Dr. Travis Bradberry: 5 Important Leadership Lessons From Kim Jong Un

Tempers are flaring yet again on the Korean peninsula after two South Korean soldiers were seriously injured recently by land mines that North Korea recently planted in the demilitarized zone. In response to the provocation, South Korea will end a ten-year hiatus and resume blasting propaganda messages across the border via loudspeakers.

The messages will criticize Kim Jong Un’s ability to lead, and my hunch is that they won’t go over well as Kim doesn’t take kindly to people who question his authority.

When it comes to Kim’s leadership, there’s a lot to criticize, but that also means there’s a lot to learn.

Leadership lessons typically come from celebrated cultural icons, whether they work in business, politics, or the arts. But that doesn’t mean that we can only learn from our heroes. In fact, we can learn just as much about leadership from those who’ve failed us.

By looking carefully at some of the questionable qualities of the world’s more suspect leaders, we can gain a deeper understanding of why certain things don’t work, how our actions affect people, and how we can yield influence to inspire growth over destruction.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has plenty to teach us about leadership — you just have to know where to look. Here are five important lessons from the Supreme Leader.

Lesson #1: Don’t annihilate your enemies

Strong leaders don’t fear dissent because they’ve done the hard work to inspire genuine loyalty. Weak leaders, on the other hand, see anything short of pandering as a threat, and they’ll do whatever it takes to quash the threat.

After Kim’s defense minister, 66-year-old Hyon Yong-Chol, nodded off during a meeting earlier this year, Kim had him executed with a ZPU-4 anti-aircraft gun — a massive, four-barreled machine gun capable of firing 600 rounds per minute. Naturally, Kim had the execution conducted in front of hundreds of onlookers. In all, Kim is thought to have executed over 70 “dissenters” since coming to power.

Like many errant leaders, Kim sees an excessive show of force as a sign of strength that will teach people a lesson. In reality, it shows weakness and fear. Sure, many who witness the act will toe the line, but only as long as they absolutely have to because they now know that their leader has poor character, no self-control, and an utter lack of self-confidence. Whenever a leader engages in verbal abuse, temper tantrums, and harsh punishments that don’t fit the crime, people are quick to look for the door.

Lesson #2: Your people are not your pleasure squad

Great leaders believe that they are there to serve their people. A bad leader is one who has things the other way around. In April, Kim reactivated the pleasure squad that had last served during his father’s reign. Women “recruited” for the squad are forced to live with Kim and submit to his every whim in exchange for $ 4,000 and home appliances. While we have laws in place to prevent such behavior in the workplace, it’s demotivating and demoralizing any time you feel as though you’re only being paid to be at a leader’s service. Great leaders see their position as having additional responsibility to serve those who follow them, to motivate them, and to help them achieve more than they ever thought possible.

Lesson #3: Don’t fear those who might have something to teach you

Great leaders realize that there is always more to learn; weak leaders try to nullify any evidence that somebody else might have more wisdom and experience than they do. Kim Jong Un falls into the latter category. One South Korean official said that he is trying to “erase all traces of his father’s rule” and is “replacing top brass with officers who are loyal to him alone.” Three men who were handpicked by his father to groom the young leader have either been demoted or disappeared entirely, as have three defense ministers and four chiefs of the army’s general staff. Like weak leaders everywhere, Kim has a habit of pushing people out who might have something to teach him, a behavior which stifles good ideas and sends everyone who isn’t trapped by a heavily armed border packing.

Lesson #4: Don’t alienate your allies

Great leaders know that they are only as good as their allies. They cultivate these relationships as one of their most valuable business assets and consider them carefully when making important decisions. Although China has been one of North Korea’s staunchest allies since the Korean War, Kim Jong Un’s lack of consideration for its interests has been a major strain on their relationship throughout his rule. One of China’s biggest aims is to maintain stability on the Korean peninsula. Kim’s provocative solo maneuvers, including widely publicized missile tests, have irked the Chinese and threatened that stability. Leaders who go rogue and make major decisions without considering the input of their allies are tough to work for and even harder to trust and find themselves without any support when they need it most.

Lesson #5: Know the difference between wielding power and having power

Great leaders never wield power for the sake of it. On August 15, North Korea will move its time zone back by 30 minutes. The reason? The time zone was initially set by Japan, so Kim Jong Un sees it as a sign of “Japanese imperialism.” There’s no practical reason to wind the clocks back. Kim Jong Un essentially wants to tell Japan, “You’re not the boss of me.” True leaders are confident enough in their authority that there’s no need to prove it. If you have to prove that you’re the boss by going around showing everyone how powerful you are, you’ve got a big problem.

Bringing it all together

Emotionally intelligent leaders find lessons everywhere they look as their journey continually moves them towards greater self- and social awareness. While our heroes have a lot to teach us, so do those who fail to earn our respect.

Which of history’s other tyrants can teach us valuable lessons about leadership? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

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