Cultural Competency for Leaders: Nike in Samoa

Topic: Business Critique
Words: 1412 Pages: 5


Dynamic economic globalization and cultural integration processes create requirements for representatives of different cultures. At present, leaders should have cultural intelligence (CQ) and also master the skills of intercultural interaction. Each participant in intercultural contacts realizes that knowledge of the relevant foreign language is not enough for full-fledged intercultural understanding. Awareness of a whole range of forms of behavior, history, psychology, and the culture of their communication partners is required. CQ can be analyzed in terms of Nike’s case with Samoan culture. This cultural issue serves as an example of cultural incompetence and outcomes that affect the company’s economic performance and reputation.

Cultural Competence

Referring to definitions, culture can be defined as the collective programming of the mind. It distinguishes one group of people from another (Geert Hofstede on Culture, 2011). According to Tuleja (2017), the cultural competence of leadership aims to define reasons for conflicts, the possible ways for their resolving. These abilities allow managers to conduct a business by interacting with cultures (Tuleja, 2017). The approach forms managers’ and employees’ cultural intelligence, consequently improving the organization’s efficiency in a world economy.

Intercultural competence is the ability and willingness to participate in the dialogue between cultures. In such communication, interactions should be based on the principles of cooperation, mutual respect, tolerance for cultural differences, and overcoming barriers (Middleton, 2015). Middleton (2015) argues that CQ is an important quality that will allow leaders to thrive and change the world for the better. Hence, for maintaining a variety of intercultural contacts and forms of communication, corporate leadership needs to have intercultural competence.

Cultural competence is associated with emotional intelligence (EQ). A well-developed EQ can explain what all people have in common and what distinguishes each of them (Tuleja, 2017). A culturally competent person can determine which properties of a particular person are characteristic of all people, which are only for this individual and neither universal nor unique (Tuleja, 2017). The Cultural Intelligence Model consists of knowledge, mindfulness, and skills (Tuleja, 2017). Thus, the leader with a high level of the metacognitive component of cultural intelligence reflects on cultural identity and consciously makes assumptions and predictions of intercultural interaction (Tuleja, 2017). By appropriating knowledge, it is possible to understand the differences and similarities of cultures and, based on this, to organize contextual knowledge for effective interaction within a specific area.

Nike’s Case

The most prominent example of lack of cultural competence is the Nike company. Cultures are complex and sometimes contradictory; consequently, the meaning of acceptable in one culture may not be permitted in another. This contradiction often becomes the basis for conflict situations, provoking cross-cultural shock. The company released Pro Tattoo Tech tights for women, resulting in an adverse outcome in terms of Fijian, Samoan, and New Zealand culture (Tuleja, 2017). Concerning the concepts of individualism and collectivism, the West and East societies differ significantly. In countries with high collectivist values, managers prioritize duty, experience and traditions as the principal goals (Geert Hofstede on Culture, 2011). However, in nations with individualistic features, it is considered socially acceptable to pursue personal purposes without taking into account others (Geert Hofstede on Culture, 2011). The perception of some cultural characteristics may vary in terms of countries considerably.

The indigenous people of Fiji, Samoa, and New Zealand were offended. The image on this new line of tights was the Pe’a which is a traditional tattoo of indigenous people; the process is painful, symbolizing courage (Tuleja, 2017). It is a males-only holy rite of passage; therefore, presenting female tights was an offense for states with large Samoan populations (Tuleja, 2017). It was a major violation and disrespect of culture due to ignorance of the company’s management.

As long as In East Asia people take roles and responsibilities seriously, Nike’s response was immediate, but not enough. The company apologized for ignorance; it has announced that cultural sensitivity would improve (Tuleja, 2017). The issue with Samoan culture is not the first regarding cultural scandals of the company. For instance, according to Tuleja (2017), in 2012, Nike released the Black & Tan sneakers, inspired by the same name’s beer cocktail. Nevertheless, the term “Black & Tan” evokes in the Irish memories of horrific events during the Irish War of Independence (Tuleja, 2017). The same name was given to the British unit that brutally attacked the country (Tuleja, 2017). Nike has apologized, but the reputational damage has already occurred.

