Germany and South Korea leadership styles

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The goal of the essay is to establish the relationship between Germany and South Korea by critically examining comparisons of the two nations' leadership philosophies. Due to the fact that South Korea is an Asian nation with some history, whereas Germany is a European nation with a rich history, it is crucial to notice that the two nations differ in terms of culture, social orientation, and political orientation. Both nations' economies have been prosperous from an economic standpoint as a result of their significant industrialisation. The paper is aimed at explaining the differences and similarities in of the leadership styles of South Korea and Germany. The paper will also compare the cultures in the two countries in terms of the foundations upon which cultures in the two countries are based and how the culture has shaped leadership styles in the two nations.

The paper will further examine leadership styles in the two nations in terms of business practices and protocol and the relationship between top leadership and subordinate. Background information of each of the two countries will also be given which will lay the foundation for better understanding of leadership styles in the two countries. The paper will also discuss in detail the concept of cultural competence and how it has influenced leadership culture in the two countries. In general, the paper will seek to understand in detail the leadership styles of the two great countries and how effective an individual is able to communicate effectively with leaders from the two nations. The above-highlighted goals will be achieved through rigorous research involving books and journal articles on leadership, culture and social settings of the two countries. Through the study of the business culture of companies in the two countries, the paper will be able to compare leadership style.

Intercultural competence

Culture is defined as the total way of life, including expected beliefs, behaviour, language, values and living practices that are common among members of the society. Culture is made up of implicit and explicit rules or norms through which experience is interpreted or understood (Ang & Van Dyne, 2015). In short, culture is the programming of the mind that determines the people's way of life and interaction.

Intercultural competence, on the other hand, is the ability to develop or gather targeted skills, knowledge and attitudes that enhance visible communication and behaviour that are both appropriate and effective in intercultural interactions (Ang et al. 2015). It is where an individual is able to go beyond his culture and society to accommodate other cultures and interact with other people with no or minimum difficulty. Intercultural competence is made up of several elements namely: skills which include observing, listening, perseverance, evaluating using patience and viewing the world from different perspectives. Knowledge which includes culture-specific knowledge, cultural self-awareness, grasp of global trends and issues and social linguistic awareness (Martin, 2015). The last element of intercultural competence is the attitude which involves openness, respect, curiosity and discovery. Openness involves suspension of criticism of other cultures by collecting and appreciating the knowledge of cultural differences. Curiosity is when an individual views cultural difference as an opportunity to learn from others and seeking intercultural interactions to understand other people's culture (Ang et al. 2015). Having an attitude of respect is where an individual seeks attributes of other cultures, values cultural diversity and thinks comparatively without prejudice about other people’s cultures. Discovering attitude on the other is the ability to tolerate ambiguity and take it as a positive experience; where one is willing to move beyond the comfort zone to understand other people's culture.

The above elements of intercultural competence amount to internal outcomes which best fits an individual who is adaptable, flexible, and empathetic and is able to develop a perspective that is ethno-relative. Such internal qualities are reflective in external outcomes commonly known as observable communication and behaviour style of an individual.

Philosophy of culture and role of leader in Germany

Germany is one of the largest economy in the world and Europe with a population of approximately 82 million people. The culture of this great European country is mostly defined by cultures in the constituent states that form the country as well as other European cultures. Germany originated from the various Germanic tribes that lived in the classical era and the Republic of German came into existence when Prussia unified German states into one. Germany as a country has a rich history having produced some of the most popular writers, musicians, artists, and philosophers that shaped the history of Western civilisation. Some of the influential Protestant reformers came from Germany imploring Germany as a country that played a major role in enhancing Christianity during the 19th century.

In terms of clothing, Germans wear in a typical western way with most people preferring business wear even though there is also a culture of traditional wear in some states. The official language of Germany is German which the third popular language in the world is because it is spoken in other numerous countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Austria. This makes Germany one of the most popular countries in the world. In terms of religion, Germany is a Protestant dominated country with more than two-thirds of the people being Christians (Van de Vijver et al. 2015).

