[VIEWPOINT]Realistic standards for leaders

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[VIEWPOINT]Realistic standards for leaders

None of our presidents seem to have won the admiration of the Korean people. We have not been very tolerant in evaluating the performance and merits of our former leaders.

For instance, former President Syngman Rhee proclaimed our nation a republic. He struggled to restore stability and order amid the turbulence and confusion of the post-liberation period and then the turmoil that accompanied the Korean War.

President Park Chung Hee laid the foundation for the Korean economy's development, although he seized power through a military coup. Those former leaders should be properly recognized for their leadership and their resolution at the most crucial turning points of modern Korean history.

We will never find a leader who will go down in history as a respected president if we only highlight our leaders' faults. Presidents Rhee and Park and their aides bear the prime responsibility for making Korea a dictatorship, but the people who lived through the era should also be blamed.

The uncomfortable past cannot be erased, no matter how hard we try to deny it.

I think the reason why Korea lacks heroes to look up to stems from the tendency to highlight a person's weaknesses and misdeeds instead of his merits. People are more merciless to their rivals or persons who they believe are standing in their way; they dig out instances of personal corruption to ostracize their opponents from society. For example, a university president's misconduct that recently was aired in the newspapers was rumored to have begun with mudslinging by the school's professors, who were discontent with the president's reform attempts. I hope those allegations are not true, but if leaders are condemned in this way, who would have the courage to overhaul a broken system? We find situations in which some media get people into trouble by bringing their personal lives to light, forcing them to abandon their missions.

Nurturing proficient leaders is a painful task, requiring mountains of effort. But in Korea, many men of ability are being cast aside by highlighting their demerits rather than their many talents. That is the reason why Korea lacks a national hero whom all could look up to, although our nation was established over half a century ago.

A group that lacks true leadership may break up into pieces and decline. Korea needs a social system which will help in finding respectable figures, nurturing them and putting them to work for the good of society.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, said the most important duty of a CEO is to train his or her successor.

Finding talented persons to be our leaders is our most important job. All sectors of society should be transformed to a system in which personal achievements are the prime indicators in evaluating people. The ability to lead a group smoothly and obtain the best results possible should be more valued than one's personal life. The widespread practice of judging a person by what kind of government examination he passed to get a position as a senior government official should be done away with. The qualification tests to select professionals should be changed to focus on the examinee's career potential. The evaluation of personal achievements should be strengthened. The social system should be revamped so that honest and able people can emerge as leaders.

All these changes must be based on the just implementation of the law. Unjust application of laws makes it impossible to discern which persons are able and which are not. If we have the mind-set that it is only bad luck if we are caught breaking the law, those who are convicted of misdeeds would feel as if they are mistreated victims; other persons would be confused about what is right and what is wrong. Many people are confused these days about what values should be championed.

We must also learn to judge ourselves as we judge others. Public figures require stricter moral standards, perhaps, but there is no leader who can satisfy the public sentiment that a leader must have a spotless personal life. Few leaders could ever meet the rigorous standards imposed by the public on their own personal lives. As democratization advances in Korea, the importance of finding an able leader becomes greater.

Division and confusion in Korean society can only be eliminated when we are able to nurture able leaders.


The writer is a professor of bunisess administration at Yonsei University.

by Jung Ku-hyun

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