Moreover, such problems are followed by others, that also contributed to the image of the company. For instance, there were issues with “Gold Digging” t-shirts, representing women status who date wealthy men (Tuleja, 2017). The T-shirt caused additional tension because it was only available in women’s sizes (Tuleja, 2017). The Boston Massacre T-shirt also resulted in the scandal. Therefore, the roots of the problem related to cultural competencies have not been resolved and might lead to adverse outcomes. After several cultural scandals, Nike should be more focused on cultural competence and approaches to diminish the same issues in the future.


Intercultural competence considers the development of several personal qualities of the leader. The first is a tolerance for ambiguity, expressed in the manager’s ability to cope with conflicting situations without showing aggressiveness (Li, 2020). This ability is essential in teaching intercultural communication since during the adaptation to a foreign culture; there is no knowledge of socio-cultural and business situations (Li, 2020). Intercultural education can help overcome traditional ethnocentrism. The primary skill for successful intercultural communication is the ability to perceive reality otherwise.

Concerning the leaders’ knowledge, these days, educational institutions’ goal is developing a socially educated cultural person. Therefore, it is necessary to create conditions and provide cultural materials that improve the required adaptation skills in an intercultural environment (Li, 2020). The lack of such competencies often leads to the emergence of intercultural conflicts (Li, 2020). To reduce potential conflict situations, it is necessary to introduce special training and educational courses at the initial stage, both in the school environment and in the student audience (Li, 2020). Such methods as business games, case solving, and empathy practices have been developed to train CQ, including several practical tasks and exercises.

With regard to the essential quality, the managers should pay attention to empathy. It is often more important for understanding the thoughts, motives of other people’s actions than rational analysis (Tuleja, 2017). At the beginning of professional activity in a foreign cultural environment, each person encounters misunderstanding, delusion, making mistakes; therefore, the ability to withstand in a foreign culture is critical. According to Tuleja (2017), cultural competence is also directly related to the personality characteristics of a managers’ temperament. The absence of biases is manifested in the ability to differentially perceive and process information, being unique and contradictory to previous experience (Tuleja, 2017). Consequently, CQ needs a particular set of skills and personal traits to be successfully implemented in business.

Most people are ethnocentric; therefore, every person should increase flexibility when interacting with other individuals. For instance, this might be achieved in developing intercultural competence. The latter consists of two determinants: a positive attitude towards the presence of various ethnic groups in society and the ability to understand their representatives and interact with stakeholders from other communities (Tuleja, 2017). The process of developing ethno cultural competence is described in the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity by Bennett (Tuleja, 2017). The model reveals six stages that reflect individuals’ attitudes to the differences between native and foreign ethnic groups (Tuleja, 2017). According to this model, a person goes through six phases of personal growth: three ethnocentric are denial, defense and minimization of differences, and ethnorelativism is presented through acceptance, adaptation and integration (Tuleja, 2017). Thus, CQ can be developed and implemented in business processes in the long term.


To sum up, cultures differ in people’s attitudes towards uncertainty, traditions, unfamiliar situations, and unforeseen situations. Concerning Nike’s case, the company is characterized by low CQ and continuous cultural misinterpretation and issues, affecting stakeholders’ relationships. I strongly believe that business is based on a mixture of different national, corporate and professional cultures. Hence, the corporate leadership needs to act adequately in these conditions. Cultural tradition is a powerful mechanism that has a much stronger effect on customers’ perception. The development of CQ is challenging, involving the passage of several stages, such as shifting from ethnocentrism to awareness of another culture. Its purpose is to enhance understanding by respect, the ability to feel subtle differences. Due to selective acceptance, organizations can adapt CQ principles in production.


Middleton, J. (2015). Cultural intelligence: The competitive edge for leaders [Video]. TED. Web.

Geert Hofstede on Culture. (2011). [Video]. YouTube.

Tuleja, E. A. (2017). Intercultural Communication for Global Business: How leaders communicate for success. Routledge

Li, M. (2020). An examination of two major constructs of cross-cultural competence: Cultural intelligence and intercultural competence. Personality and Individual Differences, 164, 1-6. Web.

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