Organisation is one of the core principles of German culture. Germans pride themselves on being excellently organised both in their personal and professional lives. People in German often strive to keep a balance between personal lives and professional lives. For this reason, Germans have high respect for laws, rules and regulations. Many foreigners often find themselves on the wrong side because the rules are tough and highly enforceable. For instance, violation of pedestrian crossing rule can attract instant fine from the enforcing authorities.

Role of leader in Germany

Leadership in Germany is partially autocratic because there is an established clear chain of command where different departments are assigned roles to play on behalf of the top leader. For the case of the country, the top leader is Chancellor who heads the executive and symbolises the unity of the country. Top leadership in the country or any organisation acts as an ambassador of that particular organisation for Germans. Leaders in German strive to achieve perfection in their systems and procedures which imply that the manager closely and vigorously monitors and applies strict systems to ensure established frameworks work accordingly. Furthermore, German leaders motivate their staff a lot by showing solidarity and support for them in order for them to follow procedures strictly. Staff in Germany is likely to work long hours to make sure that they meet set targets but also insist on fair treatment.

Philosophy of culture and role of leader in South Korea

Culture in South Korea is anchored on the philosophy of Confucianism which is ancient practice that has been in the country for a considerably long time since the colonial rule. Confucianism has shaped the social, political and economic way of life for most Koreans because it forms the basis of morality in almost all aspects of life. Confucianism is an indispensable pillar of Korean national law, the way of life and moral system. The philosophy of Confucianism has greatly permeated the consciousness of South Koreans even though the origin of its teachings was Joseon Dynasty which later on gave rise to ‘silhak’ or what is commonly referred to as ‘practical learning’.

According to Confucianism philosophy, obedience and loyalty are the ultimate things in any relationship whether social or professional. The two major principles are common in leadership and management in most companies or businesses operating in South Korea. The leader or management, on the other hand, are supposed to give support to the subjects or subordinate as a reward for obedience and loyalty. In South Korea, leadership is paternalistic and hierarchical which implies that there exists well laid down structures from top to bottom with a clear chain of command. Seth, (2016) states that even though there is hierarchical leadership, it is combined with ‘inwha' which is the Korean concept that emphasises on harmony among people of the same standing and rank.

Role of the leader

In South Korea, leaders take a holistic approach to managing or interacting with their subordinate or subject by ensuring that people coexist in harmony. A leader stamps his or her authority on the people but every decision that they make it must be in consultation with the subject/subordinate. The decision-making process necessitates leaders have a greater involvement in numerous areas of people's life including personal life. For this reason, there is very little separation between work and private life because the duo overlaps each other.

Major differences in culture and leading role

South Korea is a high context culture where context plays a very important role in communication. Messages in South Korea are indirect and they are usually delivered in a manner that is abstract and implicit and the meaning of the message is heavily dependent on the context (Ang & Van Dyne, 2015). Intercultural communication research indicates that South Korean culture is inclined towards high-context knowledge and information and their language is a reflection of a lot of implicitness. Koreans tend to give ambiguous messages as a means of obscuring their meaning. German culture, on the other hand, is a low context in nature with direct and explicit communication being the order of the day. Communication of messages by Germans is direct, explicit and it rarely relies on the context where the message is being communicated which means a lot of background information is needed for the sake of communication in a German context.

In terms of touch avoidance, Korean culture is quite touched avoidant and display of emotions in public is regarded as embarrassing and inappropriate for South Koreans (Martin, 2015). South Koreans highly control their emotions and feelings so as not to express them in public while communicating. In contrast, Germans express their feelings and emotions in public with little touch avoidance because Germans rarely control their emotions in public.

