It’s Hard to Measure Leadership in a Test

By | April 12, 2018

[April 12, 2018]  When I was working on my college degree, I heard the story about a small group of students who were admitted to Navy ROTC and yet none had the proper grades.  It was a clerical error but they were allowed to stay and, to everyone’s surprise, all but one finished.  At that point, I concluded that it is hard to measure leadership and overall success in a written test.

“But the person who scored well on an SAT will not necessarily be the best doctor or the best lawyer or the best businessman.  These tests do not measure character, leadership, creativity, perseverance.” – William Julius Wilson, American University sociologist

I was having dinner several years ago with a number of family members in celebration of a new baby.  Good times were had by all but one thing stuck out for me.  One young lady, sitting across from my wife and I, who was to graduate from High School that month bragged about how smart she was and how she planned to get her doctorate degree in education before she turned 25.

What she failed to do, however, was graduate from college.  It wasn’t her mental skills that were challenged; she performed well in academics.  What stopped her from graduating was her inability to “relate” to students where she did her student teaching.  Now, this is reported to me second hand but from what little interaction I had with her that makes a lot of sense.

This incident, like so many I’ve run across, demonstrates that leadership cannot be measured in a test that we take with a pencil.  If you want to be a teacher at any grade level then you must demonstrate some leadership and some connectivity with your pupils.  She eventually found a job programming computers and she is happy.

Attempting to measure leadership or any other social skill using paper tests is foolhardy.  Yet, colleges and other advanced educational opportunities continue to repeat this mistake over and again.  Good leaders should be wary and not make the same mistakes.1


  1. English Professor William Deresiewicz has written on similar subjects and has come to the conclusion that college students have become “profoundly unintellectual.”  Students, he noted, were interested in getting good grades but lacked the passion for anything involved in pursuing a career that didn’t make them lots of money and fame.  Those students believed that grades were everything but those grades themselves failed, of course, to measure student character, passion, and moral fiber.
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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.

26 thoughts on “It’s Hard to Measure Leadership in a Test

  1. Jung-hoon Kim

    We give no written test for leadership only practical experience used to judge increase in rank.

  2. Kenny Foster

    Another good blog post that ties together many aspects of leadership.

  3. Tomas C. Looney

    Our society rewards those most able to navigate the bureaucracy!

    1. Jerry Jones

      Yep. I saw this long ago when HR folks at my company were getting promoted ahead of floor managers who made the system work. Go figure! They knew what was required to get a promotion over those too busy leading.

  4. José Luis Rodriguez

    THIS was never my problem. I never did well on tests anyway. I’m happy people recognized potential in my hard work, loyalty, and passion.

  5. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

    English Professor William Deresiewicz is the man to read. A voice of clarity in a forest of confusion.

  6. Danny Burkholder

    Funny thing to talk about millennials and their personal problems. Legal drug use, illegal drug use, psychiatric visits, depression, and on and on. And they think they are the smartest generation ever. Bwah ha ha ha.

  7. Joe Omerrod

    Millenails lack resilient personalities. To bad.

  8. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    Millenials are having a problem and that is they are seeing difficulty in relating to a diversity of people without getting into a tither. I think the reason is that their parents told them they were the best in everything and are “god’s gift to humankind.” They think highly of themselves. Result? Narcissism is on the rampage; just like a disease we fail to treat

    1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      Bill, yes and thanks for the quick analysis of a big problem. More folks should listen and also learn from the past those things that work.

  9. Andrew Dooley

    I’ve read other articles by William Julius Wilson and found him a breath of fresh air.

    1. Andrew Dooley

      I agree. Very much unlike what we think of today as a sociologist.

  10. Anita

    Howard Gardner proposed a model of intelligence in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. The theory holds up the idea that there are many types of intelligence, not just book learning.

  11. Jonathan B.

    I’ve also run across some very smart people. They knew they were smart and thus didn’t think getting along with others mattered too much. Then one day they had to work with others on a team; failure resulted, disappointment and frustration was a daily affair. Everyone suffered.

  12. Max Foster

    Tests only measure a certain aspect of intelligence, not all of it. Unfortunately, our society only focuses only the narrow band that can be measured. Look to our universities today and you will see a SICK CULTURE of ACADEMICS that encourages non thinking and a progressive ideology that destroys the soul.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      I think you may be onto something Max. Thanks.

    2. Mark Evans

      Yes, good comment Max. There is such thing as Emotional Intelligence and various other kinds.

  13. Edward Kennedy III

    One of my early career peers was a brilliant young man who knew just about every detail of the Viet Cong that we had at the time. He was a walking encyclopedia and was well known as the “go to” man on intelligence. What he could not do however was led men into battle. That was what ultimately destroyed his career. Sad but true.

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