Knowledge-building is both intentional and serendipitous. I have often stated that perspective-taking is one facet of leadership because it allows a leader to appreciate others’ realities, going beyond one’s preferred ethnocentric script. With the range of interpersonal encounters we have on a daily basis, we all need mental processing tools to make sense of what we are seeing or hearing. Cultural psychologists have often noted that self-awareness and critical consciousness are two such skills that strengthen a leader’s relational abilities, knowledge-building, and of course, abilities to lead responsibly.
At the same time, cognitive processes apply in all facets of learning; we talk about book knowledge, taking in new data from unexpected sources, and daily situations in the workplace or in social environments. There are times we notice when something is out of our frame of reference. Some years ago, a person with purple hair seemed odd, today it is quite usual. Individuals wearing religious, cultural, or military garb in the workplace are quite commonplace and perhaps give us an opportunity to expand our cultural knowledge and understanding of why they dress this way.
This may not be so for everyone. It could be that visible differences cause one to experience emotional and cognitive dissonance and uncertainty about how to act, what to say, or even if this different behavior is “correct.” Globalization in contemporary work settings continues to signal an increasing number of cross-cultural engagements with new and different languages, images, and organizational norms. We are surrounded by cultures—individual, group, professional, and societal, and all of these realities contribute to frames of reference for accelerating our cultural knowledge-building in today’s multiculturally diverse society.
Leaders have the opportunity to be facilitators and models of accelerating cultural knowledge by welcoming these experiences and articulating how this learning has changed them in 2016. For example, as a leader I came to recognize that:
- learning about others’ personal priorities outside of work gives me a greater perspective about them at work;
- employees who sit together at lunch are not self-segregating, rather they are in a comfort zone;
- individuals who speak a second language in the workplace enrich all of us;
- the workplace is a culture that is fluid and dynamic, influenced by the people who work there;
- role-taking or perspective-taking leads to interpersonal knowledge-building;