Loyalty and leadership

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Loyalty and leadership

“As I always say, a command is a lonely job. It isn’t easy to make decisions. Sometimes the captain of a ship needs help. And by help, I mean constructive loyalty.”

In the 1954 film “The Caine Mutiny,” Captain Queeg apologizes and asks his crew members for help after a failed operation turned out to be his fault. “What I’m trying to say is, uh, a ship is like a family. We all have our ideas of right and wrong, but we have to pitch in for the good of the family. If there was only some way we could help each other.”

However, the crew members did not cooperate, and the trust that was lost could not be recovered. The mood for rebellion on the Caine ship had its seed in distrust of authority.

The movie, shown on a cable channel last week, illustrates how failed leadership and a lack of loyalty drive a ship to disaster. It reminded me of the minister of welfare, Chin Young, who resigned last week over the basic pension issue. While his resignation should not be compared to the outbreak of mutiny, it was an act of disobedience against the commanding authority.

The minister mentioned his conscience as a reason for his decision. He may feel that it goes against his conscience to promote a policy that he does not believe in. But why did he feel so guilty to give up such an honorable position? He believes that the basic pension payment should be differentiated based on income, and his belief collided with the Blue House’s direction to link the basic pension with the national pension. While the two methods are not much different in fundamentals, he still felt conscience-stricken.

However, a public servant sometimes has to do things that are against his beliefs. He cannot live by his convictions all the time. The same goes for most employees who have to work for an organization even if they don’t personally support the cause. Are they lacking conscience or only interested in making money?

That’s not the case. There is a driving force that makes members work for the organization against their personal beliefs, and it is what Eric Felten calls “loyalty” in his book “Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue.”

But can you ignore your beliefs in exchange for your loyalty? The two values are not necessarily contradictory. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote in his memoir: “When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.”

Regardless of time and place, success can be attained when a good leader is supported by great aides. You cannot bet on luck. A subordinate should have a good eye for a leader, and a leader with true leadership can lead his subordinates well. I am not sure if the minister who lives by his conscience and the president who promoted him were a good match.

Lt. Greenwald, defense counsel for the movie mutineers, asks the officers on the Caine after winning the case whether the rebellion would have taken place if they had been loyal to the captain in the first place. The officers who supported mutiny could not answer.

“You’re learning that you don’t work with a captain because you like the way he parts his hair,” Greenwald says. “You work with him because he’s got the job or you’re no good! Well, the case is over.”

In any organization, leadership, loyalty and conscience should be in their proper places to avoid a collision. The clash of the three values does not happen suddenly. There are gradual signs before the catastrophe. The resignation of the minister of health and welfare is one of the signs. It is important to decide whether to recognize the sign and modify the track accordingly.

If these premonitions are ignored, it will take much more than Greenwald to resolve the crisis.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY Nahm Yoon-ho
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