In terms of the Rule of Law, Korean culture is more accommodative and lenient in enforcing the law where the culture prefers convenience or relationships over strict rules. For instance, when Koreans come to a stop sign, they do not completely stop when there are no other vehicles on the road. Pedestrians too do not completely follow traffic rules which are a norm. In contrast, Germans are quite organised and systematic in their way of doing things in accordance with the law. The German culture requires that laws are strictly followed by everybody regardless of their status in the society (Ang et al. 2015). For instance, any pedestrian who is found crossing at a different place on the road other than designated places can be arrested and even fined immediately. Therefore, such culture calls for discipline and self-control so that one does not find himself or herself on the wrong side of the law.

In Korean culture, people are quick to determine the age or the social position of an individual and they have made it a normative practice. They regard it as the most appropriate way of determining the social position of a person which is a determinant of the degree of honorifics that should be accorded to the person. German culture on the other, there is little regard for age or the social status except in places of work where seniority is considered in a professional way. Both young and old interact with each other freely with little boundaries based on the age of the people.

South Korea background information

South Korea has a long history of its establishment. The Republic of South Korea was established in 1945 after Potsdam Conference Agreement after World War II. By 1948, South Korea held its first elections so as to establish a National Assembly to adopt a republican constitution and have a president to lead the country. After the election, South Korea was recognised as by the United Nations in 1948. However, in 1950, South Korea was attacked by its neighbour North Korea which sparked the Korean war that lasted until July 1953 and this left South Korea struggling to reestablish itself both politically and economically (Rhie, 2002). Despite the agony of war for South Korea, Koreans have always wished to be reunited back to have one strong nation.

It should also be noted that Korean leadership culture has been shaped by numerous influential belief systems such as Buddhism, Shamanism, Taoism and Confucianism. During the Yi Dynasty, Confucianism became the official code or way of promoting harmony and maintaining political and social order (Rhie, 2002). South puts emphasis on education as the only way through which people can emancipate themselves in life and for many years South Koreans have adopted the principles of propriety.

The way of how to become a leader

South Korea is a democratic country which implies that leaders in the country are elected by the majority. Confucianism is one major school of thought for leadership that is dominant in South Korea which has shaped the kind of leadership that is currently in the country. This school of thought emphasises on loyalty and obedience where leaders expect maximum loyalty from the subject and they must also earn obedience from the same people. A critical examination of Confucianism reveals that the system is based on rigorous studies and understanding of the insight information based on certain religious beliefs.

The culture of Confucianism in South Korea insists on the importance of education and merit in the society. This extends to the holding of leadership positions because Koreans believe that leaders of the society should be the most educated. Nobility and class are highly regarded in South Korea. From the Confucianism school of thought, a leader is supposed to be an educated person who is noble because South Koreans are learned people who can only be led by educated people (Len-Ríos et al. 2015). It is for this reason that the ministry of education in South Korea is one of the most powerful ministries where the government has heavily invested in for South Koreans to acquire knowledge. Furthermore, South Korea is among the most developed nations of East Asia and most of its development is attributed to good leadership and education. It is therefore prudent to state that for one to become a leader in South Korea, they ought to be educated.

Leading role

South Korean leaders have a great privilege of power and ruling over the people because of the highest level of democracy in the country implying that leaders are popularly elected. The president, for instance, is popularly elected and is the head of the executive meaning he or she has the power to appoint various key people to head different departments and ministries. The leader in South Korea is held with high regard in the society which comes with a lot of responsibility too (Rhie, 2002). Because of the high regard that South Koreans accord their leaders, the character of leaders is supposed to be beyond reproach and they must uphold integrity without which people have powers to impeach the leaders. A good example is the impeachment of President Geun-Hye Park because of her involvement in a corruption scandal.

