Managers expect that their instructions will be obeyed and this expectation of obedience is usually fulfilled.
Confucianism stresses obedience and loyalty and this manifests itself strongly in the manager/subordinate relationship. It is useful to think of the manager as a father who, in return for loyalty, respect and obedience gives the subordinate support and help at all times.
Although leadership is hierarchical and paternalistic, it is also infused with the Korean concept of inwha, which emphasises the harmony necessary between people of equal rank and standing. Thus, it is important that group situations are characterised by lack of confrontation and blame. The good manager spends a great deal of time and effort ensuring that his team has a good working relationship and that all members feel fully integrated.
The Koreans also employ a process of consensus decision-making in certain situations, which is similar to the system of nemawashi found in Japan. This system ensures that the group feels involved in the decision whilst ensuring that the manager can still maintain an influence over the outcome.
Managers are expected to take a holistic interest in their subordinates and this necessitates greater involvement in many more areas of personal life than would be expected in Anglo-Saxon countries where work and private are very strongly separated.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in South Korea. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in South Korea and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: