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 leader at West Point of the longitudinal study he, Kristina Callina, Diane Ryan, Dan Smith, and I, among many others, are conducting, we are going to be able to tell a more nuanced story of the how pathways of character development and leadership become intertwined across the 47-month educational experience at West Point.
However, I think that one point that I would make now, even before, all the data are in, is that character is not something that can be taught – at least in the sense that other aspects of a person’s knowledge or skill repertoire (e.g., French, algebra, author mechanics) can be taught. Character must be developed. Character develops through mutually-influential relations between an individual and multiple and interrelated settings of his or her life, including (of course) the family, but also schools, peer groups, out-of-school-time activities, faith institutions, places of employment, and experiences in the natural physical ecology.
I hope these comments are of some use. Needless to say, I would be happy to talk more/expand on these points should any of them be of interest.
* Teaching Character is Harder Than teaching Leadersip
**Richard M. Lerner, Ph.D. Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science Director, Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development
** Full Disclosure… Rich Lerner authored an essay in Restoring Character in America titled: Character Development Among America’s Youth: Lessons I Have Learned