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Extension > Leadership and Civic Engagement Alumni > Leading with Cultural Competence - What is Culture and Why Does it Matter?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Leading with Cultural Competence - What is Culture and Why Does it Matter?


We recently held the Leading with Cultural Competence workshop as part of the 2016 Leadership Series.  This day-long session allowed participants to explore their understanding of cultural competence and how to be more effective leaders.  Information for today’s post has been adapted from materials prepared for the session by Extension Educators Catherine Rasmussen and Toby Spanier.

When we are asked to define our culture many of us may immediately name a country we or our ancestors immigrated from.  We don’t always give credit to the other pieces that create our culture – our socioeconomic status, gender, educational history, or geographic location to name a few.  Each aspect of our lives informs our culture as well as the culture of the places we live, work, play, and lead. Simply stated, culture is made up of shared basic assumptions that are learned over time and considered to be valid.  These valid assumptions are then taught as the “norm” to others around us and impact the behaviors and actions of the group.  This process is what creates bonds between families, groups, co-workers, and organizations.    Understanding all of these different pieces does not only contribute to our better understanding of culture but also leads us on a journey towards understanding the concepts of cultural competence.

Cultural competence is the understanding the culture is deep, pervasive, complex, patterned, and morally neutral.  A developed understanding of cultural competence allows us to see how culture has formed our own beliefs, values, and patterns of behavior.  As we understand ourselves better it makes us more capable of accurately understanding and adapting behavior to cultural differences and commonalities that are around us.  Cultural competence is something that people can work to improve and learn through their lifetime.  


We cannot expect to develop a sound understanding of our own culture or to be cultural competent overnight.  Culture and cultural competence are topics that we need to take a moment to understand and explore.  To learn more about the cultural and demographic shifts seen within Minnesota take a minute to read the Brookings Essay by Jennifer Bradley.  It provides interesting information on how Minnesota is becoming more diverse and takes a close look at changes seen within Minneapolis-St. Paul.  University of Minnesota Extension’s own Ben Winchester has also done extensive research into how the population is shifting with rural Minnesota.  His analysis of 2010 Census data published in the Rural Minnesota Journal provides an interesting look into how the population is shifting within Minnesota and what changes are noted within rural communities.  Both reports share a common theme – our state is becoming more diverse.  This fact makes it important that we further explore issues of diversity and learn how our culture impacts our ability to work with people from a different culture.

Photo credit flickr contributor carolinejohn1998

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