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[Opinion] Ambition and Success

Posted November. 13, 2002 22:37,   


There is an old Chinese saying, “It`s hard to pretend to be a fool.” The quote from Jung Pan Gyo in Chung Dynasty is often found in houses of Chinese. Why pretend to be a fool in an age when even smart people find it hard to succeed. `The philosophy of being a fool,` is, in fact, the attitude towards life adopted by many Chinese people. It is a camouflage for survival and a step back for a leap forward. Being straightforward is a virtue only for the less trained. Masters never reveal what they have. Sonja, a famous Confucian scholar, once said that the key to win a fight is “to let the enemy reveal his intention while hiding mine from the enemy.”

▷British BBC recently introduced the eight commandments for Chinese leaders, which has a smack of the being-a-fool philosophy. The second commandment, which followed the first one stressing loyalty to the party, was `be boring.` You have to keep your ambitious plan to yourself even when there is a chance for promotion. Your boss might try to get rid of you, feeling threatened by your existence. It sounds just like the Chinese who are known for not telling what they have inside. Still, a similar thing seems to happen in our business environment. When Samsung Electronics surveyed managers on their favorite kinds of subordinates, a majority answered that they liked hard-working people most and people with leadership least.

▷The reason is simple. Leadership is for leaders. Managers just want their subordinates to work hard as instructed and stay spontaneous, that is, to have what they call followship. Of course, it seems too far-fetched to compare the ambition sought by next-generation leaders in China with the leadership displayed by Samsung`s working-level staff. Yet, the underlying message is that you must not reveal your ambition at any place. Many people think that Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin`s heir apparent who has emerged as the fourth-generation leader, is a boring person. The key to his success was, however, that he was able to read the trends of his time and fit himself in the trends.

▷It makes us shudder to think that naïve-looking Chinese people are in fact just pretending to be so. Chances are that many Koreans have been deceived by the Chinese looks when trading with them. Leadership books are booming, saying leadership is what you need to be successful at workplace. But you have to be careful and not to trust those books too much since you might offend your bosses by pretending to be a true leader. The world is not what it seems to be. Still, it depends on each of you whether to harbor a constant doubt or just believe what you see.

Kim Sun-deok, Editorial Writer, yuri@donga.com