Characteristic# 71: Political Competence

By | August 27, 2014

[August 27, 2014] During the Korean War in 1951 U.S. President Harry Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of his command for making public statements that contradicted the administration’s policies. MacArthur did not have a full appreciation of what he could and could not control and who were his allies … he underestimated the President. Despite having great military strategic and tactical knowledge, MacArthur made the mistake of letting his political competence lapse. Political competence, though rarely spoken about, is a critical characteristic of senior leaders.

Senior Leadership


The term “political” here is not used to reference a political party: democrat or republican. The ability to make things happen depends upon not having just a great vision and strategy to achieve it. Much of the success of senior leaders is dependent upon identifying allies and resistors, getting people to agree, building coalitions, and then having the ability to lead all of them.

“When you know what to do, then you can do what you know.” – Anonymous  

Political competence is the ability to know what can be controlled. It means knowing who will resist and who is needed to help the leader. Finding common ground, knowing the interests of others, and bringing people on board to the leader’s ideas is crucial. A leader can have the best ideas and the most brilliant strategies, but will likely fail without political competence. It means that the leader has the knowledge to analyze the work environment and take the appropriate action.

General MacArthur had let his political competence plummet. Perhaps it was due to his age or the fact he was in a difficult and unpopular war far away from the shores of America. Regardless of the excuse, he did not exercise his political competence to the fullest and was fired from his job.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.