Be•Know•Do: A book review by Bob Morris

Be•Know•Do: Leadership the Army Way: Adapted from the Official Army Leadership Manual
Frances Hesselbein and Eric K. Shinseki (USA Ret.)
Jossey-Bass/Leader to Leader Institute, 1st Edition (2004)

How to develop leaders who have character, competence, knowledge, and results-driven initiative

I recently re-read this book, curious to know to what extent its content remains relevant. My conclusion? It is even more relevant today than it was when first published in 2004. In Richard E. Cavanagh’s Foreword, he recalls a discussion during dinner with Peter Drucker and Jack Welch who shared the same opinion that the United States military services do the best job developing leaders. What we have in this volume is an adaptation by Frances Hesselbein and General Eric K. Shinseki (USA Ret.) of Field Manual 22-100, Army Leadership, with assistance from Alan Shrader. Hesselbein and Shinseki also wrote the Introduction. The material is carefully organized within seven chapters, followed by a Conclusion that reviews the most important points, correctly noting the unique and compelling role that the U.S. Army has played since June 14, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized enlistment of riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year.

With regard to the book’s title, “Army leadership begins with what the leader must Be, the values and attributes that shape a leader’s character…People want leaders who are honest, competent, forward-looking, and inspiring…People willingly follow only those who know what they are doing. One of the quickest ways for a leader to lose trust and commitment of followers is to demonstrate incompetence…Character and competence, the Be and the Know, underlie everything a leader does. But character and knowledge – while absolutely necessary – are not enough. Leaders act; they Do…They solve problems, overcome obstacles, strengthen teamwork, and achieve objectives. They use leadership to produce results.”

I realize that these concepts seem simple. In one sense they are. However, in this context, I am reminded of what Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” The challenge to any organization when developing leaders is to guide those involved to the other side of complexity.” The composite of excerpts from Be•Know•Do identifies core concepts, to be sure, but it also describes the character, competence, knowledge, and results-driven initiative that the U.S. Army seeks to develop within every one of its soldiers, regardless of rank. “No one is only a leader; each person in an organization is also a follower and part of a team. In fact, the old distinction between leaders and followers has blurred; complex twenty-first-century organizations require individuals to move seamlessly from one role to another in an organization, from leadership to `followership,’ and back again.”

Hesselbein and Shinseki are to be commended for their skillful adaptation of Field Manual 22-100, Army Leadership, but also for the inclusion within the narrative of relevant material from sources outside the U.S. Army organization. For example, they quote prominent business thinkers throughout the narrative: James Kouzes and Barry Posner on leadership by example (page 24), John Gardner on the importance of a shared vision (page 30), Patrick Lencioni on teamwork (page 86), and John Kotter on a leader’s “quest for learning” (page 132). Readers will also appreciate the provision of various “Exhibits” such as 5.1 that provides a brilliant illustration of Team-Building Stages.

Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Frances Hesselbein’s other works and the wealth of resources available at the Leader to Leader Institute, a non-profit and tax exempt organization. Also, Warfighting: The U.S. Marine Corps Book of Strategy (Tactics for Managing Confrontation) published in 2004.

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