Skills for the 21st Century: Cultural and emotional intelligence

Team building
By Eleanor O'Neill, Professional Development

31 July 2017

Leaders are, by definition, already at the top of the game when it comes to professional ability and the skills required to rise through the ranks of an organisation. But is that enough to drive success and inspire others?

People skills are an integral part of what makes a good leader. They must be able to not only earn the respect of their peers in order to fulfil their role but also bridge the divides that emerge from the different perspectives inevitable in any size of team.

Working in today's professional environment guarantees a varied experience of personalities, motivations and cultural values that have to be managed and understood.

Emotional intelligence

Having become a highly-regarded component of effective leadership in recent years, emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to the ability to interpret and act upon the feelings and values of yourself and others. It is a particularly useful skill for managers and executives as it enables a careful consideration of the personal drivers and motivations within a team or organisation, therefore allowing for an all-encompassing approach to strategy.

One of the first applications of EQ to the business world came from the Harvard Business Review in 1998, which defined this aptitude for working with others as having five essential factors:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Leaders in the modern era are generally expected to have a healthy dose of each trait in order to excel, naturally garnering the support and respect of their peers by virtue of EQ skills. However, in some cases, circumstances may require more advanced development.

Cultural intelligence

Expanding on the principles of EQ, its cultural counterpart requires a deeper level of empathy and motivated desire to understand those around you.

For professionals who find themselves in foreign situations, working with and managing people with a significantly different background and perspective from your own presents a unique and often extremely difficult challenge. The normal parameters of displaying EQ are altered by cultural differences and behavioural interpretations that are all the more important in an increasingly global business world.

Cultural intelligence (CQ) is defined by Forbes as combining cultural knowledge, cross-cultural skills and cultural mindfulness to overcome the typical barriers caused by complications like language, tradition and custom.

FutureLearn, the open online course platform, offers a professional development programme in 'Developing Cultural Intelligence for Leadership'.


ICAS offers an online profiling assessment for members in partnership with market-leading global behavioural profile provider MoralDNA™.

Ethical leadership is at the heart of the ICAS Power of One initiative, challenging CAs to shape the culture and values of their organisations and uphold the principles of ICAS in their professional lives. The MoralDNA™ survey asks about your values in both work and your personal life to determine your strengths in interacting with those around you.

Take part in MoralDNA™

Upon completion, you will receive your own personalised analysis and be able to discover your ethical preferences in order to make good decisions and do the right thing. Data is securely and privately held.

Boost your emotional intelligence, boost your career 

Online course

This course explores various aspects of emotional intelligence and explains how you can apply EQ to your own particular circumstance.

Find out more

ICAS Masterminds Executive Coaching Programme

Leading Figures, experts in coaching and consulting for finance and business professionals, have produced the ICAS Masterminds Executive Coaching Programme to promote innovative thinking and accelerate the career growth of CAs.

Sessions include the opportunity for our Executive Coaches, Thomas Chalmers and Russell Borland to share academic research as well as learning and development tools, insights and information on a variety of topics such as Emotional intelligence (and how a lack of EQ is the primary reason for career derailment amongst top executives), the promotions criteria that take leaders to the top, the distinction between 'Growth versus Fixed Mindsets' and the latest research on how to create High Performing Teams.

Find out more


  • Development of the profession
  • Leadership and management

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