This paper assesses how national leaders’ quality of governance varies with their career and education. Using a sample of 1,000 rulers between 1931 and 2010, I identify three types of leaders: military leaders, academics, and politicians. Military leaders are associated with an overall negative performance, while politicians who have held important offices before taking power tend to perform well. Academics have on average non-significant effects. These results are partially driven by differences in policy decisions and in leadership styles. Military leaders spend less in health and education, are more likely to establish a personalistic regime, to disrespect the constitution, and to move towards a non-electoral regime, while the reverse holds for politicians. Additionally, this paper highlights the weakness of using educational attainment as a proxy for politicians’ quality, and of growth as a measure of national leaders’ performance.