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Analysis Of The Leadership Of Kim Jong Il History Essay

It is believed to be important to examine the life and leadership style of Kim Jong Il for several reasons. Among these reasons are the following. There is much talk about an absolute and/or unquestioning loyalty to Jong Il (e.g. Kang, 2006; Pollack, 2009), and it is deemed important to understand the reason for this. In addition, although North Korea bears the description “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, its political ideology appears to be in no way linked to democracy, and it is believed that the reason for this should be investigated. Also, of grave concern is how the people of North Korea continue to remain in submission to the inhumane treatment that they have been receiving, and how they have managed (i.e. despite the atrocities taking place in their country) to maintain the ideology that their homeland is literally “Paradise on Earth” (Hyun Sik, 2008, p.50). What allows North Koreans to perpetuate the thought that they are living in a “chosen land” (Hyun Sik, 2008, p.50)? Does their political leader have anything to do with it? What about his leadership style? This paper is expected to unearth the truth behind the North Korean situation.

It is believed to be important to understand the North Korean situation through the image of its leader, because of the nature of his leadership. Jong Il is described as one who has assumed absolute control of North Korea (Kang, 2006). He is what is known as a dictator. Consequently, it is believed that if he were to be properly examined then it may be understood why he is the way he is, how the people of North Korea have been affected by his rule as well as how things may be able to turn around for his country and people.

To gain the above understanding, an academic research will be conducted on Jong Il in an effort to be able to assess his life and leadership style to gain the desired result. This research will be conducted in the form of a literature review. First the leader’s biography will be presented followed by which his leadership style will be diagnosed and assessed within the context of Nahavandi’s text book on leadership (i.e. The Art and Science of Leadership, fifth edition). Through an analysis of the literature and Nahavandi’s text, the parallels between Jong Il’s leadership style and the concepts discussed within the text will be identified in order for a critical assessment of the North Korean political leadership situation to take place. This assessment should be what will produce a conceptual understanding of the present political leadership within the North Korean context as well as how this leadership situation not only coincides with what Nahavandi (2009) presents, but also works to affect the lives of the North Korean people (i.e. inclusive of its leader, Jong Il, the one in question).

A brief history of the leader

It is unclear when Kim Jong Il was born as well as under what circumstances his birth took place. Jong Il, according to Pike (2009), was born on the 16th day of February, 1941. A&E Television Networks (2009) also stated the same date of birth for Jong Il. However, both Pike (2009) and A&E Television Networks (2009), acknowledge that Jong Il’s year of birth was subsequently adjusted to 1942. The reason given by Pike (2009) for this change was that the same was expected to necessitate a thirty-year age difference between Jong Il and his father Il Sung.

The circumstances surrounding Jong Il’s birth remain a mystery. Many accounts have been given of the same. Some of these accounts include the following: Jong Il’s family claimed that a swallow foretold his birth; others claim that a double rainbow appeared over Mount Baekdu when he was born, while some even stated that with the event of his birth, a new star appeared in the heavens. All these theories surrounding his birth take root in what is described as “a cult of personality”, which simply illustrates that ‘legend’ and official North Korean government accounts describe [Jong Il’s] life, character, and actions in ways that promote and legitimize his leadership (A&E Television Networks, 2009). Needless to say, whether Jong Il was born in Khabarovsk, USSR or in a secret camp on Mt. Baekdu in Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province (Pike, 2009), there appears to be something mystic about this leader. If there was not, then why would all of North Korea hail him as the Dear Leader and interpret his as well as his father’s existence through an analogy of Jesus Christ and God (i.e. with Jong Il being made to represent Jesus Christ in the minds of the North Korean people, while his father, Il Sung, is being made to represent God in the minds of the same) (A&E Television Networks, 2009; Kang, 2006)? As Kang (2006) stated, the people of North Korea literally worship Jong Il just as they worshipped his father Kim Il Sung.

One North Korean gave the following account of Jong Il:

“General Kim Jong Il is a rare great man of Baekdu type who was born at Mt. Baekdu, the sacred mountain of our nation, and made an unusual growth amidst the special revolutionary education of his parents, brilliant commanders of Baekdu, as well as the practical training of the revolutionary struggle. He personifies the revolutionary spirit, trait and nature of Mt. Baekdu. The revolutionary spirit of Mt. Baekdu personified by him is the spirit of independence associated with the soul of Baekdu, the spirit of gun inheriting the linage of Baekdu, the indefatigable revolutionary spirit replete with the mettle of Baekdu and the optimistic spirit consistent with cheerfulness of Baekdu. The revolutionary trait of Mt. Baekdu possessed by him is pluck and courage of Baekdu-style giant, ever-victorious sagacity of the brilliant commander of Baekdu, broad-mindedness befitting a heroic man, organizing ability of leading millions of people, indefatigable attacking spirit, strong ability of execution” (Pike, 2009).

