Investigating the Relationship Between Confucianism and Leadership: A Comparative Study of University Faculty

Investigating the Relationship Between Confucianism and Leadership: A Comparative Study of University Faculty

Andrew Schenck (State University of New York (SUNY), Incheon, Korea)
DOI: 10.4018/IJAVET.2018070104

Abstract

This article describes how due to the potential impact of cultural factors on leadership, further research of foreign contexts is needed. A study was designed to examine relationships between Confucian values and leadership preferences in a South Korean context. First, the Vannsimpco Leadership Survey (VLS) was given to faculty from both a South Korean and American university. Responses from each group were then averaged by leadership style and statistically compared using the Mann-Whitney U formula. Results revealed significantly higher Korean preferences for autocratic-transformational (U = 365.50, p < .001) autocratic-transactional (U = 453.00, p < .001), and transactional leadership (U = 613.50, p < .05). In contrast to Korean faculty, American respondents significantly preferred transformational leadership (U = 601.00, p < .05). Empirical analysis suggests that hybrid leadership styles are needed in South Korea to address complex interdependent Confucian values, which support both autocratic and democratic social layers.
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The Impact Of Context And Culture On Leadership

Weaknesses of each leadership style ultimately manifest when unique contextual variables arise. In Confucian settings such as China, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong, resources and training for new leadership strategies are often not an issue (Wong, 1995), yet a centralized bureaucracy makes empowerment of subordinates problematic. Hierarchical power relationships prohibit followers from acting independently. In educational settings, teachers are reluctant to resolve issues without direct guidance from administrators (Sackney & Dibski, 1995; Wong, 1995), just as students are reluctant to act creatively without direct guidance from a teacher (Wang & Torrisi-Steele, 2015).

While each country has specific characteristics affecting the efficacy of leadership (e.g., economic access to resources), culture ultimately dictates the influence of various leadership strategies on organizational performance. Confucian countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan, for example, are driven by a common cultural ethos supporting five virtues: Ren, Yi, Li, Chih, and Shin (Northouse, 2011; Park & Chesla, 2007). The complexity of these virtues makes adaption of traditional leadership paradigms problematic. While some virtues seem congruent with individual leadership styles, others do not.

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