Mastering the Number One Predictor of Success

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By David Livermore, Ph.D.

What’s the number one predictor of success in today’s global economy? It’s not your IQ, not your résumé—not even your expertise. It’s your CQ (cultural intelligence quotient), a powerful capability that is proven to enhance your effectiveness working in culturally diverse situations.

CQ is the ability to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts—national, ethnic, organizational, and generational. It is a set of capabilities and skills proven to give employees and their organizations a competitive advantage in our ever-shrinking world.

That’s why a high CQ is an increasingly sought-after capability by many employers, even in jobs that don’t involve international travel. Managers and HR departments now understand that high CQ workers can dynamically meet the challenges of serving a diverse customer base at home or abroad while also adding value to culturally diverse teams in the workplace.

Academic research across more than 30 countries reveals four capabilities that consistently emerge among individuals who are culturally intelligent:

  1. CQ Drive: They possess a high level of interest, drive, and motivation to adapt cross-culturally.
  2. CQ Knowledge: They have a strong understanding about how cultures are similar and different.
  3. CQ Strategy: They are aware and able to plan in light of their cultural understanding.
  4. CQ Action: They know when to adapt and when not to adapt when relating and working cross-culturally.

A community of international scholars has developed an academically validated scale for measuring these four CQ capabilities. The CQ scale is the basis of a variety of CQ assessments that are now in wide use around the world. The CQ assessment consistently predicts one’s level of effectiveness working in various cultural situations—either at home or overseas.

Anyone can improve his or her CQ. Here are a few ways to get started:
1. Reflect on your CQ Capabilities
By thinking through the four capabilities of CQ, consider which area is strongest and weakest for you. Each of us is stronger in some of these areas than others. Zero in on one area to begin increasing your overall CQ.

—CQ Drive: What’s my level of interest in cross-cultural issues?
—CQ Knowledge: To what degree do I understand how cultures are similar and different?
—CQ Strategy: Am I aware of what’s occurring in a cross-cultural situation and am I able to plan accordingly?
—CQ Action: Do I know when I should adapt and when I should not adapt my behavior cross-culturally?

2. Take a CQ Assessment
It’s hard to quantify something as subjective as cross-cultural effectiveness. However, CQ assessments have been tested among more than 20,000 individuals as a consistent way of predicting effectiveness in culturally diverse situations. You can learn more information about them at (In addition, my book, The Cultural Intelligence Difference, includes a unique code to access the online CQ Self-Assessment.)

3. Connect Cross-Cultural Work with Another Passion (CQ Drive)
Think of a hobby or interest that naturally energizes you—cooking, exercise, fashion, photography, music—you name it. Now think of a way to connect that interest to a cross-cultural context. If you’re an art aficionado, how can you discover a new culture through its art? Most of our interests exist in some form among a variety of cultures. Find an area where you’re naturally motivated to increase your CQ Drive.

4. Study your Own Culture (CQ Knowledge)
Our own cultures are often the hardest to understand because culture is so ingrained in us, and it’s largely subconscious. We’ve grown up with a certain set of implicit rules and assumptions by which to live life and it’s easy to assume that’s just the way the world is. For a new perspective, ask friends or colleagues from different cultures to talk about what they observe about your culture. Also, talk to someone from your own culture who has spent time abroad.

5. Notice, Don’t Respond (CQ Strategy)
Improve your CQ Strategy by intentionally putting up your antenna to observe what’s going on in a multicultural situation. The key to using this strategy successfully is to notice without responding to what you see. For example, you may notice that your colleague from a different culture uses a more indirect communication style. However, don’t assume that’s true of everyone from that culture. Our natural impulse is to notice something and then immediately interpret its meaning and react. Try to detach yourself as a way to increase your awareness.

6. Join a Diverse Team (CQ Action)
If you want to improve your CQ, there’s no substitute for direct interactions with people from different cultures. If you’re already on a diverse team, take advantage of this resource. Discuss how team members’ cultural backgrounds influence the way they approach a project or an issue. If you aren’t a part of a diverse team, convene a group with people from different cultural backgrounds—either various ethnicities, nationalities, or even different religious backgrounds or professional interests.

Moving Ahead with the CQ Advantage
Increasing your CQ will improve your effectiveness at whatever you set out to do in today’s borderless world. If you are willing to invest some time and effort in developing your CQ, you’ll be more likely to:

  • Adapt to unpredictable situations.
  • Remain true to yourself while also adapting cross-culturally.
  • Be the most sought-after job candidate for management positions.
  • Network more effectively.
  • Negotiate more effectively.
  • Generate more income for yourself and your organization.
  • Enjoy better personal well-being in culturally complex situations.
  • Be the best “interpreter” and “translator” for groups that might not otherwise understand or relate well together.

Best of all, with improved CQ, not only will you become more effective in your work and relationships, you’ll simultaneously make the world a better place for all of us.

About the Author(s)

David Livermore, Ph.D., is president and partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan, and is a visiting scholar at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He’s written several books on global leadership and cultural intelligence, including Leading with Cultural Intelligence and his newest release, The Cultural Intelligence Difference. For more information, visit