Kim Dae-jung’s Leadership as relevant to the Sunshine Policy (1998-2003): Leadership Traits, Styles and Policy Implementation

Ms. Shin Yon Kim

This study explores the role of President Kim Dae-jung’s leadership in conducting the Sunshine Policy. With the help of the Leadership Trait Analysis (LTA) as a methodological tool, Kim’s leadership profile was constructed for the period of his presidency in terms of seven personality traits. For the analytical purpose, Kim Dae-jung’s five-year-long presidential tenure was divided into three sub-periods (e.g., 1998-1999; 2000; 2001-2002) based on the changing nature of the environment in terms of the severity of constraints posed to the Sunshine Policy. The results were further contextualized to account for his leadership in dealing with three different sources of constraints -e.g., the United States, North Korea, and the domestic political environment for each sub-period. The study finds that an idiosyncratic aspect of Kim’s leadership was attributable to the unique combination of several traits with distinct scores compared to a norming group: a high ‘need for power,’ the relationship/process focus, and a high in-group bias. This means that his control over the overall policy process and the manner in which he addressed constraints were not so much direct or outright as indirect and behind-the-scenes in nature. This way, he was occasionally Machiavellian, or readily manipulative, in achieving his goals. The study shows that Kim’s leadership was consistent and at the same time flexible. That is, he tended to challenge, rather than respect, constraints. Meanwhile, his leadership style shifted from the advocate to the advocate-strategic, and even to the pragmatic depending on what type of the context he was dealing with in terms of the degree of constraints emanating from it. Another finding is that the Kim Dae-jung’s perception of certain constraints had an impact on how he dealt with them. The mechanism involves the leader’s motivational perception, which effectively served as a mediating force between his perspective on the source of the constraints and a certain type of leadership style exhibited in dealing with them.