How to be a leader
We had unexpectedly pleasing and sad national news this month. We were thrilled by the Korean national baseball team becoming the inaugural champions of the World Baseball Softball Confederation after beating the United States 8-0 in the final of the 2015 Premier 12 tournament on Nov. 21 in Tokyo.
It was a triumphant follow-up to the semifinals, which ended with a dramatic reversal in the ninth inning that led to a 4-3 win against rival Japan. The Korean team showed how truly thrilling a comeback can be.
But there was also the tragic news of a farmer being knocked unconscious by a water cannon operated by riot police during one of the biggest rallies against the government in recent years, which took place in downtown Seoul on Nov. 14.
The era of the military regime ended 20 years ago, but it is wrong that Koreans still must take to the streets en masse if they want to make their opinions about public policies heard.
The right to protest is guaranteed under a democratic constitution, and protesting can be a last resort for the weak to express themselves. Still, it’s not always the most effective way to be heard, particularly if it turns violent.
But the government is also wrong to try and disband the protests without trying to learn why so many people are protesting in the first place. All humans long for freedom and justice. Protests become ever more vehement and violent when people are repeatedly disappointed and discouraged in their hopes for a better future.
We can learn a lesson or two from the streak of victories in the recent baseball tournament about preventing such tragic street clashes between the people and government. The national team was thought of as an underdog with weak players. But media outlets lauded the leadership of team manager Kim In-sik. He drew the best out of each player to blend them into a spectacular team.
History shows that a great leader always places the people above himself. Consider the words of Guan Zhong, a chancellor and reformer of the State of Qi during the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history, who was widely respected by both Chinese and Koreans. He once said “When the granaries are full, the people will understand social codes and moderation. When their food and clothing are adequate, they will understand honor and disgrace.”
He was saying that before rulers can demand obedience, they must provide the people with the fundamental necessities. He also said the world becomes disordered if rulers and their subordinates don’t perform according to their roles.
A ruler’s highest duty is to respond to the people’s needs. King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty farmed in his royal garden to experience the work his people performed every day. King Jeongjo lived with the conviction that a country can be just only when the ruler does not neglect the trivial things.
The recent mass protests triggered by the government’s unilateral plan to restore state control in history textbooks underscored the country’s serious structural inequalities. Korean society is one in which wealth and social rank is handed down from parent to child, decent jobs are scarce, the upper 10 percent earn more than double that of the bottom 70 percent, tax inequality is among the worst in developed countries and most are hard-up with little hope even as the country and companies are rich.
As Guan Zhong pointed out, people cannot be expected to obey social codes and keep the peace if their lives are in turmoil.
The masses are not always right, but someone who pushes them to conflict and fear cannot be considered a good leader. No government succeeds without tending to the lives of the people, respecting their wishes and making the economy stable
A leader must always put the wellbeing of the people first and persuade them that his or her policies will improve their lives. This is the only way a leader becomes successful a society becomes happier.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 28, Page 35
The author, a former prime minister, is the director of the Korea Institute of Shared Growth.
BY Chung Un-chan
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