Bryan McAllister-Grande

GlobalEd Founder & Director Bryan McAllister-Grande is the founder and director of GlobalEd. He has over 20 years of experience in global higher education strategy, program design, intercultural teaching and coaching, assessment, and curriculum development. He is Director of Academic Integration and Planning at Northeastern University’s Global Experience Office. Bryan has twice served on the…

What would it mean to “lead interculturally?” In the field of international education, we talk a lot about intercultural development for students and faculty, but not as much about intercultural development, or intercultural leadership, for ourselves. In fact, leadership as a topic is often avoided in graduate schools and training programs, except at management levels. In this brief essay, I offer some thoughts toward what it would mean to build capacity for intercultural leadership.

Intercultural Leadership might mean understanding the history and current landscape of intercultural learning and development. Intercultural learning is not a new fad, but has a rich history dating back, at least, to the 1920s and 1930s. (Check out Rachel Davis DuBois, an early Quaker educator and intercultural pioneer). Intercultural Leaders should understand the historical development of intercultural learning, from early ideas around “intercultural communication” (see Edward T. Hall) to the advent of intercultural development models and intercultural process models (see Darla Deardorff) to more recent DEI-connected thinking in cultural humility and intercultural praxis. Check out our recent “Re-imagining Intercultural Pedagogies” Lab for more resources on the latest thinking and theories of the field.

Intercultural Leaders should be active members and leaders in professional organizations and centers devoted to intercultural learning and development. These include:

Intercultural Leadership might mean understanding and weaving together diverse leadership styles, including leadership practices from around the world. Typically, in leadership training, leaders are taught classic leadership styles, including democratic, authoritarian, and transactional. Not only is it important for Intercultural Leaders to be adaptable to different leadership philosophies, it’s also important for Intercultural Leaders to understand leadership traditions from outside of the Western constructs. Many of these leadership philosophies emerged from a market-driven, business-minded, outcomes-based approach, and do not necessarily apply to non-Western settings. Leadership is as diverse as intercultural learning itself. Check out this resource for more information on leadership styles.

Intercultural Leadership could foreground cultural humility in addition to cultural competence. Cultural Humility is a concept that emerged sometimes in contrast to cultural competence. Whereas cultural competence can sometimes refer to expertise, cultural humility is focused on listening, understanding, receiving, and giving of yourself. These are powerful concepts and a significant re-framing of intercultural communication. Emerging from social work, nursing, and healthcare, cultural humility focuses on giving care to others while being humble and receptive of difference. 

San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Health Education Vivian Chavez, physician and consultant Melanie Tervalon, and UC Davis nursing professor Jann Murray-García describe the three core commitments of cultural humility as:

  • Lifelong learning and critical self-reflection
  • Recognizing and challenging power imbalances for successful partnerships
  • Institutional accountability

Of course, intercultural leadership should involve lifting up marginalized voices, improving hiring and equity practices, and challenging the status quo within our institutions.

In short, intercultural leadership is a rich topic; we need more writing, thinking, and practice on the subject. What are your thoughts? Leave a comment in the comment box.


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