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Philippe Charlier: Leaders of the past | TEDx Aix

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Henri IV, Descartes, Richard the Lionheart, Galileo. What can we learn from these great leaders?

Before we had only history to teach us about the leadership skills of these great characters. Their heroic stories were enshrined in gallantry and folklore. But now that we have forensic and medical science to investigate their relics, we are able to paint a more accurate and realistic picture of the lives they led. We know by studying the remains of Henri IV, for example, that he had cataracts in both eyes, high cholesterol, missing teeth and three massive abscesses. Despite this, he was one of the most celebrated kings of France, known for his tolerance and peacemaking skills. His charm and charisma also made him popular with women, which demonstrates that those with spirit and a brilliant character have the ability to make people forget physical imperfections.

Another example is Descartes, whose brilliance influenced the work of mathematicians and philosophers and whose skull is preserved in Paris. By using the skull to reconstruct his brain we can say with certain accuracy that, while Descartes was a genius, his brain was no different to anyone else’s. What does all this teach us? That what counts in being considered a great leader is not your physical presence or your intellect, it’s how you use the attributes you were born with in the best possible way.

Philippe Charlier is a forensic and medical anthropologist. He is an expert in studying kings, queens and saints of the past.

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