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Q & A with the CIL Director

Jason Patent

We recently had the chance to interview Jason D. Patent, Director of the Center for Intercultural Leadership, for the International House Times Newsletter. Below are some highlights from the conversation.


IHT: Tell us a bit about yourself and what attracted you to this position.

JDP: Well first of all I’m a long-time Cal guy. I was a grad student here in linguistics for nine years. But apart from that, I-House has a great reputation, both here at Cal and around the world, and many of us in the intercultural realm have been hoping we’d see some university step up and take the lead in creating something like the CIL. So when I saw the job post I almost couldn’t believe my eyes.


IHT: I think when a lot of people see this word, “intercultural,” and when they see it paired with “leadership,” they don’t always know right away what it means. What does “intercultural leadership” mean to you?

JDP: “Leadership” means something different to everyone. To me fundamentally leading means setting aside our own unconscious biases and quirks in order to bring others along toward a goal. Leading interculturally first and foremost means shining a light on our own culturally-based biases, and helping our colleagues understand their own culturally-based biases. It also helps a lot to know how to set expectations for behavior that are based in reality — in other words, it helps to know how culture might affect the behaviors of your colleagues, and to adapt your behaviors accordingly.


IHT: What’s the relevance to I-House residents?

JDP: I-House has produced global leaders of many stripes for over eight decades. We know that our alumni often end up in positions of influence in every sector. It doesn’t matter what your line of work is: at the end of the day it’s people with people.


IHT: Can you give us a concrete example?

JDP: Sure. Let’s say you’re leading a global team with members scattered around the globe, and you have a regular conference call. Everyone on the call, including you, is going to bring a different style and set of expectations to the call. You will be a more effective leader to the extent that you’re aware of your own cultural tendencies and those of your colleagues. Who speaks first and last and why? When stating a decision, do you state the decision and then the reasoning, or the reverse? Do you praise the Thai team member publicly for her great work, or find a way to do so offline? The CIL is designed to help residents build this massive and complex skill set so that they can be more effective.


IHT: Is the CIL basically a sort of career office, then?

JDP: I don’t think so. I think it’s much bigger than that. A career is one key way we express ourselves in the world: our passions, our commitments. And the world desperately needs effective intercultural leaders, because the world’s biggest challenges — and there are many — need the collective talents and energies of people from every nation. Even so, that’s only part of the bigger picture. Going through intercultural training is a really enlightening experience that helps us interpret our interactions with difference in a way that reduces ethnocentrism and ultimately helps us be more compassionate and caring human beings. It’s all there in the I-House logo: respect, understanding, tolerance, peace, friendship. And as much success as I-House has had doing this for 84 years, I think we’ve just been scratching the surface.


IHT: Will the CIL do anything beyond the walls of I-House?

JDP: Absolutely. The CIL might be I-House’s best chance yet to become far more than a “dorm with a dome.” We have a full-time outreach officer on board already to build relationships with the U.C. Berkeley campus, and we have begun forging partnerships and looking for opportunities in the greater Bay Area business and non-profit communities. We think the CIL will put I-House, and Cal, on the map not only as a first-rate provider of intercultural training, but as a convener of experts and as a thought-leader in figuring out how organizations of any size and kind can most effectively foster intercultural leaders within and without. I think the sky’s the limit, and I’m really grateful to I-House leadership for creating this opportunity.