Degrees for leaders: Why we need a broader understanding of success

Should a degree be a prerequisite for political office? I ask, because there’s an interesting situation in Kenya at the moment. It seems that the Governor of Mombasa, Ali Hassan Joho, may have forged some of his secondary school qualifications. If this is the case, he could be stripped of his university degrees and, consequently, the chance to stand again for political office. You see, in Kenya, all senior political leaders must hold a university degree.


The rationale for this system is clear: a mind broadened by education will be more equipped for governing and providing visionary leadership. University requires people to develop skills and expand their knowledge-base, and it’s hard to argue that study could in any way be detrimental to a leader. I mean, why shouldn’t leaders need to have some kind of qualification? We wouldn’t trust a doctor without a degree, but all a politician needs are a few votes, and they could wind up responsible for the healthcare, defence, and economic prosperity of an entire country.


Intuitively, then, this system is a good one – who could argue with a means to ensure our leaders are competent? But, would it achieve that? The suggestion that having a degree guarantees competent leadership is belied by any number of political leaders on both sides of the partisan divide. We all probably know more than a few people at uni who are painfully thick. What’s more, leaving a university with a 2:1 in a Mickey Mouse subject is no more a mark of governing competence than guessing a card in a pack.


Should a degree be a prerequisite for political office?


I can give you a number of examples of people who never completed a degree – Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs – who are highly successful and would be qualified for holding office. A system which requires a degree would necessarily lose out on their talents. Placing such stock in the value of a degree is insane when what really matters is drive, the will to succeed, and the ability to keep on walking forward when faced with obstacles along the way. We should value having a good heart, compassion and patience, and the character to do right.


None of this is to say that degrees aren’t important – any chance to expand your mind should be grabbed eagerly, and university does wonders for personal development. Rather, it is clear that academic attainment is not the only mark of talent. To place someone above above anybody else simply because they have a degree is the worst kind of intellectual snobbery and, if we’re frank, anybody who did that would clearly not be the right character to lead anyone.

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