more conscious of inclusion in your organization.