중앙데일리

The Peter Principle (KOR)

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Oct 28,2019
CHOI MIN-WOO
The author is a deputy political team editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

It is a widely accepted theory in sports that an outstanding player is not necessarily a good coach. Actual game play and management and supervision are separate. Guus Hiddink — the wonderful head coach of Korea’s National Football Team during the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup — was little known as a football player in Europe.

Columbia University Prof. Lawrence Peter analyzed it from a management point of view. In his 1969 book, he argued that in a vertical hierarchical system, promotion is only based on performance, and even an outstanding worker would reach the limit of competency after a series of promotions. In the end, the highest positions of an organization will be filled with incompetent people, he said. The Peter Principle addresses the flaw of bureaucratic systems.

The principle was mentioned because of Roh Moo-hyun Foundation director Ryu Si-min, an outspoken critic of the conservative administrations in Korea. Criticizing Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl last Tuesday for his relentless investigation of corruption involving former Justice Minister Cho Kuk’s family, he cited the Peter Principle. On Oct. 17, top prosecutor Yoon said at the National Assembly, “It was cool during the Lee Myung-bak administration” to praise the conservative Lee administration’s non-intervention in his investigations of top government officials and their relatives.”

At the time, director Ryu said that Prosecutor General Yoon remained as a special investigation team head in the Lee administration.
“He should have vision, emotion, perspective and relationships suited for the head of Korea’s prosecutors,” he complained. “Yoon is someone who only investigates. In short, Yoon was a good warrior, not qualified for the top post in the prosecution.”

However, just two and half years ago, Ryu said otherwise. When Yoon was promoted from a prosecutor at the Daejeon High Prosecutors’ Office to the chief prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, Ryu said on a television program that Yoon is known for capturing former President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil as a special council, and also indicted high-level officials and others. When lawyer Jun Won-tchack, a conservative, said Yoon was not really suited to head the prosecutors’ office as he had a narrow vision, Ryu responded that a prosecutor only needs to focus on cases he handles, praising his qualification as the head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. “That will make the Blue House feel alert,” Ryu added.

Some say it was Ryu who was ruined after the Cho Kuk case. It may be himself who finds his position as the director of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation too demanding to handle.
최민우 정치팀 차장

“뛰어난 선수가 꼭 명장(明匠)이 되는 건 아니다”는 스포츠계 정설이다. 그만큼 실전 플레이와 이를 관리ㆍ감독하는 건 별개라는 의미다. 히딩크도 선수 때는 무명이었다. 이를 경영학적으로 분석한 이는 미국 컬럼비아대 로렌스 피터 교수다. 그는 1969년 저서에서 “수직적 계층조직에서 승진은 업무성과만을 기초로 한다. 출중한 이도 승진을 거듭하면 자신의 능력 밖 단계까지 도달하고, 결국 조직의 상위 직급은 무능한 이들로 채워진다”고 설파했다. 관료제의 병폐를 통찰한 ‘피터의 법칙’이었다.

새삼 이 법칙이 회자된 건 유시민 노무현재단 이사장 때문이다. 22일 윤석열 검찰총장을 비판하면서 ‘피터의 법칙’을 꺼냈다. 지난 17일 국감에서 윤 총장의 “MB(이명박) 정부 때 쿨했다”는 발언을 두고 유 이사장은 “(윤 총장은) 정신적으로 여전히 (MB정부) 특수부장에 머무르고 있다”고 했다. “대한민국 검찰 수장에 어울리는 시야와 감정, 시선, 관계 등을 만들어야 한다”며 “(윤 총장은) 수사만 하는 분”이라고 했다. 한마디로 “칼잡이로는 쓸만했지만, 대장감은 아니다”는 야유였다.

하지만 유 이사장은 2년 반 전 정반대로 얘기했다. 대전고검 검사 윤석열이 서울중앙지검장으로 파격 발탁되자 유 이사장은 ‘썰전’에 나와 “특검하면서 박근혜, 최순실을 잡아넣은 사람으로만 아는데, (윤석열은) 안희정, 강금원도 집어넣었다”고 했다. 전원책 변호사가 “시야가 좁다. 검사장급에 맞지 않는다”고 하자 유 이사장은 “검사가 좁게 사건만 보면 되지”라며 “서울중앙지검장은 이런 사람이 해야 한다. 그래야 청와대가 경각심을 갖는다”고 반박했다.

조국 사태를 거치며 뒤늦게 망가진 건 유시민이라는 얘기가 적지 않다. 본인이야말로 노무현재단 이사장이란 자리가 버거운 건 아닌지 모르겠다.


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