Michael J. Kerrigan

Character Development

In previous posts I have made clear that both leadership and character development are legitimate academic undertakings. I have also stated that the former has outpaced the latter, at least in terms of student participation, funding and breadth of publications

Notwithstanding this gap, I just received very magnanimous explanation of why the gap exists. Here follows an excerpt of that explanation from the Dean of one of the country’s elite leadership schools.

Character is harder, starts earlier. Leadership as I see it, comprises a set of skills that can be learned at most any time. Character is a (the?) critical attribute of a person’s underlying nature, which determines how one interacts with other people: morality, honor, thrift, honesty, reliability, etc. If you think leadership is hard, try fixing character…oh wait, you are! There have been many effective leaders of relatively low character, and high character people who were not effective… Continue reading

A corollary to my first lesson of handling the truth is personal one. Rather than using a pseudonym, I have perhaps ill advisedly, placed my own character development front and center for others to see.

When I write about restoring old school values and cardinal virtues like self-control, for example, I realize any time I display any anger after hooking a drive out of bounds, I can be viewed as a hypocrite. So too with other character traits like temperance, I must be mindful never to drink in excess, I must be prudent not to announce my boredom at cocktail parties and I must have the fortitude and strength of character to stay the course when few care about the success of my mission.

In writing about character development, I have chosen to be on a public stage knowing at times, I will fail and risk not practicing what I… Continue reading


In an earlier post I noted the truly great lobbyist and perhaps great leaders are skilled at building healthy relationships. The qualities of character that enable great lobbyist and leaders to build influential relationships are building blocks or habits that they have developed and nurtured over time.

Aristotle would agree as he is credited with the following quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.“ Positive psychologists like Mike Matthews, Rich Lerner and Paul Stoltz would also agree with the classic model of individual learning, that is, before we acquire any skill there are stages of learning, or competence, that we go through.

It is probably no surprise to anyone that character development entails becoming skilled at various positive habits like accountability, discipline, commitment and honesty. Everything we do requires awareness first, then learning and application, and then… Continue reading


In writing Restoring Character in America I learned from four character exemplars (three PhDs and one Community Leader) who contributed essays of their work, there is a character development process. Through this process, especially for individual’s trying to improve their character, a type of discipline discernment is required.

Reading sacred scripture daily may provide life’s answers for my Judeo-Christian friends. Also there are a myriad of guides to help live out the wisdom, meditations and perseverance of the Old and New Testaments.

My secular friends might enjoy reading Ryan Holiday’s, The Daily Stoic. Stoics frame their work around a series of exercises in three critical disciplines:

The Discipline of Perception how we perceive the world around us.

The Discipline of Action, the decisions and actions we take/to what end.

The Discipline of Will how we deal with the things we cannot change.

By controlling our perceptions, the Stoics… Continue reading

Part of the mission of the character building project is to share research articles such as the following abstract by Alyson Byrne, Mary Crossan, Gerard Seijts.

I did not think the authors have come up  with unique insight that “crucible moments in an individuals life can develop character.” However, I am pleased they worked with Canadian Forces in fostering character development.

Business schools strive to develop leadership excellence in their students. In this essay, we suggest that educators should find ways to help students develop and deepen leader character, a fundamental component of exemplary leadership. Frequently, business school students have preconceived ideas of leadership, often neglecting leader character. We argue that educators can and should teach students that leader character is pivotal to leadership excellence and that they should actively develop students’ leader character. The foundational learning theories of Piaget and Kolb provide a useful framework… Continue reading


Readers have asked me whether character really continues to develop over a lifetime? In researching Restoring Character in America I acknowledge personality and values are shaped by genetics, childhood experiences, family relationships and other life influences.

In the present secular age, few academics consider the Christian doctrine of sanctification… the process of growing in grace which clearly calls for life long character development.

For me, it seems fair to conclude lifelong character development is due to personality, genetics, environmental factors and grace.

In response to a previous post about whether character precedes leadership development Richard M. Lerner, Ph.D.
Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science
Director, Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development
Tufts University offers the following commentary.

I wanted to briefly chime in and argue that character development/character education is superordinate to leadership development.

As you know one of my favorite quotes is from President Teddy Roosevelt: “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” I would rephrase this quote to be something like “To educate a person in leadership and not in character is to create a danger to democracy, liberty, and freedom.”

In the work that I am privileged to be undertaking at West Point with my Tufts colleague, Kristina Callina, and our mutual colleague, Mike Matthews, I have learned that USMA and the U.S.… Continue reading

The last several posts summarized a character summit held at the Union League Club in Philadelphia. This post cites a research paper published by Richard Bollinger* of the Templeton Foundation and his colleague, Sarah Clement**, one of the meeting participants. Here is the abstract of the paper.

Adolescent character development is a high priority for educators, policymakers, and front-line youth workers. To meet this growing demand, and as exemplified in the five articles in this special section, character development scholars are drawing from a range of academic disciplines to push beyond the traditional boundaries of the science of character development. These articles highlight important trends in character research, including the codevelopment of a subset of character strengths, the articulation of developmental trajectories of character, the use of advanced methodological approaches, and the implications for education. Studies such as these are critically important for establishing the research base that will… Continue reading


The answers to why some acquire decent character and others do not are very consistent. However, a few respondents say they don’t know or wish they knew. Most respondents believe decent character and early moral development seems largely driven by free will, a desire to improve, good role models, faith, family, grace, mentors and the formation of good habits.



Look for good role models whose actions align with their words. In the word of social media, 24/7 news and online information of every type, it seems that anyone can build and audience/following and become an “expert”. It is very important to do the due diligence and make sure that everything adds up and that peoples actions are consistent with the message.

Family and faith are essential building blocks for the acquisition and retention of good character. While they do not guarantee a decent character it is far more… Continue reading


The answers to how good character helps vary more than responses to other questions in our character survey. The answers run the gamut from producing: compassion,happiness, inner peace, insight, trust, loyalty, patience, perseverance and better balance (the Aristotelian mean between extremes) in life. While others stated having good character helps in making the right decisions and one respondent noted that having good character could be both a blessing and a curse. Others pointed out that having bad character is often rewarded.


People trust you.

Having good character leads to inner peace, meaning that despite whatever struggles I am going through, good character helps me to stay steady and love those around me.

Research shows that people of character are typically happier, healthier, more productive and successful and I believe the reason is they make a gift of self. A lack of moral character is moral relativism and moral relativism… Continue reading



The answers to the role model question were the most varied responses to questions to date. Parents, grandparents, other family members and relatives were the most common answers, with Jesus Christ frequently mentioned as the one person who inspired them the most. Other role models were teachers (especially nuns and priests), coaches, and historical and political figures.


My maternal grandmother of Polish, Slovak descent. Always, always looked for the good in someone and in every situation. Absolutely cherished and appreciated everything that she had.


I was raised in a large family of grandparents, parents, brothers, uncles,

aunts, cousins, friends and teachers, both nuns and Jesuits. They were very positive role models who expected much because I had received much – and they did not do well with disappointment. So my path was clear and hopefully followed.


Jesus Christ is my greatest role model. He inspires me… Continue reading

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