Requirements for leadership“As long as he is prime minister, the United Kingdom will never surrender,” U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said after listening to Winston Churchill’s radio speech in June 1940. President Roosevelt had conviction that the United Kingdom would fight Germany until the end and decided to participate in the war and help Britain. The leader who takes responsibility over state administration has a decisive impact on the fate of a nation.
During the Chuseok holiday earlier this month, leadership was a popular topic. This is a time when crops are harvested and families and neighbors celebrate the abundance of food. However, this year’s Chuseok had more anxiety than joy because of a prolonged economic slump.
Moreover, the ongoing controversies over the Sewol ferry tragedy, the humidifier sterilizer case and the Gyeongju earthquake show that the government is absent in the field, and Koreans are left alone to take safety in our own hands.
And when China’s cooperation is essential for peace and economic growth on the peninsula, in addition to our alliance with the United States, we have made China turn away with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, which cannot even completely deter North Korea’s nuclear development and threats. South Korea does not have wartime operations control, so if strategic nuclear weapons are reassigned to the peninsula, they can be used unrelated to our intentions.
Nevertheless, some ruling party lawmakers insist on nuclear possession through redeployment of strategic nukes. When the United States considers negotiations as well as pre-emptive strikes, South Korea repeatedly calls for a unilateral surrender, a demand that has proven ineffective for decades in eliminating the risk of war.
When there are few signs of security and prosperity at home and abroad and the shadow of risk lengthens, true leadership is nowhere to be found. That is why people talked about leadership so much with friends and family over the holiday.
What is the leadership we need? I have found successful models from Churchill and the emergency landing on the Hudson River featured in the recent film “Sully.”
In a 2002 BBC survey, the British chose Churchill as the greatest Briton. The war hero must have received similar praise right after the end of the war. However, in the general election held right after the war, the British people did not choose Churchill, as they thought his leadership was not suitable for postwar restoration.
The case shows that there is no one absolute model that works for all societies and ages, and that a different type of leadership is needed depending on the call of the times.
In our last presidential election, one of the tasks was economic democratization, more precisely shared growth. All candidates advocated economic growth, but after the presidential election, both the ruling and opposition parties neglected the cause. The presidential candidates used economic democratization to win votes but did not own it as a political philosophy.
If what is needed to resolve the tasks of the time is the basic quality of leadership, there is a virtue that all leaders must have. It is the competency needed for the position and faithful fulfillment of duties and responsibilities.
On Jan. 15, 2009, a U.S. Airways flight made an emergency water landing on the Hudson River in New York. The plane had been struck by a flock of birds, and all engines were out. The control tower suggested rerouting to a nearby airport, but Capt. Chesley Sullenberger considered the state of the aircraft and made an emergency water landing on the Hudson. All 155 people onboard survived, and Captain Sullenberger was able to save them because he not only had the knowledge and competency required as a pilot but also faithfully fulfilled his duty to keep all passengers safe.
The miracle on the Hudson is a clear contrast to all the safety-related accidents in Korean society, most notably the Sewol ferry tragedy. On the Hudson River, the captain and crew members fulfilled their duties. Nearby New Yorkers helped the rescue with a humanitarian spirit.
The people of Jindo showed neighborly spirit to help the victims and families, but from the crew members and captains all the way up to the president, they enjoyed the honor and power entrusted to their positions but fulfilled none of the responsibilities. As a result, 304 precious lives were lost.
So I can say for sure that having the insight needed for the position and faithfully fulfilling responsibilities are mandatory qualities of leadership.
We call for leadership with a political philosophy based on the spirit of the times and the will to carry out the responsibilities and duties given to the position. We need a leader who does not reign but serves the people. In a democratic system, the citizens have popular sovereignty and choose the leader, so we also desperately need the people’s wisdom.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 26, Page 31
*The author, a former prime minister, is chairman of the Korea Institute for Shared Growth.