My mentioning that John McCain finished 894th out of 899 in his class at the Naval Academy has led to irate responses that most great leaders do about as well as McCain academically.
I couldn't say for sure, but I found this interesting interview in Failure Magazine with James S. Robbins, author of "Last in Their Class," about the careers of those West Point cadets who were The Goat -- the traditional moniker of those finished last in their graduating class.
The two most famous Goats were the two Georges: George Armstrong Custer of Custer's Last Stand and George Pickett of Pickett's Charge on the final day of Gettysburg, from which the Confederacy never recovered.
Q. At West Point, has there been any relationship between class rank and career success?
A. I never ran across a formal study, but there is folklore about that—that it's always the people from the middle and below who make the best officers and leaders. Now you sometimes find people who graduated at the top and went on to greatness—like Robert E. Lee was second in his class. Or Douglas MacArthur, for example. But frequently you find people like Dwight Eisenhower, who graduated somewhere in the middle of his class and said, "If anybody saw signs of greatness in me while at West Point they kept it to themselves." Or Ulysses S. Grant, who was in the middle of his class. And then all the people I profile in the book, who were from the bottom or near the bottom, who themselves did great things.
My point is the same as in 2004 when the candidates were George W. Bush (1206 SAT score [old style] and 77 / 100 GPA at Yale) versus John F. Kerry (76 / 100 GPA at Yale two years before in similar courses, and no SAT reported but a slightly lower score on the Naval officers qualifying exam than Bush got on the Air Force officers qualifying exam -- i.e., both had IQs in the 115 to 125 range): can't this country of 300,000,000 do better? Sure, being a screw-off in college and being not super-bright doesn't necessarily disqualify you from being a good President, but why do we have to take chances? We don't for jobs like captain of a Trident submarine.
Similarly, what large organizations have Obama and McCain ever managed in their lives? Is McCain going to suddenly learn the art of management at age 72?