The Three Orders of Leadership Greatness

by Stephen T. Messenger

May 10, 2022

Many times, we gravitate towards following leaders that are good looking, physically fit, and well-spoken. This is especially true in politics, where often the most polished candidates become elected, sometimes regardless of their policies.

French philosopher Blaise Pascal understood this theory and spoke on what he called the three orders of greatness.

The First Order – The Body

Pascal called the first order the body. This is superficial, physical greatness where riches, beauty and physique are the contributing factors. They look the part. They are strong, attractive, and give off the appearance of leadership. On first impressions, these people are the ones that others will follow.

The Second Order – The Mind

The second order of greatness Pascal called the mind. It covers genius, science, and art. This is the intellectual aspect of leading others. These leaders have seemingly advanced insight into problems. They are well-spoken, articulate, and can inspire others through their knowledge and communication. This order is of a much higher plane than the first.  

Pascal talks about the greatness of the mind through specialized areas such as music, art, or language. In terms of leadership, these people are intellectually stimulating. They inspire others through their brilliance in words and deeds. Often this second order takes followers more time to assess than the first order.  

The Third Order – The Heart

The third order of greatness he called the heart. According to Pascal, this plane is far above the body and mind. Pascal talks about these three orders from a religious perspective, but from a leadership lens, the third order is live a life of humility and integrity above all else. It is to truly care about those we lead.

At times, many of us miss the mark on the third order.

We put so much effort into looking and acting the part of a leader. We wear the right clothes and practice our words to make a great impression. We focus on the superficial aspects of leadership so that others may follow based on pedigree, past achievements, and our hopeful brilliance.

But at the end of the day, it’s the third order of the heart that truly matters. We must go into every engagement with a heart for the people we lead. Often, we forget that every decision we make impacts our people.

Leading is so much more than making good decisions for only the bottom line and organizational success. It’s about understanding the impact we have on the people around us.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

All three orders are important. An example of a leader who personified all orders is General Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War II. For the first order, he looked and acted the part of the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe. He was physically and mentally strong.

For the second order, he was a military genius. He deftly maneuvered the politics of multiple countries and world leaders to defeat the German war machine. Moreover, he inspired his soldiers when he spoke to them.

But his leadership shone in the third order. General Eisenhower passionately cared about the service members in his command. He had an impossible decision to make in 1944 on whether to initiate the D-Day invasion based on poor weather forecasts and casualty estimates.

It was a gut-wrenching decision.

After deciding to go ahead with the attack, General Eisenhower placed himself among the preparing invasion force the night before to see off the troops. He mingled with the paratroopers and truly cared about the young men he was sending into battle.

One Red Cross worker gave the account of her giving him a cup of coffee. Eisenhower’s hand was shaking so badly from the stress of his decision and sending this force into combat, she was afraid the coffee would spill on his hand and burn him. She took the coffee away.

Eisenhower spent the night thanking his troops and wishing them good luck.

Despite sending these young men to their potential death, Eisenhower stood among them until the last plane launched.

His heart for his people far outweighed his stature or intellect. He displayed care and compassion for those under his charge. This story of walking among the troops and caring about the soldiers in his command is still told almost 80 years later. It is the heart that truly matters.

While the best leaders usually have all three orders of greatness, if you’re going to lead, focus on leading with your heart. Your team will notice. 

Lead well!

Join over 100 people who receive a weekly, free email on leadership every Tuesday from The Maximum Standard. This is one of many ways to grow as a leader—read, think, discuss, write, and practice leadership, and you will get better!

4 thoughts on “The Three Orders of Leadership Greatness

  1. Nicely done Steve! This is a great truth they doesn’t get highlighted often. People follow best when they believe the leader respects and cares for them. Unfortunately corporate and government systems often reward and elevate those leaders who pedal fastest, even while all the pedaling keeps them from doing heart leadership on foot.


    1. Jon, I totally agree! They system is rewarding the wrong metrics. Leadership needs to look at what creates a lasting, sustainable workforce while still meeting corporate goals. Starting with the heart should result in organizational success – but some cultures don’t respond due to years of being abused. Some places need a total reboot!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: