[Viewpoint]Leadership of servitudeMissing the point All of Korea’s past presidents had unique personalities. Late Presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee and former Presidents Chun Doo Hwan, Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung and current President Roh Moo-hyun all made their own unique contributions either to the founding of the nation, industrialization or democratization.
Since the establishment of the Republic of Korea, there have been a total of nine presidents of Korea. Excluding Yun Po-sun, who was the president under the cabinet system, and Choi Kyu-hah, who assumed the presidency for a short time during a period of power transition, there were only seven.
All seven presidents had their merits, but they also had significant shortcomings. Their merits were highlighted as they entered the presidential office, but the focus had usually shifted to their downsides by the time they were stepping down.
Through 60 years of historical experience since the nation was founded in 1948, we have keenly felt the evil effects of “imperial presidents.” Yet, it is interesting that a CEO-type president has emerged as the answer to those imperialists of the past.
An imperial president is one who has the last word on various economic, social and cultural policy decisions, and who has absolute control over the governing party and the National Assembly.
If people are sick and tired of such abuse of power, it would make much more sense that they pin high hopes on a democratic president. I think people cried out for a CEO-style president because they felt frustrated with the stagnant economy.
They were nostalgic for the high growth periods of the past, and felt hostile toward politics that constantly interfered with the economy.
Three weeks from now, the 10th president of Korea, Lee Myung-bak, will be inaugurated. Will he be a CEO-type president or a democratic president?
When his election was confirmed on the night of Dec. 19, last year, he repeatedly emphasized, “I will become a president who serves the people.” He set forth “leadership of servitude” and “servant leadership” as his political philosophy.
He also mentioned the Buddhist teaching of “lowering one’s mind” when he met with Buddhist leaders. It means he will serve the people from a lower standpoint.
However, our president-elect is probably more used to CEO-type leadership than the democratic kind. After all, he spent decades as the CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company.
The CEO of a company is not in a position to behave democratically. Does a CEO serve and respect the employees of his company, while giving first priority to profits and efficiency? If there are any who do, they are probably just using tactics to stimulate loyalty in their employees.
A CEO is ready to restructure the company whenever it has difficulties. There is a tendency among CEOs to dislike people who say “no” to their new business plans.
In businesses, there are oversight bodies like the board of directors and the general meeting of stockholders, but it isn’t that easy for them to exercise political checks and balances the same way the National Assembly or the Supreme Court do.
In that sense, a CEO-type president is more imperial than democratic. The presidents of Singapore and China, and former President Park Chung Hee are all CEO-type leaders. A wise CEO-type leader of a country can be very effective in achieving economic growth, but is a far cry from being a good example of real political democracy.
The process of acknowledging social diversity, listening to the views of the opposition and collecting public opinion takes time. At times, one may feel this process is too slow and frustrating. Such slow-moving democratic process does not look effective at all to a CEO.
What President-elect Lee Myung-bak has done during the past 40 or so days after his election were CEO-type actions. It is hard to find examples of his leadership of servitude.
The number of senior presidential secretaries of the new Blue House will be reduced, but the power of those that remain will be strengthened. The status of the prime minister in the new government is reduced to the equivalent of a special presidential emissary for resources. Lee cancelled an appointment with the representatives of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. He did not even invite the members of the Korean Teachers and Educational Worker’s Union to a public hearing on the controversial government plan for English-language education recently presented by the presidential transition team, when the union would almost certainly be against the plan.
These groups have practically been cast aside early on, as “forces that will unconditionally oppose the new government plans.”
They may be less cooperative than the Federation of Korean Trade Unions or the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations, but is it proper to deprive them of the chance to express their opinion? They are also people who should be served.
Such a domineering attitude, where the president-elect seems to be saying, “I will decide the method of my service,” is not “leadership of servitude” or “servant leadership.”
The new government put forth pragmatism as its philosophy for managing state affairs. The people accepted the philosophy willingly as a reaction to the age of excessive ideologies. However, if practicality and effectiveness are excessively stressed, things can go in the direction of heartlessness and self-righteousness. Rejection of inefficiency can make an administration end up turning a blind eye to democratic processes.
Our nation must not become an enlarged version of a company.
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