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June 2013 SAT: Is strong moral character the most important qualification for a leader?

In this blog post, we’ll discuss one of the writing prompts from the June 2013 SAT.
This is the entire question from the College Board :

Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

Many voters think that integrity and character are the most important qualifications for political office. I disagree. Integrity—the quality of standing up for the same values in every situation—is not a good qualification for getting people to work together. Strongly held morals may make a candidate too inflexible and incapable of negotiation. And if character were really so important, candidates would be judged by their personal relationships rather than by their ability to deal with a community’s or a nation’s problems.

Adapted from Stanley Fish, “Integrity or Craft: The Leadership Question”

Assignment: Is strong moral character the most important qualification for a leader? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

This is an interesting question because most prompts ask you to defend morals and good character, whereas this one gives you the choice to do the opposite. The first thing you should do is define integrity. The prompt defines it as “standing up for the same values in every situation.” Do you agree with that definition?

The question is more general and asks you if strong moral characters is the most important. This makes you take a harder stance than you might want to. If you want to defend it, you should provide examples of successful leaders who stood by strict moral rules. You should challenge the assumptions that Mr. Fish makes in the prompt. Does having strong moral character prevent you from negotiating, or does it just make you have certain lines you won’t pass because you believe they are important. Is it true that people don’t judge you for your character? What about public scandals about infidelity?

If you choose to say that it is not the most important, provide counter-examples. What qualifications are more important? Education? Experience? Negotiation Skills? Talk about leaders who failed because their morals fell in the way and those that succeeded because they overcame their personal moral compass. The October 2013 government shutdown might be a good example to discuss!

Practicing with a question dealing with morality is great because many questions come down to basic questions of morality.

We welcome you to write a response and submit it to us for editing! Just email us at [email protected]