Michael J. Kerrigan

West Point


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

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

This week our son Jack hosted Donna and me at their ocean front beach house in the Outer Banks (Corolla) of North Carolina. Enjoying their hospitality and watching our grandchildren having fun in the Ocean, still offered me plenty of time to read, Paul Tough’s, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.

Given the nature of my web site, my focus was understandly on Chapter 2 … How To Build Character. The next several posts contain my analysis of this chapter. The chapter is built around a discussion of the immersive style of schooling at the KIPP Academy in the South Bronx. KIPP stands for Knowledge Is Power Program. Although I was somewhat familiar with KIPP, I was immediately heartened to see the influence of Martin Seligman’s, Learned Optimism being practiced at KIPP Academy. The first takeaway in this respect is that the KIPP “students who… 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

Michael D. Matthews Ph.D.

Head Strong

The mission of the United States Military Academy (West Point) is “to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country, and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the United States Army.”

This mission statement, with its emphasis on character as a fundamental component of leadership, may seem quaint to those outside the military. But given the dauntingly challenging task of leading soldiers in combat, it is no surprise to anyone with military experience that West Point — and the nation’s other service academies — include character development as a core part of its leader development strategy. As I have written previously, high technical competence cannot make up for questionable character when leading others in dangerous… Continue reading

In about 180 pages General Jim Anderson and his West Point graduate son have crafted a practical leadership manual based the Aristotelean model but supported in clear drills on how to build one’s own character(see pages 28&29.) Just like Aristotle’s model, the Andersons book is designed with the idea the more we speak about making wise choices, the more likely we are to act in that way.In brief our habits form our character. The forward to Becoming a Leader of Character, written by no less than Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski (the number one in all time coaching victories in NCAA Men’s basketball) shares the Anderson treatise and foretells the “practice drills that form our Habits of Character.”and those that the Andersons’ lay out; namely; “Our character is in our own control. We build it, sustain it or destroy it based on our choices. The choices we make daily prepare us… Continue reading


As a “recovering lobbyists”, I maintain an interest in observing how influencers interact in insightful ways, often with these interactions producing exponentially raised success rates.

I was honored to be invited by Team Red White and Blue (teamrwb.org) to speak to cadets at the United States Military Academy. One of the many highlights of this trip was the opportunity to meet with Michael D. Matthews, the Professor of Engineering Psychology at West Point. Soon thereafter Oxford University Press published Matthews’ most recent book, Head Strong, How Psychology is Revolutionizing War. I was so impressed with Head Strong that I chronicled it in five posts on The Character Building Project. (Please see the Head Strong Chronicle #1: Does War Stimulate Science Or Vice Versa?)

Mike is now on sabbatical working for the Army Chief of Staff in the Pentagon. Hoping to put two thought influencers together, I introduced… Continue reading

Among the many lasting memories of my most recent visit to West Point was to hear stories of old blood and guts…General George Patton. As the GI’s in WWII used to say, ”his guts and our blood.”

General George Patton

General George Patton

In thinking about the following quote from Patton, it occurred to me our exploration of character should expand beyond our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to those warriors in law enforcement who also move to the sound of the guns.

Death must not be feared, in time, comes to all of us. And every man is scared in his first action. If he says he’s not, he’s a goddam liar. Some men are cowards, yes, but they fight just the same, or get the hell slammed out of them.

The real hero is the man who fights even though he’s scared. Some get over their fright in a minute, under… Continue reading

I am originally from Newton, MA. Growing up, I had a good relationship with my grandfather, who was an Army officer during World War II. He told me fascinating stories, and based on our interactions and my fascination with history, I became very interested in military service. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I decided to put college on hold and enlist in the Army as an Infantryman after graduating from Newton North High School.

Jon Silk

Jon Silk

I was initially assigned to the Old Guard–­a great assignment! I decided I wanted to see more of the Infantry and reenlisted for Korea and was assigned to 5/20 Infantry at Camp Casey, Korea. Shortly after I reported to the unit, we rotated up to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. We patrolled the DMZ on a regular basis, conducting reconnaissance patrols during the day and going out on… Continue reading

Earlier in the week, my Christmas reading list was completed when I received from Oxford University Press, Head Strong… How Psychology is Revolutionizing War, by Michael Matthews.

9780199916177_140 Thanks to my friend Captain Jim Nemec, I had the good fortune of meeting Professor Matthews during my recent visit to West Point. Notwithstanding feeling ill that day, Dr. Matthews soldiered in to our meeting. We met in his office for an hour-long discussion about his honor in teaching the Cadets, his decade long work in positive psychology with Marty Seligman and Angela Duckworth and the role of psychology in support of our military operations.

I realized in meeting Matthews, I had met special person and patriot. He is not just a Professor of Engineering Psychology at the United States Military Academy, former President of the American Psychology Association’s Society for Military Psychology and a Templeton Foundation Fellow. The former Air… Continue reading

Yesterday I was honored to discuss Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) at West Point not only with Cadets and Officers there, but also with such caring individuals as Doctor Caroline Angel whose reaction follows.

Mr. Kerrigan,

Thank you so much for your presentation this evening. I really enjoyed hearing
about the Warriors you profiled in your book and I am looking forward to
reading it.

I think the discussion of post traumatic growth is an incredibly important one. While I was driving home from USMA, I started thinking about PTG in the context of the health literature. As I mentioned, I am very much a student of this growing area of research and, dare I say, practice.

The story of trauma at least from the health perspective is lopsided (a quick
search of PUB med yielded a paltry 300 hits for posttraumatic growth and over
10,800 for posttraumatic stress); it is… Continue reading

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