Intelligence is no Substitute for Good Character

By | August 26, 2021

[August 26, 2021]   While there are many aspects of leadership and good works, intelligence is no substitute for character.  Coaching, teaching, and mentoring are some of the processes that go into the makeup of a great leader and are of such importance that it has been recognized throughout the history of humankind.

The United States Marines Corps’ leaders are fond of saying that the foundation for leadership is character, intellect, and integrity.  They also clarify that character is higher (meaning of greater value) than intelligence as a foundation for leaders.1  In doing so, they have based their understanding on many of the world’s greatest philosophers in Western civilization.

The proverbial question asked throughout the ages has been, “What makes a great leader?” From Aristotle as a philosopher to Homer the writer, reading their works and those like them elicits a distinct theme where an individual’s character is built like a stone into something solid and resilient.

Intellect, integrity, and experience combine to form the fabric of wisdom and bind character to action; all leaders are biased for action.  Such sentiments are common in the world’s militaries and in successful enterprises where excellence of performance is praiseworthy.

Many in Western civilizations, however, value intelligence over all other human traits.  In movies, we see it where the most brilliant person solves all the riddles and rescues the “downtrodden.” We see it in the media where the intelligence of a person trumps that individual’s character.  And, we see it in human social interaction when we ask what a person “does for a living,” and their brainpower determines one’s place.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of education.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., Baptist Minister, civil rights activist

Today, while those who study leadership understand that character is the most important part of what a leader does, most folks have yet to grasp this concept.  Yes, intelligence matters, as does wisdom and ethics.  This only exists if reinforced by leaders who focus on character development; our success as a society depends upon it.




Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

17 thoughts on “Intelligence is no Substitute for Good Character

  1. Dead Pool Guy

    Why doesn’t Joe Biden just resign now and get the pain over with? Simple, he knows that the news media will cover for him and start the “new” narrative that he is the greatest savior of those getting out of Afghanistan with a “Berlin airlift” type of operation. Mark my words, you read them now.

  2. Valkerie

    Another article to tickle my brain and get me to thinking. General Satterfield, yu da man.

    1. Joe Omerrod

      Yeah, V. We have an idiot in the White House and his sidekick ran off to Europe. You know, man. You know. The Thing.

  3. Edward M. Kennedy, III

    “Today, while those who study leadership understand that character is the most important part of what a leader does, most folks have yet to grasp this concept. Yes, intelligence matters, as does wisdom and ethics. This only exists if reinforced by leaders who focus on character development; our success as a society depends upon it.” You nailed it, Gen. S.

  4. Plato

    Gen. Satterfield, you are running an excellent leadership blog here so I want to pass along both my thanks and praise. I’ve been a regular reader of it for many years and enjoy each day as I long on for another does of leadership. Often, you write about leadership in the trenches. Keep up the great work you are doing and for allowing us a forum to discuss ideas respectfully and politely. That is the mark of a good leader as well.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Yep, you got that right and one of the reasons I’m a better, broader thinking leader today myself.

  5. Autistic Techie

    MLK’s quote is appropriate there but he also addresses an important issue. Intelligence plus character. You have to have both. And, both are learned. Let’s not forget that piece of the human puzzle. The new Marxist “progressives” on the political left are all in for in-born traits (like skin color and gender). The leftists have adopted a proven failed system of thinking. It will take time, but always push back on these racists for what they really are.

    1. JT Patterson

      Autistic Techie, good point. Also, an important point often made by Gen. Satterfield, is that these very same ‘progressives’ believe they are morally and intellectually superior to the rest of humankind. They are neither. Their superiors have convince them so. They suck up the propaganda like a spong.

      1. Harold M. Smith II

        Our education system today does not agree and that is why we are dumbing down our formal educ systems. We need to reverse course now.

    2. Tom Bushmaster

      Excellent for you to bring this up. And for JT to mention the thinking of political leftists. They are those that refuse, purposefully refuse, to learn because they are so ‘superior’ why would you want to learn? That is a huge problem.

  6. Martin Shiell

    Good article Gen. Satterfield. Thanks. I agree but would like to see you develop this idea further. I’m sure others have gone down this path.

  7. Frank Graham

    Beautifully written and argued. I stand by that thought as well. Too many really really smart folks I know need their hand held in areas where moral judgement is required. Funny that.

    1. Rev. Michael Cain

      Yes Frank, interesting. Are we reaching the limits of human ability? Or is this a built in feature of human nature. The smarter we are, the less we have the innate ability to fail at doing the right thing. Yes, “funny that.”

    2. Fred Weber

      Agree, an excellent article again by Gen. Satterfield and one that I will be printing and putting on the bulletin board at my workplace. That is, if the new stupid governor of New York state doesn’t force lockdowns.

      1. Max Foster

        Ha Ha, you’re just jealous of California and Oregon where the fascist governors have taken over the minds of the sheep that live there. We’re going to find out soon enough whether California might actually have a few thinkers in the election to reject the governor. Maybe just maybe they can elect Larry Elders, a black conservative. Maybe. We’ll see.

        1. Greg Heyman

          Once again Max you nailed it. Gen. Satterfield set up the idea here for us to discuss and you are all over it. Let’s all hope Larry Elders wins the election and then we can watch the propagandists head’s explode.

        2. Big Al

          Yeah, let’s hope so. I’m not from California, but I’ll be watching to see how really dumb (or not) they are.


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