Effective Leadership and Leadership Development in South Korea: Lessons Learned from Two Large Conglomerates

Seung Won Yoon, Jegoo Shin, Sungjun Kim, and Dae Seok Chai


We note that two countries from the Confucian Asia (China and Korea) were included in this book. The widely cited Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) study has asked middle managers from 62 nations about the ideal and the present of the societal culture, organizational culture, and leadership on the following dimensions: performance orientation, assertiveness, collectivism, gender egali-

S.W. Yoon (*)

Texas A&M University-Commerce, Commerce, TX, USA J. Shin

Seoul School of Integrated Sciences & Technologies, Seoul, South Korea S. Kim

Korea University, Seoul, South Korea D.S. Chai

Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, USA © The Author(s) 2017

A. Ardichvili, K. Dirani (eds.), Leadership Development in Emerging Market Economies, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-58003-0_11

tarianism, humane orientation, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and future orientation (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004). By grouping similar countries together, Gupta, Hanges, and Dorfman (2002) identified ten country clusters that share similar profiles: Anglo, Latin Europe, Nordic Europe, Germanic Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Indigenous Africa, Arabic, Southern Asia, and Confucian Asia. Dorfman and colleagues confirmed that the society and business leadership norms in Korea closely matched the Confucian code of emphasizing harmony, trust, respect, and obedience (Dorfman et al., 1997).

South Korea (Korea, hereafter) has rapidly transitioned from being a country in poverty in the 1950s-1970s to a global economic power in the twenty-first century; in doing so, it went through an emerging market phase in the 1980s. The Korean government has been very proactive in identifying value-creating businesses by benchmarking best practices and directing corporate or institutional partnerships. For example, the origin of management training in Korea can be traced back to the late 1950s, when the Korean government created vocational training centers to improve workers’ job skills in targeted industries. In the subsequent 20 years, large conglomerates grew under the tutelage of the government, and several such companies (called chaebols) became a driving force behind the nation’s economic growth and globalization. During the same period, large conglomerates also created their own training centers, sent managers overseas for leadership development, and actively imported performance- and competency-driven Western management and HR practices, first from Japan and later from the USA.

However, most companies recognized that individualism-oriented Western management and leadership had to be modified to fit the paternalistic and communal culture of Korean society and organizations. Companies developed, highlighted, and promoted the founder’s humane principles and corporate core values for all training programs. During the economic expansion in the late 1980s and early 1990s, large conglomerates also invested heavily in leadership and talent programs to recruit, identify, and develop key individuals as leaders of the organization. Empirical research on leader competencies (Choi, Yoon, & Jeung, 2012) and impact of leadership on followers in Korean organizational settings can be found without much difficulty (Jacques, Garger, Lee, & Ko, 2015; Joo & Lim, 2013), but specific cases dealing with leader development or leaders’ challenges in Korean settings have rarely been explored. In response, we introduce two exemplary cases from two respected large conglomerates in this chapter. To help readers better understand these two cases, we start by presenting prevalent leadership concepts in Korea.

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