Why you don’t need a formal education to be a good political leader

Good leadership is hard to find in our modern day generation of political leaders. Many political leaders seem to be seriously lacking some of the most vital qualities of good leadership, such as integrity and accountability. It is no coincidence that the word “politician” carries a lot of negative connotations. However, experience tells us that only a handful of leaders approach the principles of leadership and show strong indicators of a successful political leader. Beyond the typical political dramatic play that surrounds political leaders, they also play a big role in determining the distribution of power and money through government policies. Other roles include making decisions that can have a major impact on their citizens. There is a consensus among political enthusiasts that only people educated with academic degrees should be allowed to compete for senior government jobs. This article will examine whether formal university education is important in developing a good leader.

Candidates seeking to run for the highest seat in developed nations like the United States, France, England, and Germany are not required by their various constitutions to have a formal university degree. I’ll use the United States as an example. Some former presidents took the initiative of getting a college degree, even though it was not a constitutional requirement.

Joe Biden, the current President of the United States, obtained his college education at the University of Delaware. He attended law school at Syracuse university. There have been at least ten past presidents of the United States who didn’t have a college degree, but went on to become a success during their tenure in office. Although they did not graduate from college, these presidents learned from their hard work and determination.

These former American presidents show that, indeed, you don’t need to have a formal university degree to be successful:

1. George Washington (1789-1797)


2. James Monroe (1817-1825)


3. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)

4. William Henry Harrison (1841-1841)


5. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)


6. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)

7. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)

8. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)


9. Grover Cleveland (1885-1897)


10. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)

These presidents had great success during the majority of their terms without a university degree. Let’s take a look at successful business leaders who, despite not having a university degree, went on to become successful:

1. Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft)

2. Mark Zuckerberg (co-founder and CEO of Facebook)

3. Michael Dell (founder of Dell Inc)

4. Zhou Qunfei (founder of Lens Technology)
5. Steve Jobs (co-founder of apple and Pixar)

6. Richard Branson (founder of Virgin Group empire)

7. Evan William (co-founder of Twitter)

8. Ted Turner (founder of CNN, Cartoon Network and Turner Network Television)

9. David Murdoch (CEO of Dole Food company Inc)

10. Shawn Corey Carter aka Jay-Z (CEO of roc nations)

The one thing you can learn from the most successful people listed in this article, is that you do not have to have a formal education to be successful.

What impact do university courses have on political leadership competencies?

Virtually every university in the world provides courses that are somewhat related to leadership, some of which are geared towards political leadership. These courses teach students the requisite traits as well as the necessary protocols to be successful leaders, only from a theoretical aspect. Some academic courses related to political leadership development include political science, international management, international relations, business administration, management and leadership, human resources and organizational leadership. With the help of these courses, students who wish to assume political roles in the future can learn the following leadership traits:

  • Good Communication skills
  • Teamwork
  • Public Speaking
  • Interpersonal Communications
  • Strategic Planning
  • problem-solving skill
  • Good knowledge of how a government is structured
  • Accountability and Responsibility

There is no question that leadership learning in universities is done from a theoretical perspective. The only practical leadership training a student can obtain at university is if they participate in school politics, like being the president of the student union or something related to it. The benefit of school politics is that it gives aspiring leaders a real sense of what leadership would be outside of school, but it still does not entirely teach one how to be a good leader.

What qualities do you need to be a good political leader, and does formal university education have a role to play in it?

A good leader will be able to tell the difference between success and failure. The qualities that make a good leader will vary from person to person, for those who seek advice from others will often look for the qualities they see or want in themselves. A person with good leadership skills can make a big dream come true. Let us examine whether formal education can play a role in the realization of certain qualities of a good political leader:

1. Excellent Communicator

Any plan for leadership transformation must include communication. To be a good leader, by all means necessary, you need to be able to communicate your vision to the people you govern. In layman’s terms, You should be able to clearly define your set of goals and how you intend to achieve them. Does having a formal university education make you an excellent communicator? My response to this is No. Depending on the language you use to communicate, You don’t need formal education to be a good communicator. Communication is considered complete when your message has been understood and related tasks have been carried out. Some people are born with the capacity to communicate well, regardless of their knowledge of their native language. Good leaders are good motivators and therefore great communicators. Formal education can only help you become better at communication, and it can’t make you learn it.

