Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

The "Be, Know, Do" Model of Leader Development

Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

The "Be, Know, Do" Model of Leader Development

Article excerpt

The U.S. Army provides leadership doctrine for all its members in the form of a unified leadership theory familiar to virtually all their officers and non-commissioned officers. The foundation of this general leadership theory is the Army's "Be, Know, Do" (BKD) model of leader development (LD). While the BKD model has many elements in common with more well-known academic approaches to leadership and LD, the BKD model has some distinctive emphases that set it apart from these more conventional treatments. This article examines the BKD model, evaluating its strengths and limitations, and then suggests how organizations interested in leadership development might adapt the model to their own particular circumstances.

In choosing the most appropriate procedures for developing leaders, an organization must first determine what leadership precisely entails. For the U.S. Army, leadership is "influencing people by--providing purpose direction and motivation--while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization" (FM 22-100, 1999: 1-4). The broadness of this definition is noteworthy. It does not initially identify the primary sources of influence or distinguish between potentially different influence sources, and one could easily substitute "management" for "leadership" and still have a meaningful statement.

While such broadness downplays potential differences between leaders and managers in terms of motivation (Zalenick, 1977), operating perspectives (Bennis & Nanus, 1985) and emphasized processes (Kotter, 1987), there may be little practical value in separating leaders and managers when it comes to development (e.g., Bass, 1990; Yukl, 1994). For the Army, the implications of a broad approach to leader development are enormous. Leader development becomes synonymous with "whole person" development. Because individuals influence others by their character, by their competence, and by their actions (FM 22-100, 1999: viii), effective leader development must focus on the type of person an individual is ("Be"), the kinds of competencies he has ("Know"), and the kinds of decisions he makes ("Do"). Put slightly differently, "becoming a leader involves developing all aspects of yourself" (FM 22-100, 1999: 1-6).

For HRM practitioners, the BKD model warrants a great deal of attention, given its endorsement and large-scale use by a major, highly diverse organization whose mission requires the ongoing creation of new leaders. Shaped and modified by actual experience in developing officers and non-commissioned officers in the different branches of the U.S. Army, various drafts and versions of the BKD model have influenced Army leadership doctrine for over 50 years. Thus, the Army's long-term, continuing reliance on the model offers strong evidence of its robustness. Additionally, because it is the basis for actual leadership training at various organizational levels, the model necessarily elaborates on LD in specific detail and provides focused points for individuals to consider when executing LD for themselves, their people, and their organization (FM 22-100: ix). With some exceptions (e.g., McCauley, et al., 1998; McCall, et al., 1988), this level of pragmatic, "how-to" detail is rare in LD models.

The "Be, Know, Do" Model

The values, attributes, skills, and actions that form the BKD model are necessarily interrelated, and the integration of these elements working together produces effective leadership. In this respect, each side of the BKD triangle can properly be understood only in terms of the other two sides. Nonetheless, in the following sections, we discuss each component of the model separately for the sake of clarity.


Because the Army sees itself as a values-based organization (FM 22-100: viii), the BKD model places significant emphasis on "character-based" leadership. This orientation assumes that people are sensitive to the values and attributes explicitly and implicitly displayed by leaders, and that they are at least partially influenced by the example leaders set. …

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