As mystic as Jong Il may have appeared, he was seen as one who demonstrated loyalty to his father Il Sung. This loyalty, according to Pike (2009), was demonstrated through Jong Il’s involvement of the purging of his father’s guerrilla cronies as well as those who were not deemed personal friends of the “Great Leader” (Kang, 2006). It is believed that this loyalty to his father is what made him his father’s successor.

Jong Il was described as forever being in politics. He was noted as being active in the Children’s Union – a youth organization that promotes the concept of Juche (the spirit of self-reliance) as well as in the Democratic Youth League, where he engaged in the study of Marxist ideology (i.e. in relation to politics) (A&E Television Networks, 2009). It is believed that in 1974, Jong Il was named the successor of the revolutionary cause of Juche, and that between 1971 and 1980; he was given positions of increasing importance within the Korean Workers Party (Pike, 2009). When Jong Il was named successor to the cause of Juche, he reportedly embarked on an initiative, which saw to the advancement of the program, which was concerned with the imbuing of the entire Korean society with the Juche ideology (Pike, 2009).

Kim Jong Il reportedly had an interest in many disciplines, none of which he was particularly good at (Hyun Sik, 2008). One of the disciplines Jong Il was interested in was the arts. He was described by A&E Television Networks (2009) as the overseer of the Propaganda and Agitation department in his country. This department was the one responsible for controlling the media as well as for censorship (A&E Television Networks, 2009). As leader of this department, Jong Il reportedly used the mass media, literature and art, all media that fall under the umbrella term ‘popular culture’, to stretch his public image as well as to obtain popular support for himself (Pike, 2009). When Jong Il’s father died in 1994, Jong Il reportedly assumed supreme power over the North Korean state. It is through this acquisition of power that Jong Il “…micro-manages every detail of government business” (Pike, 2009).

Pike (2009) describes Jong Il as being opposite to his father. He is described as being impatient as well as a vivid displayer of extemporaneous behaviours. Jong Il is described as being arrogant and self-centered in policy decision making, unappreciative of criticism as well as opposing opinion and emotional when it comes to displaying his likes and dislikes (Pike, 2009). However, on his softer side, Jong Il is known to be a lover of movies (e.g. James Bond movies) and is known to have a personal collection of films in excess of 20000 (A&E Television Networks, 2009). Nevertheless, despite the latter, Jong Il can be thought of as a ‘sad case’, because his legitimacy as ruler of North Korea is determined by the said country’s political system. As a result, Jong Il remains prisoner to a system into which he was born. There is nothing Jong Il could do to reform his nation’s political system without undermining his own legitimacy. Therefore, his only rational option is to uphold the system (Pike, 2009). Jong Il’s upholding of the system is notably in the best interest of his country.

A critical assessment of the life and leadership style of Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il, on the basis of his biography, can be deemed a charismatic leader. However, he is of the unethical type. He is deemed a charismatic leader because he shows forth characteristics such as a high degree of self-confidence (expressed through his firm belief in his ideology), strong convictions about his ideas (which is based on him being unaccepting of criticisms as well as opposing opinions), expressiveness (manifested through his description of being an emotionally expressive individual) as well as activeness in image building (expressed through his use of popular culture to expand his popular image) (Nahavandi, 2009; Pike, 2009).

However, although the above is true of Jong Il, he is also deemed to be unethical for several reasons. Jong Il is noted to use his power for personal gain or impact and to promote his personal vision (i.e. through the use of the Propaganda and Agitation Department), to censure critical or opposing views (i.e. through his unaccepting of them), to demand that his decisions be accepted without question (as manifested through the unquestioning compliance spoken of by Kang, 2006), to use one-way communication, and to be insensitive to followers’ needs (accounted for through Kang’s description of the sufferings that the people of Korea are made to endure at the hand of Jong Il) (Howell & Avolio, 1992).

Although Jong Il uses his power indiscriminately, he can still be considered an effective leader. This is because based on the circumstances in his country; he uses his power to maintain the stability required for the effective functioning of the same. It may not be the view of many outside of North Korea. However, with the level of brainwashing the people of that land have received nothing seems wrong for most of not all. As it was noted earlier, even though Jong Il’s leadership style is not the best, he has no choice than to ensure that it is perpetuated. This is because if he chooses to change the way his authority is ascribed to him (i.e. to reform the political system in his country); he will be doing himself more harm than good. As Pike (2009) described, Jong Il is a prisoner to the system; a prisoner in that even if he wants to change the system, he would not, because of the unwillingness to give up his supreme, divine status. It is what grants him his legitimacy as political leader of North Korea, and it therefore cannot be changed without upsetting the present leader’s legitimacy to rule over the state. Jong Il can therefore be placed within the context of the contingency era of leadership. This is because as Fiedler describes, his effectiveness as a leader is based on a match between his leadership style and the leadership situation (Nahavandi, 2009). Jong Il is effective as a leader because his leadership style matches his leadership situation (Nahavandi, 2009).

