Today’s world is more diverse and digital than it has ever been and that’s amazing because what it means is that we have to potential to connect more with others as well as become more aware about the world around us and all the culture in it. This diversity fosters innovation it brings about fresh, interesting perspectives. Last but not least, it helps in crisis management.

In order to be better global leaders in the 21st Century, one has to know how to communicate across cultures digitally and physically. All this starts with being aware so consider the following tips to help boost your competencies. I’ll be using examples from Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa.

Be Flexible

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” –Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela went from being the personification of opposition to being a symbol of freedom and the reason he was able to do this is because of his ability to be flexible and shift his leadership style. Mandela recognized that he needed to change his style in order to do what was best for his country and that’s something a culturally aware leader has to be aware of today. Whether it’s learning how to use social media tools like periscope, Twitter or Facebook to reach out to your intended audience or shifting a rigid mindset you might have previously held to pave the way for cooperation, you have to be open to the idea of change.

When I say change I don’t mean changing who you are completely and standing for nothing but rather changing your approach in solving a problem. Mandela wanted a South Africa where blacks had a voice before he went to prison and he wanted the same thing when he came out but he was less militant about it. Change in approach. Not change in values. Flexibility.

“One of the most difficult things is not to change society but to change yourself.” -Nelson Mandela

Surround yourself with people drastically different from you

This is really important because this gives you insight into the lives of other cultures. You can see this when Nelson Mandela just got out of prison. The regime and bodies of government he formed was a mix of people from different races, beliefs, and former oppressors. He even invited one of his former white wardens to his inauguration as president. Mandela understood that having different perspectives in his cabinet would give him a well rounded and make him more open-minded to solving South Africa’s problems. Sharing power allowed him to overcome his personal prejudices which led him to winning a Nobel Peace Prize that he wait for it shared with the white president who preceded him F. W. de Klerk.

Educate Yourself

Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world. –Nelson Mandela

When in prison, Mandela learned Afrikaans the language of the dominant white so he could communicate with his wardens as well as white South Africans in general. A culturally aware leader is aware that there are many moving parts in the world and that there is no. ONE way to communicate so he/she puts in the time to learn nuances, behaviors and norms of other cultures. Ways to do this as a culturally aware leader are to pick up new languages and travel.

Travel is one of those things that you can’t go to school for. You can’t learn it in theory. You can only learn it in practice. You might not have the money to go to other countries but you can certainly start by visiting a different state for a weekend and talking to locals. Either way you’re going to learning something new and adding to your repertoire. You’ll also improve your cultural sensitivity.

As for learning languages, there are many options: Duolingo, LivemochaBusuu. The great thing about some of these apps is that it lets you connect with other fellow language learners in different parts of the world, learn about them and vice versa.

Once people from other cultures and backgrounds see that you’re making an effort, they will be more helpful to you and this leads to collaborative efforts.

Use Love As A Tool To Enhance Other People’s Lives

If you judge people, you have no time to love them- Mother Teresa

The mistake a lot of leaders make today is to rule based on preconceived notions that they have about other people’s backgrounds without actually knowing it to be true or not. What this does is create a solid barrier that can prevent potential solutions. I often say stereotypes are the laziest ways to understand culture because they make assumptions about who you are and what you are without actually knowing who you are and what you are.

I think this is so true because it closes one’s mind. Culturally aware leaders adopt a loving mindset and ask questions. They go into environments they don’t. know and immerse themselves there. Another way to do this is again by traveling. The late Mother Teresa did this so often and was able to understand the pain points of people around her. This in turn made her a global ambassador.

For to be free is to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. –Nelson Mandela

Culturally aware leaders know that the global environment is an ever changing place and that in order to lead in a global mosaic they have to put in the work to understand the fellow citizens and neighbors. They don’t think that one culture is better than any other.

They are flexible

They surround themselves with people drastically different from them

They commit themselves to education and

They use love as a tool to enhancing other people’s lives

It’s a lot easier said than done. Trust me I know. I was constantly moving between countries and continents as the son of a diplomat myself but the more comfortable I got with being comfortable and accepting my ignorance, the more open minded I became and the more relatable I was to other people and other cultures.