Cultural Intelligence – Learning from Mongolian Nomadic Wisdom – Interview with Saranzaya Manalsuren

You came to the UK from your hometown in rural Mongolia. Can you tell us a little about that decision? 

I was brought up by my grandparents who lived in the northern part of Mongolia, and came to the capital when I was three years old to live with my parents. I was fortunate to be the first generation that had the opportunity to learn a foreign language other than Russian, and to be allowed to go to Western countries for education. I learnt German at school and planned to study in Germany. However, my elder brother went to England before me, so I chose the UK to pursue my academic career. Then again, I had an opportunity for a scholarship to study in the USA, but I stayed here in the UK as I preferred the education system and, also, my brother was studying in the UK. Having that little bit of home with me at all times made me feel more comfortable and less homesick.

You gained your doctorate from London, and the focus of your study has been exploring indigenous management concepts. How different do you think these concepts are to Western approaches to management. 

I gained my PhD in Management from Essex Business School, at the University of Essex in 2017. My thesis investigated the practices of Mongolian management with the focus of socio-cultural and institutional changes. So, my underpinning theories were cross-cultural management and indigenous management concepts. Indigenous management concepts are deeply embedded within locally meaningful contexts. That means it is more holistic management techniques that focusses on softer approaches of community orientation, traditional values and kinship network versus business rooted, linear and predominantly result-oriented approaches of Western management models. In order to manage effectively in multi-cultural environments, managers should be balancing both approaches with a good understanding of the customs and values of those they manage.

Mongolia is now one of the world’s fast emerging markets. Does the nomadic heritage of the country feed into the current management practices in Mongolia?  

Yes and no. Defining the management techniques of a country is never a straight-forward process. Mongolia has nomadic heritage; at the same time, there are undeniable influence from seven decades of socialist regime and now the country has been a practising free-market economy for 28 years. Consequently, it has intertwining influences from each political and economic stage. At the same time, there is some unique characteristics of local management practices, which are heavily influenced by nomadic heritage, such as giving a helping hand to someone, who shares a same locality with managers, running promotional activities for their homeland and hiring those who grew up in the same region as them.

Under the reign of Chinggis Khaan, in the 13thcentury, almost all the popular religions of the time, from Buddhism, to Christianity to Islam, lived peacefully alongside one another. How did this come about? 

The answer may need a whole book chapter to be written (laugh). In his belief of Chinggis Khaan, the whole was stronger than individual. Hence, he prioritised integration over segregation, which now believe was an early form of Cultural Intelligence (CQ).

You talk of CQ, Cultural Intelligence. Can you tell us more? 

In a very brief note, Cultural intelligence (CQ) is the art of navigating yourself in a multi-cultural environment at both a personal and professional level. Having an understanding of CQ and developing the skills of communicating effectively across cultures is no longer a job of expatriates. Interaction with people with different cultural backgrounds has become an inseparable part of our daily lives within commutes, networking and business in a modern society. The exact term of Cultural Intelligence or Cultural Quotient arrived in business, academic research and political relation in the early 2000s. However, personally, I believe that the concept of working effectively across cultures has been practised for hundreds of years throughout history, such as our example earlier of Chinggis Khaan’s vast empire.

What wisdom can we take from nomadic people to use in our professional and personal lives? 

Personal and social competence of accepting and respecting others (cultures) without compromising your own values and enrich each other’s intellectual horizons. In business, understanding your staffs’ beliefs and core values helps a manager to identify how best to manage and motivate them leading to the best possible group performance.

Saranzaya will be running a masterclass at the Yurt Academy on Cultural Intelligence. Click here for more information.