Michael J. Kerrigan



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

One of the more influential readers of my posts recently stated, “There have been many effective leaders of relatively low character, and high character people who were not effective leaders.” He also stated “ Leadership as I see it, comprises a set of skills that can be learned at most any time.”

In my view, character can also be learned but slowly and carefully. I subscribe to teachers of the distant pass, such as Aristotle and Plato who taught that, whether teaching leadership or character, it is a long, hard and broadly based process.

One of America’s preeminent management consulting companies takes a slightly different view, as Accenture believes, ”leadership does not require formal authority or personal charisma and that every person has the capacity to lead effectively with integrity and that this capacity can be developed over time through discipline practice.”*

I was pleased that the Accenture Leadership… Continue reading

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


In recent posts, I have been drawing parallels between the Leadership and Character Industries. Teaching how to lead (where the money is) offers another area where Leadership studies have outpaced Character studies.

Students who want to be leaders have a range of options from which to choose and can engage in a number of undergraduate activities (i.e. student government, sports and campus clubs, etc.) in addition to leadership courses.

Here are but a few of the scores of academic offerings which can be found on college campuses across the country:

UVA’s Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy

Yale University’s Leadership Institute

Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership

Northwestern’s Center for Leadership

University of Iowa Certificate of Leadership Studies

Rice University Study of Leadership

In addition to the hundreds of schools with majors in Organizational Leadership, there are MBA’s on Leadership, as well as professional leadership associations and Institutes such… 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

To illustrate the sad state of leadership in corporate America, I have listed just five of the many “leaders” who seemly fail because they repeat their mistakes. Rather than having the self-awareness to learn from their failures, these flawed leaders seem to me to be arrogant, tragically stubborn and compulsively repeat their mistakes.

Jeff Immelt GE CEO whose shares have vastly underperformed the stock  market during his 16year tenure

Angelo Mozilo, former CEO of Countrywide Financial who had to pay $67.5 million in penalty and reparations

James Cayne, former CEO of Bear Stearns who appeared clueless as his company collapsed

Jerry Yang who presided over the decline of Yahoo

Tony Hayward, CEO of BP who was forced out after his part in the worst  environmental disaster in U.S. History

Your list of flawed CEOs would likely contain convicted executives of Enron such as Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and… Continue reading

In a recent post I offered my view that “one can have both inspiration and insight by studying the wit and wisdom of one America’s most beloved Presidents.” Trusting we can hone our leadership skills by becoming students of the 16th President of the United States, I have excerpted below several of Lincoln’s principles from Donald Phillips, Lincoln On Leadership.


Wage only one war at a time.

Try ballots first; when ballots don’t work, use bullets.

Seize the initiative and never relinquish it.

A good leader avoids issuing orders, preferring to request, imply or make suggestions.

Be your organization’s best stump- speaker, with droll ways and dry jokes.

Choose as your chief subordinates those people who crave responsibility and take risks.

Stand with anybody who stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.

The probability that you may fall… Continue reading

Many remember well Doctor Martin Luther King Jr’s. “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on 23 August 1963. One wonder’s whether our nation today has come closer to his vision of judging our fellow citizens not by the color of one’s skin but by the content of one’s character.

In my first book, Politics with Principle: Ten Characters with Character I profiled ten politicians who not only were real characters but also possessed character. Understanding a series of personality traits they possessed, I could see what they had in common was they are all character-based leaders.

In my second book, Courage in America: Warriors with Character, Rich Tedesci, a psychologist at UNC Charlotte, helped me better understand the patience, perseverance, grit and other character traits the seven warriors I profiled in this book, either innately possessed our developed in response to traumatic injuries.… Continue reading



Recently, I asked my friend and author of The Heroic Heart, Tod Lindberg,  how the study of heroism might lead to the development of character, leadership and other virtues? Here is Tod’s answer…

I think one of he most useful aspects of the lens of heroism is that it draws people in to broader topics. For instance, it’s one thing to hear a lecture on how Rome established a Republic. It’s another thing altogether, far more vivid, to tell the story of Lucretia and her suicide to prove her accusation of rape against the son of the Roman king, leading to the fall of the monarchy. Likewise, in discussing political order and the danger of disruption, the personal story of Julius Caesar, or of the row between Agamemnon and Achilles, brings the subject to life, especially for students, who are often the victims these days of very dry,… Continue reading


Many believe the topic of heroism is critically important to our politics, culture and needs to be properly taught in our educational system. That is why I am studying the path of ordinary Americans, heroically overcoming adversity.

Some time ago I reacted to the growth of “extreme egalitarianism” and the “self-esteem” movement, then and now, infiltrating our educational system. As a reaction, I was motivated to launch The Character Building project site. Our mission is to foster character building strengths in a rising generation of citizens by sharing the stories of ethical leaders who presently serve or have served others.

My vision to enhance character development is by writing, researching, teaching, speaking about leadership that illustrates the relationship between character development and the individual’s reasoning skills, moral will and self-discipline.

The reaction to my first book, Politics with Principle was positive inside the beltway but outside the beltway not so… Continue reading


Lessons of Hope is likely to be read by most educators, but it should also be read by all reformers of the status quo. I say that because this is a story of one man leading the charge for change against a bevy of ardent status quo defenders.

Imagine the courage it took to take over the nation’s largest school district–one that was already suffering from low graduation rates, gang violence bleeding into the classrooms, and faculty close to their breaking point. Joel Klein accepted that challenge from Mayor Bloomberg, and took on the education of over one million kids. He was charged by the Mayor to reform NYC schools and transform the dysfunctional ones in high poverty areas into a nationwide model for improved public education.

In his eight years as Chancellor of NYC schools, Joel Klein not only demonstrated perseverance, but proved radical reform could succeed amidst formidable… Continue reading

Sign Up for Updates
For a limited time, grab a FREE copy of the book, Courage in America: Warriors with Character
Mottoes & Quotes
For the Visually Impaired
Courage in America has been aurally transcribed for the visually impaired, thanks to Volunteers of Vacaville, California. Tel: 704.448.6841 ext 2044.