Despite his undeniable and innate ability to lead, Sancho is constantly underestimated and belittled by others throughout the novel. During Sancho’s governorship, people assume his effectiveness in the position is a fluke and is due to the position itself, not to Sancho’s own qualities. Cervantes says, “All those who knew Sancho Panza marveled when they heard him speak so elegantly and didn’t know what to attribute it to, except that positions of responsibility either sharpen or dull one’s intellect” (858). Rather than acknowledging the fact that Sancho has always been a wise and thoughtful leader, his success is attributed to anything other than him. Don Quixote contributes to this collective mindset as well. He writes in a letter to Sancho, “Expecting news of your blunders and nonsensical acts, Sancho, my friend, I heard instead of your wise judgements, for which I give particular thanks to heaven, which can raise the poor and stupid from the dunghill and make them wise” (880). Don Quixote fails to recognize Sancho’s strength of character and suggests, instead, that it is by some divine miracle that Sancho, an unintelligent commoner, is suddenly wise.
In the same letter, Don Quixote goes on to tell Sancho, “They tell me you that you govern as a man but as a man you’re like a dumb animal, such is the humility you show in your dealings” (880). In actuality, Sancho, although poor, has always been wise and subtly intelligent. However, he seems to have internalized some of the misconceptions people have about his intelligence, causing him to be overly humble when it comes to his leadership capabilities. Don Quixote’s consistent battering of Sancho’s self-worth reveals don Quixote’s own insecurities and poor leadership skills.
Sancho begins to believe he is incompetent, as don Quixote suggests, saying to the villagers, “I don’t know anything about arms or rescuing. This matter is better left to my master, don Quixote, who will take care of it and set it straight in a flash. I, sinner that I am, don’t understand any of these troubles” (894). Sancho’s absolute confidence in don Quixote is misplaced, since, in reality, he is far wiser and more mature. Although it seems for most of the novel that don Quixote is in control and in charge of Sancho, it is truly the opposite. Sancho essentially babysits don Quixote on his adventures, unknowingly giving him the illusion of leadership but offering up his own wisdom and guiding don Quixote along the way. Sancho himself is not aware of his role as a leader, yet nevertheless it certainly becomes more apparent to the reader towards the end of the novel that Sancho is more of a leader than an accessory or sidekick. Despite the elaborate pranks and teasing that Sancho endures, he maintains his composure and wise disposition throughout it all.