Communication style of a leader

South Korean leaders communicate in an emotional and non-confrontational manner probably because of the historical sufferings of the country and the concept of Hahn (Rhie, 2002). South Korea is a high context society whose communication is indirect and implicit in nature which means that the message which a leader conveys heavily depends on the context where the communication takes place. Leaders highly value etiquette and most of the time they do not speak straight to people because they do not want confrontation most of the times (Martin, 2015). This makes it difficult for one to know the true intentions of the leader while communicating. Furthermore, South Korean leaders voice their disagreements and unhappiness vaguely using non-clear phrases such as ‘we will try’.

Comparison between Germany and South Korea

Differences in leading role

Leadership in Germany is partly aristocratic because there are well-established structures from the top to the bottom that define the relationship between top leadership and subordinate. German leaders seek perfectionism in everything that they do and for this reason, they enforce very strict work laws, rules and regulations to make sure that everything runs smoothly as scheduled. In contrast, South Korean leaders take a holistic role of motivating people around them to work in harmony to achieve a common target (Len-Ríos et al. 2015). Even though the leadership structures are partly patriarchal, leaders are more flexible in their roles rather than sticking to strict working routines. They give their subjects some freedom to contribute in decision making by reaching a consensus with the people via consultation (Samovar et al. 2015). South Korean leaders play the role of follow through and they seek consensus on different decisions that they make.

German leaders lead their people professionally with a clear separation of work and family. Leaders insist on keeping personal lives as private as possible and avoid mixing of personal life with work (Samovar et al. 2015). In contrast, South Korean leaders take keen note of work and family by influencing the social lives of people. The leaders regard family lives as part of work and therefore formulate policies that integrate family into work.

Advice on how to communicate with South Korean leader

Given that the South Korean culture is emotional and non-confrontational due to historical sufferings, it is important that an individual should indirectly communicate to South Korean leaders avoiding confrontational instances. This is important because South Korean leaders regard confrontations and direct communication as the lack of etiquette and this might put them off or cause discontent (Martin, 2015).

Advice on how to communicate with Germany leader

People should directly communicate their message to Germany leaders because direct speaking in Germany is regarded as a sign of respect and truth which is quite important in building trust and quest for getting correct answers to a particular problem (Samovar et al. 2015). Germany leaders do not value emotions and diplomacy at the expense of truth and therefore when communicating to them, one should avoid emotional appeal and diplomacy. Germany leaders always want specific details when communicating with them and they entertain little humour in any official communication (Martin, 2015). This calls for a lot of seriousness when communicating to the leaders.


Germany and South Korea are two great nations in different continents with different cultures. The paper has delved into the history of both countries to bring out major comparisons of leadership styles witnessed in these nations. Intercultural competence was also discussed in detail for purposes of understanding and appreciating the culture of different people. Philosophy of cultures for the two nations was also explained in details. South Korean culture has been shaped by the philosophy of Confucianism whereas German culture is based on traditional Germanic tribes’ way of life and European culture. Major differences in culture of the two countries were explained and how leading roles differ from one country to another. Furthermore, there are specific comparisons of leading roles and culture for the two nations with emphasis on communication styles of leaders. Lastly, advice on how to effectively communicate with leaders from the two countries is given in consideration of their communication styles.


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Ang, S., & Van Dyne, L. (2015). Handbook of cultural intelligence. Routledge.

Len-Ríos, M., & Perry, E. (Eds.). (2015). Cross-cultural Journalism: Communicating Strategically about Diversity. Routledge.

Martin, J. N. (2015). Revisiting intercultural communication competence: Where to go from here. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 48, 6-8.

Rhie, W. (2002). Korea Unmasked. Gyeonggi-do: Gimm-young International.

Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E., McDaniel, E. R., & Roy, C. S. (2015). Communication between cultures. Nelson Education.

Seth, M. J. (2016). A concise history of Korea: From Antiquity to the present.

Ting‐Toomey, S. (2015). Identity negotiation theory. The International Encyclopedia of Interpersonal Communication.

Van de Vijver, F. J., Van Hemert, D. A., & Poortinga, Y. H. (2015). Multilevel analysis of individuals and cultures. Psychology Press.

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April 06, 2023

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