An Ability to Judge Character

By | September 19, 2021

[September 19, 2021]  One of the most difficult character traits of leaders to obtain, and to develop, is the ability to judge character in others.  Leaders are looking for specific traits in people that predict successful mission completion or are obstacles to teamwork.  Sadly, we often see inexperienced leaders who misjudge character; leading to unforeseen problems.

“I admire men of character, and I judge character not by how men deal with their superiors, but mostly how they deal with their subordinates, and that, to me, is where you find out what the character of a man is.” – General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

During my time as a leader in the U.S. Army, I discovered early on that nearly all senior leaders are first-rate judges of character (there were exceptions, of course).  Their capability was gained through hard-hitting experiences because, unsurprisingly, there is no other way to develop it.  So crucial is this ability in leaders that those who cannot create the social and intellectual skills necessary to distinguish good and bad character are often not advanced in their careers.

It is interesting that despite the importance of the talent to judge character, there are no U.S. military training programs dedicated to it.  I think the reason may be due to its elusiveness.  Yet, we frequently discuss the concept of acquiring the right characteristics to succeed.  This disconnect in training versus character development is striking.  Although there are a number of civilian based courses that address it I’m unaware of their effectiveness.1

Some people claim that the skill to make good judgment about the traits of others is inborn and is not learned. They cite studies that show that dogs are good judges of character in people.  I’m not sure if this is wishful thinking on their part.  I personally consider myself an excellent judge of character and I worked hard to develop it, yet my wife is far superior to me and yet she has far less experience with people.  Perhaps there is something to the idea that it’s innate.

Regardless of how we gain the ability to judge character, it is important to note that those who cannot do so would be best served if they had someone close to them who could help.  I admire those with this skill because they have always been the best people to work with and to have as a friend.


  1. A cursory review on the Internet reveals many civilian companies that claim they can show us how to make good judgments in others. Furthermore, one can find a number of studies in psychology that supports the idea that the skill is learned and not innate.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

9 thoughts on “An Ability to Judge Character

    1. Max Foster

      Yes, Tom, correct. People evaluate others’ moral character — being honest, principled, and virtuous — not simply by their deeds, but also by the context that determines how such decisions are made. Furthermore, the research found that what differentiates the characteristics of moral character (from positive yet nonmoral attributes) is that such qualities are non-negotiable in social relationships.

      1. Jonnie the Bart

        Good points, Max. Once again, thanks for your effort to help educate us.

  1. Greg Heyman

    You judge the personal character of others by your perception of how they respond to challenges. You may assume that someone who does a brave deed has outstanding personal character or is an heroic type of person. On the other hand, you may judge a person who quits or gives up as someone who lacks determination and has a lower personal character.

  2. Silly Man

    We can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior. So, let’s be aware of that as well, we can fail at this important trait. 😊

  3. Nick Lighthouse

    Excellent blog post. Appropriate as my pastor talked about the same subject at church earlier today.

  4. Eric Coda

    Good article, Gen. Satterfield and something to consider. I’m sitting here in my easy chair this morning and I’ve had some time to think about your article, … and I must say that I do agree with it. A little more detail would have been nice. Thanks.

    1. Harry Donner

      Yep, and you would expecting something more convincing. Just take a look at US PRes Biden, what a man cannot judge character, his face would be on it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.