Jong Il’s leadership personality can also be interpreted in terms of the behaviorist perspective. It can be thought that Jong Il was trained to be the type of leader that he is. His father, Il Sung, ensured that Jong Il was groomed in a particular way from young. He (Jong Il) was made to attend specific schools; namely, Namsan Primary School (a school he later destroyed through bombing), Namsan Higher Middle School, and Kim Il Sung University (A&E Television Networks, 2009; Hyun Sik, 2008). According to Hyun Sik (2008), these schools (afore mentioned) were reserved for the elite of the North Korean society, in particular, party officials above the rank of vice minister (p.47). At these schools, the concept of Juche was taught. Apart from attending these schools, Jong Il was able to nurse the Juche ideology from being in close contact with his father as well as through his involvement with the Children’s Union. Consequently, he was able to perpetuate its existence. Jong Il believably learned to be a dictator, an autocratic, because as his former instructor described, he was a “shy young man” (Hyun Sik, 2008). But what made him acquire this leadership personality?

It is believed that Jong Il was predisposed to acquire certain behavioral characteristics that would have allowed him to be an effective leader today. It is believed that Jong Il was exposed to a great deal of charismatic experiences throughout his early life. As a result of this it is assumed that he has adopted a certain degree of charisma and that this very charisma is what he was able to use to sway the minds of the Korean people in the direction that he wanted them to go. Jong Il, because of his ability to manipulate the minds of the North Korean people, through the channel of indoctrination, as accounted for by Lankov (2007), can be described as an individual who scores high on the Machiavellian personality scale. Jong Il and his parents’ crafty use of supernatural accounts at the time of his birth were used to convince the people of North Korea that Jong Il is a deity. Consequently, the North Korean people found themselves worshipping Jong Il in much the same way as they worshipped his father (Kang, 2006).

Apart from Jong Il being made to look like a deity, he reportedly did all in his power to keep the people of North Korea thinking and acting in a particular way, a way that would ensure the continued legitimacy of his power that flows from his position as Supreme Leader/Ruler of the DPRK. For example, as stated by Lankov (2007), “North Korea has maintained a self-imposed information blockade that is without parallel” (p.71). North Koreans are not allowed to have free tuning radios, neither are they allowed to listen to news casts and programs that are from sources outside North Korea. “This news blackout is supposed to keep North Koreans believing that their country is an earthly paradise” (Lankov, 2007, p.71). In this way, North Koreans will cast a blind eye upon the inhumanities that Jong Il is said to bestow upon them, because they supposedly do not know any better. In other words, their reality is based purely on what Jong Il feeds them. So, although North Koreans may feel in their hearts and minds that something is wrong with the political leadership in their country (if even they do), they will continue to exist within a “false reality”, because of the unadulterated doctrine, which has been ingrained deep within their psyche.

Continuing on the subject of power, the other sources of power that Kim Jong Il possesses is that of Coercive Power and Reverent Power. Nahavandi states that coercive power is the leader’s ability to punish; persons comply for fear of this punishment. Kim Jong Il exercises his Coercive Power by ensuring that he attains full compliance from the people by instilling fear in them by threatening to arrest persons who refuses to adhere to his directives; deeming them political criminals. Jong Il also received Reverent Power through his coercive tactics on his people. He did this by mandating the people to worship him and his father and demanded that all believed and followed the principles of Juche. So not only was he their political leader her was their spiritual leader qualifying his Reverent power.

Jong Il is accused of committing many heinous crimes against the North Korean people. Kang (2006) argues that he should be charged for crimes of war as well as of genocide. Kang (2006) argues that although Jong Il may not commit these crimes himself, he (in one way or another) sanctions them. Kang (2006) was careful to mention that the people of North Korea were mistreated on the basis of their religion and nationality. Christians and what were described as “half-Han Chinese” – infants fathered by Chinese or other non-Koreans – fell victim to Jong Il’s rule. Women, who fled to China and got pregnant there, and were later forced to return to North Korea, were forced to have abortions. In the case of religion, any one who was deemed associated with any other religion besides Juche was persecuted by Jong Il. These persons were typically those who fled to countries outside North Korea seeking refuge, and were suspected of being influenced by outside intervention. However, unfortunately for them, they were forced to return to their home land (Kang, 2006) where they paid the ultimate penalty for their supposed spiritual fornication. According to Kang (2006):

“One person testified that she saw prison security officers kill several Christians by ‘pouring molten iron on them after they refused to renounce their religion and accept the state ideology of Juche.’ In particular, members of underground Christian churches and persons in contact with Christian missionaries have been subjected to harsh punishment, prolonged detention without charge, torture, or execution” (p.99).