2. Honesty and Virtue

As I previously stated, leadership is a natural gift. You can either be born a leader or a follower. You don’t always have to be the best or the most successful to be a good leader. The success of a leader is dependent on their core principles and beliefs. Leadership means taking full responsibility for your failures and not blaming others. Being a successful leader in this generation, will require honesty and good virtue. How can you expect the people in your government to be honest, if you don’t pay attention to these qualities? We can all agree that obtaining a formal university education can’t teach good manners. Honesty is a natural quality that is influenced by your upbringing. Even the best university in the world cannot transform a thief into an honest person. It is also important to note that nearly a significant number of educated political leaders in history have turned out to be the most corrupt. Do the names Ferdinand Marcos, Slobodan Milosevic, or George W Bush mean anything to you?

3. Courageous

A good political leader must be brave enough to take decisive action that will change the lives and fortunes of his people. Once again, you do not need a formal university education to become courageous, as it is another natural gift rooted in us.

4. Good decision maker

Intelligence and decision-making are two things that are inseparable. Leaders sometimes have to make tough decisions. A good leader can determine the best decision that will lead to change. Therefore, it is best to consider your options before making a decision, and to stay consistent after the decision is made. Once again, having a university degree might not necessarily teach you how to make good decisions.

5. Delegate tasks to the right people

One of the best ways to show leadership qualities is to give important roles to the most qualified people. This particular quality is lacking in leadership in Africa. It is becoming increasingly common for presidents to appoint persons to delicate positions who lack experience or integrity, simply to satisfy the demands of their godfathers. The only reason there is something wrong with governance in Africa is because the wrong people are in positions of power. Any leader with integrity can effectively delegate tasks to the right people, and therefore does not need formal education to teach them how to do so.

A brief guide to how education is perceived in Africa

Take for example in Africa, an educated person is viewed as someone close to godliness. Obtaining a university degree only serves to elevate one’s social status instead of serving the true aim of improving the standard of society. It is for this reason that an overwhelming majority of Africans believe that anyone who intends to stand for the highest political office must possess at least one bachelor’s degree or more. Africa has had numerous educated leaders, but none of them have been able to improve her fortunes, instead, they have contributed to her rot and decay. Poverty, unemployment and ongoing conflict continue to increase in the continent. The Europeans, who made us believe that a university certificate is a beautiful paper to obtain, continue to develop at Africa’s expense. It is not surprising that people are starting to question whether formal education is really necessary for Africans, since all we do is consume what others have made and not make anything ourselves. To make matters worse, the majority of political leaders in Africa have bastardized the relevance of formal education by either purchasing academic certificates from corrupt educational institutions or even altering them.

Even though some of you may disagree with me, I still don’t see how a university degree can transform someone to a good leader. A university education can only help you develop your leadership skills from a theoretical angle and nothing more. However, formal education does not teach you how to practically hold a political office. Empirical evidence shows that there isn’t a strong correlation between what people learn in university and how good they will be in leadership. Keep in mind, my learned readers: campaigning and governing at the highest level are very different tasks. If you decide to apply for public office, the formal education you gain may not provide you with great benefits. If anything, informal education through grassroots politics can make you a better leader. 

My Verdict

To justify my facts, I would like to say that, good leaders are generational talents that come once in a lifetime. A person born with leadership competencies is rooted in originality in thought. These thoughts, combined with determination, have the potential to be beneficial to society as a whole. King Solomon of biblical times was one of the greatest rulers that walked the earth. It was the (Most High) God who blessed him with the gift of knowledge, and this helped him to succeed as the king who united Israel. Yet the idea of formal education was alien to the people of his generation, but they nevertheless flourished. Formal education can only teach a variety of leadership traits, but applying these traits in the real world is too challenging a task to accomplish. I believe that formal education teaches you nothing more than to help a certain business owner succeed. This is why educated people end up working for less educated people. The global education system was designed to teach you only how to follow instructions, but not how to think critically or create. The world will be better off if naturally gifted leaders are allowed to govern. As Always, it’s my opinion.

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