In the world of K-Pop, leadership is typically viewed as something of utmost importance. The leader of each K-Pop group isn’t expected to simply play the leader figure towards one’s groupmates; the leader must also become the public voice for his or her respective group and carry out the role with immeasurable maturity. For some leaders who were simply given the position because they are the oldest members of their groups, they may feel the burden. Imagine living in a world where all eyes are on you, and one wrong move by any of your groupmates reflects directly on your own abilities. While the pressure to maintain your own image may be stressful enough, there is added pressure to maintain the group’s image as well. What, then, does it take to be an effective leader? Is it possible to have more than one such leader in a group?
Most people understand the definition of a leader to be “someone who leads”. In fact, even Merriam-Webster provides us with this very simplistic definition. However, leadership studies often teach us that being a leader isn’t as simple as that; rather, they teach us that a leader is someone who influences others towards achieving a common goal. In order to better understand what it means to be a leader, it is necessary to understand what it means to be a manager. Leadership studies also teach us that managers are those who accomplish organizational goals in an efficient and effective manner through the efforts of subordinates. To put it simply, a leader’s main focus is people, while a manager’s main focus is the task at hand. This makes an effective leader someone who focuses on those involved while completing what needs to be done.
The episode of SBS Strong Heart that aired on December 15, 2009 is well-known in K-Pop as the episode in which Taeyeon spoke about her desire to step down as the leader of Girls’ Generation. While she stated that she would like the members to manage themselves, it appears that Taeyeon’s words weren’t without further justification. As the years went by, it became more evident to fans and non-fans alike that the members of Girls’ Generation treated each other like family and that they viewed each other as equals. From a leadership perspective, Taeyeon’s “resignation” came about as a transformation from one type of leader to another as she attempted to step away from the leader image in order to let the other members shine.
To this day, if you ask any SONE who the leader of Girls’ Generation is, most will name Taeyeon without a second thought. Even after speaking about her insecurities as the leader of Girls’ Generation, Taeyeon has continued to grow and transform as a leader. She continues to play the role, not just to Girls’ Generation members but to SONE as well. A few examples of her leadership can be seen in the fanmade video below.
However, there are those who continue to criticize her ability to lead. Some believe that she isn’t a good leader because other members have become the voices of the group. Others criticize her timid personality and lack of presence, stating that a good leader can’t be found in such a person. However, being the opposite of Taeyeon doesn’t necessarily make a person a great leader. Many of history’s most effective leaders were also the type of people who wouldn’t have been considered leaders at all, yet they succeeded in their respective fields through perseverance, humility, and good will. These individuals can be identified as Level 5 Leaders.
A Level 5 Leader is someone who possesses a working combination of personal humility and great professional will. Many of those identified as Level 5 Leaders were not the idealistic picture of a leader; rather than being charismatic, larger-than-life extroverts, these individuals were quiet, slightly off-beat, and awkward. However, despite their lack of pretense, they sought to achieve great things. Level 5 Leaders ask for help when it is needed and give credit where credit is due rather than reveling in success. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of their teams’ members and allow those members to showcase their strengths whenever possible. They lead by example and display endless passion for what they do.
Taeyeon is undoubtedly a Level 5 Leader. On the December 15, 2011 episode of “Happy Together”, Taeyeon was asked if she had any desire to become a solo artist. She replied, “No, I’m doing fine in a group thanks to all the other members… The other members help to cover up for the things I lack in. I think I’m more fit for group activities as compared to being a soloist.” Despite being the main vocalist of Girls’ Generation, she feels that all members play equally important roles in the group. She never forgets to include the fans as an integral part of the group, frequently thanking SONE using her iPad and through acceptance speeches. Her humility is truly unrivaled. Her will is the will of Girls’ Generation – a never-ending drive to work hard in order to present the best possible image.
Taeyeon thanks fans for showing their support for Girls’ Generation.
This isn’t to say that Taeyeon is the only leader-type in Girls’ Generation or that the only way to lead is by being a Level 5 Leader. Each member of Girls’ Generation possesses her own individual style of leadership. Jessica is known for being very straight-forward and honest. While some may not appreciate honesty, it is one of the most important qualities a leader can possess. Trust is built on honesty, and followers follow a leader who is trustworthy. Sunny is jokingly referred to as “60Sunny“, the grandmother of Girls’ Generation, by the other members, due in part to her well-rounded knowledge and aged personality. This may not be the only reason though, as Sunny is one to take good care of her members, an act that may be described as paternal leadership. Tiffany, also known as Ti-manager and Manager Hwang, appears to have the mindset of an all-around businessperson. Likely to become a future CEO, she possesses both leadership and managerial characteristics that seamlessly coexist. Hyoyeon consistently motivates the other members and even fans with her wit and charm. Her natural ability to understand the moods of those around her and transform the atmosphere to a positive one makes her a good leader. Yuri is also the type to motivate others, but she does so through her own self-motivation. She’s the type to work hard in whatever she does, which further inspires others to do the same. Sooyoung, a member who speaks well and is practically fluent in three languages, has become the voice of Girls’ Generation, speaking at SMTOWN press conferences where mostly group leaders were present. She is the type to adapt to a situation rather quickly and steps up when it is necessary. As the “center” of Girls’ Generation, Yoona had to take on great responsibility even before the group debuted. She persevered through the toughest of storms and continues to work as hard as ever. She leads by example, proving that you shouldn’t let anything stop you from achieving your goals. Seohyun is, without a doubt, a born leader. Her conviction and self-discipline are strong, and she usually tries to do what she believes is best for herself and others. Perhaps one day she’ll become a government leader or something far greater.
The influx of new K-Pop groups has given rise to new traditions in the K-Pop world. A large number of the newly debuted groups don’t have an official leader; that it isn’t to say that they don’t have a leader whatsoever, though. Leadership is common, and in many cases, it is situational, meaning that certain individuals step up when it is deemed necessary. In the end, there really isn’t one “right” way to lead; the only measure of leadership ability is how effective a group is at achieving its goal.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are solely those of the author and are not representative of the Soshified community as a whole.
Credits: Soshified | Girls‘ Generation Universe