Jong Il is so adamant about his belief in Juche that he went to great lengths to gain compliance from all persons dwelling within his territory of rule. Kang (2006) stated that the citizens of North Korea were literally mandated to ‘worship’ Jong Il and his father based on what was known as the “Ten Great Principles of Unique Ideology”. Persons failing to comply with this order became ‘political or ideological criminals’ and were made to suffer much abuse (inclusive of rape and the deprivation of food and medicine) (Kang, 2006). No one was spared the wrath of Jong Il – from the smallest and most innocent of children to the oldest of adults, were made to suffer the consequences of their perceived defiance to Jong Il. For example, it was noted by Kang (2006) that Jong Il punished a nine year old and his family, because the child innocently scribbled over the faces of Jong Il and his father Il Sung that were printed in his text book. Neither the child nor his family was ever seen again; they literally vanished off the face of the earth.

The interesting thing about Jong Il is that he ensured that he was awarded compliance from his citizens by instilling fear in them. Kang (2006) noted that “In addition to [a] cult-like mentality [existing in North Korea], a culture of surveillance pervade[d] [the] North Korean society…” (p.56). Every individual was literally placed as each other’s watch man to ensure that each individual was living according to Jong Il’s rules and/or orders. “The People’s Security Agency, the State Security Protection Agency, and the Korean Workers’ Party ‘each plant[ed] their own informants in all work-places and units of organization’”, and since no one knew who exactly was an informant, they were all forced to be on their “Ps and Qs” (i.e. to be on their best behavior) (Kang, 2006). All these efforts to ensure forced compliance to Jong Il illustrates that the North Korean leader is definitely a ‘high Mach’ because he is more than willing to do whatever is necessary to gain his desired end (i.e. even though it means manipulating other people [as he evidently did] or gaining his desires at the expense of other individuals).

From the preceding essay, it can be deduced that Kim Jong Il is definitely the leader of a brutal dictatorship. He displays qualities of an autocrat, because he makes decisions on his own (i.e. without being opposed). The literature exposed him as one being intolerant of criticism and disfavoring of opposing opinions. Jong Il was described as a leader to which there was an unquestioning loyalty. Everything he ordered was executed by his subordinates (i.e. the people over which he ruled) without question. This occurred irrespective of whether the actions were right or wrong. Jong Il was termed a “high Mach” because he was seen as one using the legitimacy of his power to manipulate his followers into doing precisely what he wanted them to do (i.e. without care for how his desires were affecting the persons directly involved).

Jong Il utilized fear tactics to ensure that he gained the compliance he required – another indicator that he would score high on the Machiavellian personality scale. Apart from severely punishing people for defying him, he placed the North Korean people against each other by making them all spies for him. The North Korean leader appeared to be a possessor of charismatic qualities (i.e. he was deemed to be one born with special qualities for a special purpose). His birth was described as supernatural in occurrence, and the activities surrounding his birth were used as a tactic to gain the desired support from his followers.

Jong Il, despite his negative qualities, appears to be an effective leader because he is able to maintain the stability required in his country. He appears to be operating under the contingency model of leadership because his leadership style appears to be directly related to his leadership situation. However, although Jong Il appears to be an effective leader, he is one that is unethical for various reasons. For example, Jong Il is noted to use his power for personal gain or impact and to promote his personal vision, to censure critical or opposing views, to demand that his decisions be accepted without question, to use one-way communication, and to be insensitive to followers’ needs – all actions that are unethical by Howell and Avolio’s standards.

Jong Il appears to be an explicit case of the nature/nurture principle. He is believed to be endowed with certain character traits (e.g. influence and/or charisma) – nature – that together with his ideology (Juche) and/or trained behavioral characteristics (authoritarianism or dictatorship) shapes his leadership style - nurture. Jong Il’s personality and leadership style have created a North Korea that sparks immense interest from the outside world. Apart from them being interpreted as treacherous, it is still unfathomable how the people of North Korea, at the hands of one man, can live to accept such an inhumane political system, and comply with it unquestioningly. Could this be a case demonstrating the share power of indoctrination or is it that North Korea’s leader has emerged to be so powerful and feared, because his society provides the grounds for him to do so? Some food for thought.


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