The Character Building Project

Michael J. Kerrigan

I could not think of a more uplifting message to share with the readers of the Character Building Project during the Christmas season than the following address of my friend and neighbor, David Rathburn, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Grove City College. While currently undergoing the traumatic challenges of stage three cancer, David has kept the faith that he learned many years ago from his parents and his college community.

When I was a student here I didn’t have very much money, so I found numerous jobs to allow me to buy gas and late night food at Pizza Villa – a place long since closed that few around here probably remember it right by the Guthrie Theater.

I shoveled snow (and we had a lot of it in the late 70’s), I wrote sports stories about Grove City athletics for the Butler Eagle and Sharon Herald,… Continue reading

Recently, I viewed a movie that has me thinking about the current state of ethics and leadership training.

Waffle Street, from James Adams’ 2010 memoir of the same title, tells the true story of a bright young MBA who participated in some of Wall Street’s unsavory practices, took the fall for his company’s wrongdoing, and found redemption as a server at a waffle restaurant. A line taken from the movie has me wondering…

What we do is legal, therefore it is not unethical; if it were unethical, it would be illegal.

Here is the story… Although he was basically a good guy, Jim Adams nevertheless succumbed to pressures and engaged in unethical practices common in the financial world of the 2000s, spending six years “talking people out of their money.” When the iffy nature of the $200 million investment he put together became public, his company threw him under… Continue reading

Looking back over my thirty plus years as a Washington Lobbyists rarely have I witnessed the decline and dysfunction of the Congress, as maybe the case today? No doubt this decline is associated with the lack of approval and trust in Members of Congress.

However, several factors in addition to the decline in leadership, have also contributed to the ineffectiveness of our political leaders, namely:

            The coarsening of our public discourse

The degree to which ideological purity intrudes on political pragmatism

The growing importance of money in politics

The refusal of individuals to collaborate for the common good

Voltaire’s aphorism, “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” was once a sentiment in the Congress that encouraged going along with imperfect legislation in order to accomplish the public interest. Today the center cannot hold and that sentiment has given… Continue reading


In view of the above title, perhaps we should be assessing what schools of leadership at colleges and universities are teaching. I offer the following assessment based upon the ideal definition of leaders… those who are both ethical and effective. This character definition of leadership excludes the greater number of our countries leaders, those that maybe effective, but as Dr. Lerner of Tufts University states… “Leaders who show little evidence of possessing admirable attributes of character.”

Rich Lerner also notes that one of the key components is providing opportunities for students to get involved in leadership are through the moral action of character experiences. After hundreds of peer reviewed character publications, Rich believes character develops through mutually influential relations between an individual and multiple and interrelated settings of his or her life. *

My own assessment is that leadership scholars have not sufficiently incorporated the study of character development… Continue reading


The point made by Dean Stam* of The Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy is compelling. That is, character and leadership are not isomorphic and history and the contemporary national and world landscape are replete with examples of the fact that good character may exist in the absence of conventional conceptions of leadership and, as well, there is certainly a plethora of leaders who show little evidence of possessing admirable attributes of character.

As Mike Matthews has been studying for more than a decade at West Point, the challenge for educators is learning how to produce individuals who reflect desirable attributes of both character and leadership. Mike has certainly been the nation’s (and perhaps the world’s) leader in this scientific quest, and he has made considerable progress in identifying the character virtues co-varying with features of desirable and effective leadership. Moreover, through his being a champion and intellectual… Continue reading

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Just Released!

Restoring Character in AmericaRestoring Character in America identifies the decline in character in our country, but then gives the reader hope for the future by showcasing leaders whose careers are successfully turning around this trend in our schools, communities, businesses, and the military.

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Courage in America has been aurally transcribed for the visually impaired, thanks to Volunteers of Vacaville, California. Tel: 704.448.6841 ext 2044.