Sunday, December 19, 2004

The many faces of leadership

I had a conversation with Sara some time ago about leadership. One interesting question I asked was whether quality leadership can be demonstrated, or even developed, in times of no trial. In particular, would that leadership be able to rival the quality of leadership exemplified in times of trial? One question Sara asked was whether teachers could be considered leaders.

My dad made me watch a couple of episodes of a Korean drama, and I am hooked (as can happen with Korean dramas). This one is called A Time of Heroes, and chronicles the story of the man who founded the Hyundai conglomerate (yes, they do make more than cars). The time is during the Japanese occupation. The context is quite critical here. The Japanese are in total control of Korea and use Korea's natural resources to fund their military campaigns. They've abolished the Korean language and Korean education. My grandparents grew up learning Japanese and are/were fluent in Korean in spite of the occupation (only my grandmother on my mother's side still lives). The family of my grandfather (dad's side) actually moved to Manchuria to have a better life when he was a teenager (though Manchuria was also under Japanese occupation and had its own problems). The parallels between the Nazi treatment of the Jews and the Japanese treatment of the Koreans are uncanny, except that the Nazis attempted to exterminate Jewish genes in their efforts for a supreme race; the Japanese simply attempted to exterminate Korean civilization as part of the plan to prove race supremacy. I've read some fascinating books (fictional and not) on the subject. The ones that stick out are Pearl S. Buck's The Living Reed and Sook Nyul Choi's Year of Impossible Goodbyes and Echoes of the White Giraffe. But I digress. And I harbour no ill will against the Japanese. ;)

Two characters really strike me in this drama. There is the main character, of course, but there is also a teacher. The main character Dwae-Sah is compelled by his younger sister's bout with tuberculosis to leave his home in the country and make enough money to bring her to a Western-trained doctor; Korean medical practices at the time weren't capable of curing this disease. Dwae-sah is only a teenager and was attending an underground Korean school where he learned about the things necessary for Korea to succeed and take back their country.

But the second character is what brought to mind the conversation I had with Sara. After Dwae-Sah and two friends head to the city and find work in a mine, they meet up with Song Dong-Min. This man started out as a freedom fighter, but realized that his methods were only a temporary solution. As a result, he started moving from rural area to rural area, starting schools to teach the next generation. The Japanese military started cracking down on those schools (for example, they killed one of Dwae-Sah's teachers while attempting to arrest the man), and had a warrant out for Dong-Min. So Song Dong-Min is a fugitive and hiding as an anonymous employee at the mine.

When Dwae-Sah and his friends realize who they've met, you have to understand, they met the legend in the flesh. Think of meeting the person you voted to be the Greatest Canadian. It was that special. And because Dong-Min is always on the run, and Dwae-Sah needs to make money, they keep running into each other, even after Dwae-Sah leaves the coal mine. Dong-Min uses this opportunity to forge the mind of the man who would help to transform Korean industry. Then the Japanese finally catch up to him. Knowing it's the end, Dong-Min teaches Dwae-Sah and his friend (by this time, one friend had gone home) the Korean national anthem as soldiers storm the logging camp where they are working; Dwae-Sah witnesses Song Dong-Min's death.

When I think about all the great leaders, they always seem to credit the people who taught them. Alexander the Great had Aristotle before conquering the known world. Though Alexander would disregard Aristotle's words for many things, the fact is that he learned how to think because of this great philosopher. Paul had Gamaliel, one of the most respected doctors of the law; Paul was responsible for the spread of Christianity to the gentile peoples and became the most prolific author of the New Testament through his many epistles. The twelve disciples had Jesus Christ; they took his teachings all across Western Asia, in the face of adversity, persecution, and suppression of the Roman Empire. Heck, Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda! And we all know the feats of Luke Skywalker!

There's something especially interesting that happens when a leader is no more. Either the movement falls apart, meaning that the leader did not do enough to develop leaders for the next generation, or new leaders rise up. Teachers can have that role in developing new leaders. And does that not then make them leaders as well? Teachers, with their ability and responsibility to inspire their students, seem to need leadership aspects in order for leaders to be born.

Ironically we're both taking the leadership course next semester. That'll be fun. :) But until then, I've decided to post a series of my thoughts on leadership, taking ideas from that original conversation and other insights I've been fortunate to gain over the past little while. Part 1 is coming soon.

On the note of my father's father. He must be one of the biggest reasons why I'm not content to have a nondescript life. The man lived in extraordinary times when Korea was being transformed from a tiny despot to one of the infamous Asian Tigers. But while the transformation was initiating, life in Korea was extremely difficult. My grandfather moved from nation to nation to find work to support his family. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore, due to incidents in Vietnam, and decided to move his family to a nation where there would be better opportunity. His conversation with the immigration official went something like this (abridged version):

Immigration Officer: You have no skills, you can't speak English, why should I let you into Canada?
Grandfather: /speechless, starts talking about how he had to struggle in Manchuria to survive
Immigration Officer: You lived in Manchuria?
Grandfather: Yes.
Immigration Officer: Do you speak Mandarin?
Grandfather: Yes.
Immigration Officer: Ni hao ma?
Grandfather: /speechless again

The guy had been a missionary in Manchuria and saw firsthand how tough life was. He said if my grandfather could survive in Manchuria without having grown up there, he could survive in Canada.

Suffice it to say this. My grandfather did not work his butt off and suffer all his trials so that his descendants could squander the opportunity to do something. Anything. I do something with my life, or his efforts are in vain.

PakG1 is asking God to give him a dream, and has been asking for a long time.

Um, yeah, maybe Part 1 will be done in a few days.

Next: Introduction


  1. I am looking forward to your post's on leadership, and I will be praying for your dream :)

    Personally, I think leaders should be teachers, but don't need to be, and teacher's should be leaders, but don't need to be. If a leader is not a teacher, then whatever he has started will fall apart when he is gone (barring other teachers very close to him who function in his place). If a teacher is not a leader, then he can't get past teaching his students merely knowledge (which is, unfortunately, all our school systems seem to care about these days).

  2. I have questions about the procedure that the Immigration Officer followed but I'm glad that you're the result.


  3. LOL! You would. ;) But I think immigration in those days was far looser than they were now, no? Compared to back in the 1600s, when immigration was wide open, it's been gradually tightening.... :D