Of Mind, Heart and Backbone

Brains are useful, but character is king.

That was the key takeaway from a New York Times Magazine article last Sunday in which writer Paul Tough observed that at the KIPP charter school network, good test scores turn out to be less important to success in life than habits and mindset.

“The students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP,” Tough noted. “They were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class.”

Certainly, Peter Drucker was one smart cookie himself. But, like the folks at KIPP, he gave relatively little weight to raw cognitive ability.

Photo credit: Pink Sherbert Photography

“Management should not appoint a man who considers intelligence more important than integrity,” Drucker warned in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “If he lacks in character and integrity—no matter how knowledgeable, how brilliant, how successful—he destroys. He destroys people, the most valuable resource of the enterprise. He destroys spirit. And he destroys performance.”

[EXPAND More]Also, being smart on paper doesn’t necessarily equip you to deal with the real world. “Being an employee means living and working with people; it means living and working in a society,” Drucker wrote in People and Performance. “Intelligence, in the last analysis, is therefore not the most important quality. What is decisive is character and integrity. And integrity—character—is the one thing most, if not all, employers consider first.”

What do you think: What exactly is good character—and can it be taught?