Leadership Traits, Styles and Policy Implementation: Sunshine Policy under Kim Dae-Jung (1998-2003)

Dr. Shin Yon Kim

South Korea’s engagement policy toward North Korea has a unique potential to contribute to permanent peace on the Korean peninsula by improving inter-Korean relations; however, given Korea’s historical, political, and socio-cultural context, comprehensive engagement is a difficult option. Any South Korean leader who adopts overall engagement strategies vis-à-vis North Korea may well face various constraints stemming from the internal and external environments, including North Korea (the target state), domestic politics, and the United States, among others. During Kim’s presidency, North and South Korea engaged in an unparalleled degree of interaction, reshaping the pattern of inter-Korean relations. This study seeks to address the puzzle of how it was possible for South Korean President Kim Dae-jung to engage in his peace initiative and achieve his goals amid all the constraints emanating from the internal and external environment. Grounded on the actor indispensability thesis, which postulates that the removal of one individual’s actions would lead to a significant change in the outcome, the study reveals an idiosyncratic aspect of Kim’s leadership that was attributable to an array of trait and style factors with the help of the Leadership Trait Analysis as a primary methodological tool for content analysis. In Kim’s case, the pattern of trait scores remained remarkably consistent in terms of their strength–compared to a norming group of 79 Pacific Rim leaders–throughout his term of office. Meanwhile, the analysis shows that his leadership was flexible in that his leadership style shifted in tandem with the changing contextual conditions. Over the course of his presidency, Kim shifted from the advocate to the pragmatic in leadership style. The study shows that it was the severity of constraints as perceived by the leader, rather than the source of constraints per se, that led to a change in his approach to leadership. The study suggests that Kim’s advocate orientations were mitigated, albeit to varying degrees, by interventions of certain traits that showed a stable pattern over time and across situations -e.g., a high need for power; a moderate degree of closedness to information; a moderate locus of control, a moderate distrust of others, and relationship/process focus.