The fear of history
On Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, and the personality traits that make for good leaders
Among the most widely-cited of Shakespearean lines is one from "Twelfth Night": "[S]ome are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em". It's not actually true: Nobody is born great, at least not in the sense we use "great" to mean both noteworthy and admirable. Child prodigies burn out all the time, and truly great adults are -- without exception -- shaped by their experiences into what they become.
■ We are undoubtedly born with certain kinds of programming deep in our DNA. Attentive parents can detect personality traits in their newborns, and it wouldn't be outlandish to assume that everyone is born with predispositions among the big five personality traits. Yet those traits can (and often do) change over time, and experiences have effects on them. More significantly, every individual is born with at least some self-awareness, which can (and ought) to be used to refine who they turn out to be.
■ Perhaps the most important trait we can hope to find among those leaders who turn out to be "great" is an attunement to history. It is noteworthy, for instance, that in our own time, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy ably speaks of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 and analogizes weapons deals to the Lend-Lease Act. He is self-evidently aware of history and of the place in it that has been thrust upon him.
■ Only people who are actively aware of history in that kind of way can be trusted to behave in a way that reflects the fact that history is watching them. It may not be a sufficient condition (certainly some people think they're on the "right side" of history when they in fact are not), but it is an utterly necessary one. The people who think that history doesn't matter or who take none of the prospective judgment of later generations into perspective are the ones who ought never to be entrusted with power.
■ A high regard for, and perhaps even a healthy fear of, the judgment of history is a precondition for sound leadership at the highest levels. And that regard really cannot be instilled without a proper working knowledge of the past. Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest of American Presidents, almost chronically referred to history for orientation (think "Four score and seven years ago"). If a civilization wants good leaders, perhaps the most important thing it can do is put the knowledge -- and a little bit of fear -- of history into all its people, just in case greatness is thrust upon 'em.