Why “A” Students Don’t Run the World

By Mac M. Martirossian, CPA

In coaching my twins who are pre-med freshmen at the University of Texas Austin about the importance of grades and academic excellence, I am quick to remind them that success in this world is predicated on variables well beyond good grades.  For the younger readers of this BLOG, it was President Harry S. Truman who coined the phrase “The “C” Students Run the World”. After graduating high school, he worked as a timekeeper on the Santa Fe Railroad sleeping in hobo camps.

Truman never went to college, making him the only President to have served after 1897 who did not earn a college degree.  He later became the owner of a haberdashery and then a farmer.

 

President Harry Truman at age 13, circa 1897

 

Truman went on to become one of our most successful Presidents, serving two full terms, with no college education. This may be obvious, but success is seldom a measure of grades.  Leadership has many definitions.  Here are some ways in which you can be a leader without being a scholar:

  • Make a difference in everything you touch.  Regardless of your station in life, be a memorable and consistent contributor.  Leave a positive imprint in your groups, in your departments and with your boss, peers and direct reports.
  • Master the art of influence.  It’s not about how book smart you are; it’s about how you can influence people to accept your ideas.  Of all the traits that leaders have, the ability to persuade is the single most important trait.  It takes a lot of human interaction to understand human behavior and that it takes to shape opinion in a certain direction.
  • Mind the gap. Being book smart is not enough.  Being multi-dimensional is.  Be competent in your subject matter, and then leap to the other side of the brain and flex it to deal with building relationships.  An average doctor with excellent beside manners has a better chance of running a major hospital than a brilliant one with no people skills.

President Truman had it right; the best and the brightest don’t always get the advancement opportunities.  Great leaders like President Truman take responsibility for their successes and failures.  I guess that’s why he was also the one who coined the phrase:  “The Buck Stops Here”.


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