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Samuel Kim: Why Leadership Matters

Always in a suit, Samuel Hungsoo Kim has the vibe of a savvy Wall Street financial analyst. The Korean national’s easy smile, however, exposes his more down-to-earth background and current aspirations. Born to humanitarian worker parents who moved to the Philippines in order to dedicate their lives to helping the marginalized sectors of society, Kim saw early on that entire nations would “rise and fall” based on the quality of its leadership.

“I used to see a lot of potential here [in the Philippines], but the kind of leadership that people experience pull the string down because the leaders just focus on the surface level,” shared the president of the Center for Asia Leadership (CAL), during its most recent program, the Asia Leadership Forum, in Manila last August 18.

According to Kim, this is probably the reason why the Philippines, which in its glory days in the 1950s and ’60s was second to Japan in terms of development and economic progress, has more recently become known as the “sick man of Asia.” This is on account of the fact that the country continues to grapple with long-standing issues like corruption, mismanagement, and patronage politics. He also explained the difference between “good” and “poor” leadership, reiterating that a good leader goes “beyond what is seen by the naked eye.” Effective leadership entails zeroing in on the source of the problem to benefit the common good. It recognizes and does not neglect those at the margins of society, creating concrete opportunities to promote inclusivity and shared value.

Social realities, according to Kim, is a collective experience built into our institutions, arts, habits, practices, language, actions of our own and that of others. He mentioned that it is important to examine the Philippines’ social realities to enable its leaders to find the roots of the problem and address the most pressing issues.  

What kind of environment molded Kim’s nuanced way of looking at context? Talking to more than a hundred high school students at the Jubilee Christian Academy, he shared that he did not come from a privileged background nor did he even particularly excel in school. Because of the humanitarian nature of his parents’ work, they had to sometimes rely on donations and charitable contributions to meet their daily needs. This, however, did not hinder Kim from blazing a trail for himself, even going on to graduate from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Not departing from his own parents’ chosen path, he talked about how he advocates both “privilege” and “passion” in living a life of purpose. He said that as freethinkers and as educated individuals, we are privileged to have the option to serve others. And in doing so, we are called on to nurture the passion to think of creative ways to help.

Kim also discussed several key factors in achieving success — head, hands, and heart, a three-point strand that one can easily associate with vision, responsibility, and passion.

I asked him what it meant to have a heart, and his answer quite amazed me. According to him, having a heart does not necessarily mean putting others first. For him, having a good heart means having a vision, setting up a plan to realize it, and working towards it. He believes that if you do this well, you will have the capacity to help others.

At the end of his talk, I was able to realize several things. First, we should all look at our social realities and try to think of possible ways to address the current issues that plague the country. Second, we should know our purpose and align our dreams to our vision. Lastly, I also learned that at a young age, we already have the capacity to help others.

Who would have known that I would walk out of a leadership training program, not just with leadership strategies and tools, but with a deep calling to lead with a heart? In the real world, advanced knowledge and leadership skills are not enough–one needs to have the right vision and direction in order to live a fuller life. And this meaningful life doesn’t just involve the leader alone, but everyone else around him whom he has made an impact on.

Effective leadership training courses like that of CAL’s continue to create emerging leaders in today’s world, allowing them to achieve results and initiate impact within their own communities. Samuel Kim and the rest of the teaching fellows conclude the program by posing a challenge to the young audience– “What is one thing that you can give back to the world?” It may seem heavy and daunting, but at the end of the day, it only takes knowing, doing, and being.

By: Chaunne-Ira Ezzlerain Masongsong