At East Rock Institute, we value authentic leadership—a certain type of leadership best explained by Dr. Hesung Chun Koh, who coined and founded the concept. The following are excerpts taken from the lecture Dr. Koh delivered at 2007 World Women’s Forum in Seoul entitled “
Authentic Leadership and East Asian Values.”

In today’s rapidly-globalizing world, most of the leadership frameworks I encountered were developed by and for men in Western corporate environments. I, the mother of six American-born Korean children, believed that familiarity with Asia’s rich cultural heritage could inform one’s understanding of what it means to be a global leader in modern society. To prove this thesis, I searched for and sought to construct a leadership paradigm founded upon both Eastern and Western values.

Over the past thirty years, I have identified sources of strength, dynamism, and creativity from both the East Asian values I inherited from my ancestors and the experiences I gained while living in different Asian societies and in the United States. My historical and comparative cultural research has confirmed that all outstanding leaders demonstrate certain admirable characteristics.

The purpose of this lecture is to introduce seven leadership tenets and demonstrate how the East Asian values contribute to and enhance the moral code adhered to by leaders throughout the world.


What is Leadership?

Leadership is the ability to mobilize and organize resources and energy to achieve shared goals. Expressions of leadership can motivate others to pursue aspirations as well as reveal new possibilities.

Authentic leaders demonstrate the following seven common characteristics which I have termed the “tenets of authentic leadership” in my books. I explain these seven tenets of leadership by citing stories from Korean history as well as episodes I personally experienced or witnessed in my life. These are critical strengths that can empower both male and female global leaders.


Seven Tenets of Authentic Leadership

  • Strong sense of identity and cultural competency (the ability to live in more than one culture). In a multicultural society, one must know who he or she is, but remain keenly aware of the varied cultural backgrounds of others. If one possesses a clear sense of personal identity, he or she develops the confidence needed to lead a principled life.
  • Virtue over skill. To be a leader, one must have skills. To become an effective leader, one must realize that one’s skills should never overshadow one’s virtues.
  • Self-fulfillment through role dedication. Some believe that one can achieve self-fulfillment by focusing solely on the cultivation of his or her God-given talents. I would argue, however, that only after one learns to relate to his or her family and society at large, can he or she fulfill his or her role within a larger community and assume a leadership position within it.
  • Historical and global vision. In modern society, an authentic leader must have broad historical knowledge of many cultures. An authentic leader must also embrace differences that exist between his or herself and his or her followers. If one does so, one will be rewarded by trust. Others will recognize that he or she wants to understand their perspective and they will, in turn, open their minds to such an empathetic leader.
  • Creative syncretism. People of many ethnic backgrounds populate the world, and all have something to contribute. To create harmony among individuals of different cultures and maximize the benefits gained from diversity, one must integrate a variety of forces into a working whole. Intolerance is the biggest obstacle an authentic leader must overcome. Tolerance and flexibility, on the other hand, can be used to move forward as instruments for positive change.
  • Compassion. The most admired leaders are those who follow their hearts as well as their heads. Attention to interpersonal skills and the cultivation of wholesome relationships are essential to achieving successful leadership.
  • Passion. A life lacking in purpose, also lacks in passion—a necessary component in the lives of those with a desire to lead.  

East Rock Institute has cultivated authentic leadership in a variety of ways, notably through our NamMae Conferences and Retreats for Korean American Young Professionals.

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