7.2 Case Study 2: Young, Confident, and Moving too Fast

Julia, who is 26 years old, recently graduated from the University of Chicago with her master’s degree in social work. She is a confident young woman who is used to making quick decisions, and she greatly values her independence. She graduated at the top of her class and, throughout her course of study, was known by her peers and professors as a “go-to person” for resolving conflicts and finding strategic, innovative approaches to social work. She is highly motivated and passionate about social justice and social change issues, particularly those involving poverty and housing.

She has high expectations in her career as a social worker and has found a job working with a local nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing to people who are homeless. Her boss, Joanne, holds her in high regard, but now, in her second month of the job, Julia is increasingly annoyed by her boss’s constant micromanagement and questioning of her decisions. “Come to me before you make a major decision. I don’t want you to move so fast on your own,” Joanne says.

Julia asks, “Have I made any mistakes so far?” “No,” Joanne retorts, “but I feel that you need to check in with me before you move on with some projects. You’ve only been here for two months and there’s a lot of stuff you still need to learn.”

“Well, tell me what they are. I’m eager to learn everything so I can do my job better,” Julia replies.

“I don’t think you’re ready yet. There’s a lot to learn about this job. Believe me, I was like you, too, when I was younger, but over the years I’ve learned that it takes time and patience to do this work. It’s fast paced and working in this field can be emotionally draining. We just can’t afford to make mistakes when we do this work.”

Julia cannot believe what she is hearing. Here she is, eager and motivated to take on more work, and Joanne says that it is too overwhelming. She thinks, “What kind of work environment is this that won’t let me use skills and knowledge?”

This week, Julia is furious. She worked on a slide presentation for a major donor and prepared a report about the progress of the organization’s clients, for which Joanne commended her. Nevertheless, she was told bluntly that she could not be a part of the donor meeting. “This is ridiculous,” Julia thinks. “I’m moving on. I’ll stay here until I get something better, but I sure am going to start looking around.”

  1. What beliefs and values “root” Joanne and Julia to their self-concepts?
  2. What suggestions do you have for Joanne and Julia when working with a person of another generation?
  3. How would you suggest Joanne and Julia use the cultural intelligence principles to resolve this intercultural situation?


Julia believes she is a fast learner, and she has a high level of confidence. She wants to quickly move up the ladder but feels that Joanne, her manager, is creating barriers. Joanne does not feel this way and believes that she knows best, given her experiences in the industry. Both Joanne and Julia have beliefs about who they are and what they are capable of doing. Additionally, they both are making assumptions about each other, which leads to their behaviors. It would be helpful to both individuals to conduct an exercise that explores their behaviors, the thoughts that accompany the behaviors, and the emotions they feel.

CI Model in Action

  • Acquire: Joanne is in a formal position of leadership in this case study. As a leader who wants to be culturally intelligent, Joanne would seek to understand what experiences she has had in the past that contribute to her thinking about individuals like Julia. She needs to make the connection between this information and the new information about what she wants to experience related to generational culture. It would be helpful for Joanne to think about how she feels and what she might suspect Julia to feel in their interactions. Identifying emotions and feelings can serve as a great source of feedback to help Joanne comprehend the full picture of the situation.
  • Build: To improve her cultural intelligence, Joanne can seek out a mentor who has worked with individuals like Julia. In CI work, it is important to be able to talk through cultural situations, particularly your plans and goals related to working with different cultural groups. In this situation, a mentor can help Joanne to identify the pieces of culture that she may not be picking up such as Julia’s high expectations of herself, her ability to get things done in an informal work setting, and her working style preference.
  • Contemplate: Joanne, in this case study, thinks that Julia is very capable to carry out projects and tasks. However, she can do more to help build her own self-efficacy as well as Julia’s, thus improving both their cultural intelligence. It is more effective if Joanne schedules weekly evaluation and progress sessions with Julia. In this session, Joanne can help Julia to understand specific outcomes and expectations as well as take the opportunity to mentor her. Developing her cultural intelligence would mean that Joanne comes to these meetings prepared to provide the right type of feedback and recognize when to provide this feedback.
  • Do: Joanne is able to quickly point out to what Julia’s blind spots are in their interactions. But does Joanne see her own blind spots? In this component of CI, Joanne can and should evaluate her own behavior, including what she may not see because she is too focused on whether Julia will make a mistake. Her ability to adapt rests on her acknowledgement of what makes her uncomfortable when Julia performs well. Does she hold a belief or attitude about how work can be completed? Or who can do the work?