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The right appointments

Oct 25,2019
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Former Justice Minister Cho Kuk leaves his office in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, on Oct. 14 after announcing his intention to step down. [OH JONG-TAEK]
Lee Geun-myeon
The author, a former Minister of Personnel Management, is an adjunct professor at Kangwon National University.

Leaders around the world are challenged. Amid rapid changes of the fourth industrial revolution, leaders in each country are behaving different from the past. The fate of the country depends on whether the leader is looking at the present or the future.

Korea’s leadership is also tested. In any organization, whether it is a country or a company, leadership is directly related to survival. The foundation of leadership is the support from followers, and the power is shown through appointments. Making an appointment is everything, but there can be mistakes. It takes courage of the leader to acknowledge the mistake. A leader who cannot admit the mistake causes relaxation and costs the organization. It is regrettable that the Cho Kuk case resulted in unnecessary social cost.

The appointment led to considerable controversy over the president’s leadership. It is a concern that would have been better avoided for the fate of Korea. What was President Moon thinking when he appointed a minister who brought controversies and oppositions and kept him in the position for 30 days? Regardless of the intention, I thought about appointments and leadership again.

Lately, the most important virtue of leadership internationally and in Korea is empathy. Thoughts of a leader should coincide with what all followers hope or speak to their interests. A leader should set the example, bring forces together for the future and demand patience, restraint, cooperation or sweat if necessary. The same principles apply to all organizations. What’s needed here is empathy.

Professor Robert J. House of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania argued in the Path-Goal Theory that the relationship between appointment and leadership links path and goal. In order to achieve results in the most effective way, a leader should present a clear and attractive goal and allow members to motivate themselves.

For successful appointments, the tool of the appointment should be a path. The appointment of Cho Kuk as the justice minister promised the goal of a fair society and prosecution reforms, but it failed to generate sympathy due to the unexpected variables of allegations. When efforts are made to seek understanding and sympathy by explaining where an organization is going, where it is headed, and what it will be when the goal is attained, power explosively grows. The efforts of the whole group will pay off and a better future achieved.

Of course, there cannot be an appointment that satisfies everyone. The presidential appointment right must be acknowledged widely, but it is still an authority entrusted by the people. Its legitimacy can be acknowledged when exercised to meet the intention and direction of the people. As the latest controversy shows, the president had a number of chances to reconsider in history, but the folly of missing the chance is repeated. Political strife over appointments often amplifies into extreme discord.

The Cho Kuk case resulted in division of public opinion and negatively affected integration. The lack of leadership revealed in the course could burden state administration in the future. It is an outcome that nobody wants.

What is regrettable is that there hasn’t been an aid or senior official expressing the opposite opinion from the beginning to the end. I think a system of “devil’s advocate” needs to be introduced. We should rely on a system, not good intentions.

We need to renew our vow as a country. Ruling and opposition parties need to think about the future. We need Solomon’s wisdom to make Korea great for the children.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.