[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.