Robert Caslen

Episode 24: Lt. General, USC President Robert Caslen and Dr Michael Matthews

E24: Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, Jr. is the 29th president of the University of South Carolina and former superintendent of West Point.

He is a highly decorated military leader who served in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf War.

Under his direction as Superintendent, West Point was recognized as the number one public college in the Nation by Forbes and the number one public college by U.S. News and World Report.

He led a sweeping reversal of Army’s football program and developed a culture of excellence through winning with character, culminating in Army defeating Navy in 2016 for the first time in 14 years, and beating both Air Force and Navy in 2017 to win the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy for the first time in 21 years.

He was recognized with a Life Time of Service Award from the American Red Cross, the Honorary Rock of the Year Award for his efforts in diversity as the Superintendent of West Point, the 2018 Gerald R. Ford Legends Award for lifetime service, and the NCAA Theodore Roosevelt Award.

He has a bachelor’s degree from West Point and a MBA from Long Island University.

He co-authored the book, The Character Edge – Leading and Winning with Integrity, with Dr Michael D Matthews who is also included in the interview.

Dr. Michael D. Matthews is Professor of Engineering Psychology at West Point. He has served as President of the American Psychological Association’s Society for Military Psychology and authored more that 250 scientific papers, including a book called, Head Strong: How Psychology is Revolutionizing War.

The Character Edge: Leading and Winning with Integrity

Lieutenant General Robert Caslen’s LinkedIn Profile

Lieutenant General Robert Caslen’s website

Dr. Michael D. Matthews’ website

Dr. Michael D. Matthews book: Head Strong: How Psychology is Revolutionizing War


  • Why Bob still leads PT (Physical Training) for college students, the routine he follows, and what it says on the coin he gives to those who complete ten workouts.
  • What’s been the biggest lesson from Bob’s distinguished military career.
  • "The straw that stirs the drink" in all human interactions.
  • The 3 C's of trust and using them to improve trust in your team.
  • The “Mouse Trap” exercise to test communication skills…using REAL mouse traps.
  • The "Bank of Public Trust" and why every leader must understand it.
  • What it's like leading a large University through the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • The message Bob delivered when he took out a full-page ad in the paper.
  • The unlikely story of how the book, The Character Edge, came together.
  • How to define character.
  • How the Godfather of Positive Psychology (Martin Seligman) and the top expert on Grit (Angela Duckworth) informed The Character Edge.
  • The strategy West Point uses to develop character, and how to use it with your team.
  • Three steps for addressing a character flaw.
  • How Bob’s transformation of the Army football program and how character came into play.
  • How a high-character military leader and an Iraqi tomato paste factory transformed a dangerous war zone.
  • Why did legendary Duke basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, bring the entire USA basketball team to the West Point Cemetery?
  • The character crisis, and what we can do about it.


3 Cs of trust on leadership:

  • Competence
  • Character
  • Caring

Strategies for building character:

  • Teach what character means in an organization.
  • Allow time for self-reflection.
  • Establish a set of standards that must to be enforced.

Big Three factors for building character:

  • Positive and sustained mentoring.
  • Skill building curricula and training.
  • Providing more responsible leadership opportunities.


“If you want to be an effective leader you must build trust.”

“You’re nurturing leaders by giving them leadership opportunities.”

“Consider what discipline means to you and how you coach discipline”


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