Michael J. Kerrigan

Mike Matthews


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

Restoring Character in America was the hardest of my books to publish. The first book, Politics with Principle was written from my 30 plus years of experience as a Washington Lobbyists. The second, Courage in America was a natural outcome of gaining the trust of the wounded warriors and just guiding them on their story of successful rehabilitation.

The idea of Restoring Character in America did not come easily to me. I read endless books, articles, and visited numerous web sites on several character related topics. Initially my plan was to write a book about our law enforcement heroes. I thought this would be a logical extension of the heroic qualities of the wounded warriors I knew. I had already reported on the wounded warriors traumatic loss, their vulnerability in rehabilitation, then their comeback, the final triumph of successful rehabilitation and transition to civilian life.

In my opinion, our country… Continue reading

Whether the original statement that ““The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (which is attributed by oral tradition to the Duke of Wellington) was meant literally or metaphorically makes little difference to me.

This Irish-American must give the Brits their due, as educators at British boarding schools over the last 200 years, took it for granted that they were teaching character as much as they were teaching math or history.

Ever since the McGuffey Reader was set aside in favor of various educational fads, manifestos and trends, (such as the self esteem movement,) the idea that in America, if you worked hard, and you showed real grit you could be successful, was also set aside.

However, in the last 40 years the question for educators was not whether but how schools should impart good character. In the 1980’s William Bennett made the traditional case… Continue reading


Why raise a moral saying of Publius Syrus,* a Roman slave?

As visitors to the character building project site will note, I record maxims and mottoes as they interest me. Secondly, when I came across the idea of learning well but neglecting to do well, I was reminded of the four exemplars that provided the intellectual foundation for my new book, Restoring Character in America.

The essays of the four character experts demonstrate they are not only learned but also that, through their work on character, they have done well. Few men like Rich Lerner, Mike Matthews, Paul Stoltz and Greg Mooney have their proven intellectual firepower but who have also used it for the good of their fellow citizens.

*Publius Syrus (fl. 85–43 BC[1]), was a Latin writer, best known for his sententiae. He was a Syrian… 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


Yesterday I stated I would address how character traits of ethical lobbyists e.g. trustworthiness, skill, personal influence, relationships, being genuinely committed, being accountable, being inspirational, treating people with respect, and having a positive attitude apply to spreading the message of Restoring Character in America?

Thousands of authors publishing tens of thousands of books each month are not in a position to force readers to buy their books. However, the best of writers who have gained a large readership of their published works have demonstrated the skill of getting readers to willingly to buy their books due to the personal influence and relationship they have built with their loyal readers. So what makes this author of two not so well known previously published books think his third attempt to improve character in America will be successful?

Most writers write the book they want to write. It is much wiser… Continue reading

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

Note: Mike Matthews, Professor at West Point, Author of Headstrong and friend of the character building project has permitted us to share the article below which was just featured in Psychology Today. Mike’s article is very timely in light of our discussion of leadership and character.

“Dr. Matthews enjoying the sights of Mount Everest Base Camp”

Recently, along with two of my West Point colleagues, I was invited to spend two days with one of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) most successful franchises. The general manager (GM) and his associates had read about my research on grit and its role in peak performance, and wanted to learn more. My first reaction to this invitation was one of surprise. It seemed to me that, almost by definition, any basketball player that excels enough to be on the roster of an NBA team must be very high indeed in grit. I accepted… 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

The first question explored in the meeting at the Union League in Philadelphia asked what  has already been done to promote character development? This question was examined from both the perspective of research as well as practice. Today we address the research side and tomorrow, the practice side of character development.

Research… To date, a respectable body of scholarly literature has been published on understanding and assessing character development. This work includes significant contributions from key players in the character field including Dr. Richard M. Lerner, Dr. Mike Matthews, Dr. Angela Duckworth, Dr. Marvin Berkowitz, and Dr. Paul Stoltz. However, the current state of character education suggests the need to extend scientific work beyond publishing and integrating data analysis across multiple research initiatives. Furthermore, researchers and supporters of character virtue development must agree upon common assessments of character to establish a unified campaign.

Translate research into practice. Scientists… Continue reading

Readers of the Character Building Project will enjoy the excellent article, which follows. Not only does it connect present day character education with the values of our country’s founders but also is based on research-based approaches to character.

Perhaps the authors in their next article might cite the work of four education achievers: Mike Matthews, the research scientist at West Point who brought Angela Duckworth to study why some cadets are eagles and others turkeys; but also the vision of positive youth development (PYD) of Rich Lerner best summarized in his 5C’s- character, competence, confidence, connection, and caring the 38 years of research by Paul Stoltz, foremost expert on resilience and finally, and Gary Comer College Prep H.S. Chicago’s most successful charter school in sending graduates on to college, led by Greg Mooney. College counselors should grasp the importance of character attributes and do well to study the work of… Continue reading

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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.