By Jason Lim
As I mentioned in my previous column, the Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University recently released its 3rd annual report on a national study of confidence in leadership in America; the study found that 77 percent of those surveyed believe that there is a leadership crisis in America today and that 79 percent believe that America will decline as a nation unless it gets better leaders.
The study's authors characterized these findings as a crisis in leadership in America.
Inspired by this study, I designed a brief on-line survey that asked The Korea Times readers similar questions on Korean leadership, which I will call the Korean Leadership (KL) survey from now on for the sake of brevity.
Mainly, I wanted to find out whether Koreans also felt that there is a crisis in leadership and, if so, what leadership characteristics they wanted to see from their national leaders across all fields.
The response was overwhelming; within a week, hundreds of people completed the survey. Using the online Korea Times reader's population as the sampling frame, the margin of error for this survey was plus or minus 5 percent with a confidence level of 95 percent.
Before we examine the answers to specific survey questions, however, we have to construct a general characterization about the population that reads The Korea Times online.
It's important to note that those surveyed are not the representative Korean voting population. In fact, they don't all live in Korea. 67.5 percent of the respondents lived in Korea, while the rest lived overseas, with 24 percent living in North America.
Interestingly, all regions of the world were represented, including 3.5 percent from Europe, 1.7 percent from South America, and at least 1-6 respondents each from the Middle East, Africa, Australia, and other parts of Asia.
Furthermore, they are not all Koreans. Only 65.6 percent of the respondents were ethnically Korean. And 32.4 percent were ethnically non-Koreans while 2.8 percent were from mixed Korean heritage. The respondents, therefore, were very international in both location and ethnicity.
In terms of other demographics, the respondents were a highly educated group, with 87.3 percent being college graduates or higher. And 62.3 percent worked full-time, 6.1 percent worked part-time, 7.7 percent were self-employed, and 13.5 percent were students.
When comparing demographics from the CPL study, which polled the representational sample of adults 18 and over in the continental U.S., the differences over religion stood out most strongly.
While 73.3 percent of continental American population believes that religion is very or somewhat important to their lives, only 52.3 percent of this Korean Leadership survey answered similarly.
Even more significantly, 30.2 percent of KL respondents described themselves as not religious while only 6.55 percent of American population described themselves in the same way.
If we had to come up with descriptive characterizations of KL respondents as a group, we could generalize them as those who are connected to Korea because of ethnic affinity, business interests, academic curiosity, professional affiliation, political stake, or a combination thereof.
They are very highly educated, not religious, and use English as a primary form of communication or are comfortable enough with English to read an English language daily.
They will tend to possess a global awareness of issues ― regardless of their ethnicity and location ― with a vested interest in Korea who would like to see Korean leaders exhibit certain leadership characteristics that could lead to an increase in Korea's national competitiveness.
In short, they are global citizens who are keenly interested in Korea's future. And what do these people think about Korea's current leadership?
In terms of key leadership-related questions, there was more alignment between the CPL study and KL survey results. In the CPL study, 77 percent believed that there was a leadership crisis in the U.S., with 79 percent believing that America will decline as a nation unless they get better leaders.
In the KL survey, 81.5 percent agreed that Korea has a leadership crisis (with a whopping 48.6 percent agreeing strongly), and 77.8 percent thought that Korea will decline as a nation without better leadership.
When it came to expressing confidence in leadership across various fields, business leadership had the highest confidence, followed closely by military leadership. Other leadership fields in the upper tier included medicine, entertainment and religion, in that order.
Very interestingly, the lower tier included all the national institutions, with the courts, press, executive office, prosecution, and national assembly in that order from high to low confidence levels. National assembly, especially, was the very bottom of the confidence list with a significant separation from the next to last one, which was the prosecution.
When asked what leadership traits they wanted to see from the future leadership of Korea, honesty and integrity was number one, followed closely by vision for the future. Rounding out the upper tier were ability to communicate, fairness, intelligence, decisiveness, and ability to collaborate.
The lower tier consisted of having new ideas, sympathy and understanding, ability to command, business-savvy, personal likeability, military experience and religious beliefs. Echoing the non-religiosity of the respondents, religious beliefs category was last by a large amount. Significantly, even military experience was next to last.
As to what they want to know more about Korea's next president, they overwhelmingly wanted to know more about specific policy plans for the future. Then they wanted to know more about his personal ethics and general political philosophy.
Even past positions on issues or record in office were not as important as specific policy plans and personal ethics. And they wanted to know least about his religious beliefs and family life.
Of course, it's impossible to do justice to the full results of the survey within this confined space. However, I believe that these results do provide a valuable insight into what the respondents would like to see of Korean leaders in today's global context.
If you would like to see the full results of the survey, please write me with your interest. If there is enough interest out there, I will try to find a way to make them available. Thank you so much for your participation.
Jason Lim is a research fellow at the Harvard Korea Institute, researching Asian leadership models. He can be reached at email@example.com.