Remote Leaders Can't Stop Talking About Cultural Competency

Remote Leadership requires cultural competency.

Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.
~ Malcolm Forbes

Diversity, Inclusion and Remote Teams

The topic of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is nothing new. Conversations about diversity and inclusion regulations, practices, and initiatives were originally enacted to address civil rights issues. We still have a long way to go before the professional landscape is truly based in equality and equal opportunity, but significant progress has been, and continues to be, made.

In the hiring process it is important to be mindful of any implicit bias that may come into play. Build a diverse team from the start. Remote leaders have an unique opportunity when it comes to building diverse teams. After all, one of the perks of building a remote team is an ability to hire the best and brightest from across the globe without the added expense of relocation.

However, I would propose that forming a diverse team is the easy part. Leading a multi-cultural team, which includes but is not limited to language differences, is the hard part. It is naive to assume you can just gather a bunch of people “together,” people who have vastly different worldviews, values systems, and ways of being in the world, and just have at it.

In his article, "3 Steps to Building Diversity into the Fabric of Your Organization" Rafael Solis explains that leaders who broaden their definition of diversity, train themselves and their team members to track and unpack bias and assumptions about difference, and align diversity with big picture company goals are the ones who will reap the rewards of engagement, retention, and innovation associated with diverse teams.

It’s not just about seeing diversity and being inclusive in a tolerant way. It’s about understanding differences and becoming culturally competent. It’s about understand how to make the most of what everyone brings to the “table.”

It's a Practice, Not a Perfect

First, let me be clear that cultural competency is a process. You will never be 100 percent culturally competent. It is impossible. There are just too many variations on humanness in the world! So relax.

Your intention and effort are most important. If you  offend someone on your team:

1. Apologize

2. Try to understand what went wrong

3. Repair

4. Retain the knowledge gained by the experience, so you can do better next time

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What is Cultural Competency?

Second, let’s talk about what cultural competency really means. Cultural competency is the ability of an individual to interact effectively with people who have different cultural influences. Cultural influences are all the things that you come in contact with in your human life that have an impact on the way you experience the world.

Things that can influence the way you experience the world include gender, age, physical ability, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, first language, learning styles, personality types, travel, professional orientation, education, etc. If your sensory systems and meaning-making systems integrate like mine do, you might be thinking that based on this definition humans need cultural competence to interact with anyone who isn't their identical twin. This is true!!

However, life gives different people more practice interacting with certain types of "different than me" than it gives to others. Plus, our own cultural orientations send us explicit and implicit messages that tell us some types of difference are better, more tolerable, or more acceptable than others. This is false (bias)!

There is no right way to be human. Good news is, since you learned your culture and how to interact with your team members, despite difference, you have already started the process of cultivating cultural competency. Give yourself a pat on that back!

Gaining Proficiency

Third, in order to consciously actively cultivate more cultural competency you have to understand what you are cultivating. Cultural competency has four components.

1. Awareness - of one's own cultural worldview/orientation/influence

2. Attitude - towards difference

3. Knowledge - of different cultures' worldviews

4. Skills - that empower cross-cultural communication

I won’t go much deeper into this topic here, that’s a whole other book (Tackle Culture Clash In Business and In Life). However, I strongly suggest that you:

  • Look at how your own worldview, orientation, and influences have informed your company culture.

  • Consider how inclusive this culture is.

  • Educate yourself about the cultural influences your teammates bring to the table.

  • Train yourself and your team about the primary dimensions that impact cultural orientation (social structure, time, identity formation, touch, communication, behavior, context, and organization).   

As the remote leader of a remote team, you and your team members have more opportunities to travel than a co-located leaders and team members might. As a result, you and your team members have more opportunities to take part in culturally diverse experience. These changes in perspective widen your worldview and serve as an asset.

*** This is an excerpt from a larger work "Remote Leadership - 10 Ways to Lead From a Distance." The full work will be published in the coming weeks. Subscribe to our mailing list to be notified when this text becomes available!



Rebel + Connect creates custom retreats for remote teams. A Colorado based company owned and operated by Charlie BirchRachel McGehee, and Summer Weirich, we operate remotely and service clients from all over the globe. Join us as we create cultures of meaning and celebrate human connections in a digital world!

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