The ‘Be, Know, Do’ Model of Leadership

January 8, 2019 Updated: February 21, 2019


Be. Know. Do. These are three common words, but not just simple verbs in the proper context. Within them, you can discover and unwrap the entire leadership paradigm of the greatest fighting force on the planet, the U.S. Army.

Leaders can’t just hope to passively be an example of what they expect from their subordinates; they have to internalize what they demand from members of their team and live this out fully, completely, and publicly.

This is all about becoming the embodiment of both the core values expected from your team members and the values of your organization. This cannot be a mask you put on or a suit you wear. To employ another old adage, you have to be this person at all times, “even when no one is watching.” This is absolutely fundamental for a high-quality leader: the moral courage to do what is right, regardless of who’s watching or what’s happening.

There can be no room for moral cowardice or intellectual dishonesty at the top.


What does the word “be” have to do with the paradigm of leadership? Is there anything deeper than a superficial and ultimately vapid definition such as “Be the change you want to see in the world”? I dare say that when it comes to leadership, you have to be willing to go beyond a motivational saying overlain on a stock photo hanging on your office wall.

Not only do you have to believe in yourself, your team, your organization, and your mission, somehow you also have to find a way to make others believe in you. How do you do this? Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?

Be a coach. Be a mentor. Be a cheerleader. Be a leader.

You have to be the expert; you have to be the standard bearer. When you’re not the expert or you make a mistake, what then? Be honest and own up to it. Be a person of integrity; that means you have to stick your word.

Be what you claim to be and do what you say you would. When you fall short, you need to have the courage to be open to criticism—even if it isn’t always constructive. Don’t view challenges as problems to be eliminated, but rather as opportunities to grow and overcome. Do what it takes to get the job done on time, without compromising your morals, ethics, or the law.

Above all, don’t be afraid to make a decision. Own your position and own your choices. Don’t retreat from the chaos, run into it. Leaders lead; sometimes that means “embracing the suck.”

Another life hack—or leader hack, if you will—is to pick a role model, a leader you aspire to be like. Strive toward the example he or she sets. To be honest, their public personas will likely be an idealistic version of reality, but all the better for you. Never set your goals so they are easily attainable. Otherwise, you’re not striving for greatness, you’re just treading water.


Knowledge must be an absolute non-negotiable for yourself and for anyone you’re considering elevating to a leadership position inside your organization. Without this essential element, all leaders will lose any legitimacy they had in the eyes of those who should look to them for guidance. This is a universal truth; regardless of the time, place, or industry in question.

It’s easy to start off with authority that is granted by position alone, but that free ride will be short in duration if you don’t have the knowledge to inspire others to have faith in you as a leader.

Leaders are forged in the same flames in which they build their reputations—and reputations are always earned, never given away freely or bought for a high price. You must strive to earn a reputation as an expert in the space in which you are a leader.

You need to know the most minute nuances of your job, as well as having a working understanding of each of your subordinates assigned duties. This is the only way to instill the type of confidence that will empower you to motivate your team members when things are at their toughest. Anyone can give the illusion of being the captain of a ship in fair weather; it is what you do in the midst of a storm that will define who you are as a leader in the hearts and minds of those you are in charge of.

Don’t shy away from demonstrating your expertise when it is relevant and beneficial to your organization and industry. There is much to be said about being a “quiet professional,” but part of being in charge is being an articulate thought leader.

Refine your speaking and writing skills, then leverage them to benefit the organization and your team. This doesn’t mean changing your LinkedIn profile description to “thought leader and keynote speaker.” That is just shallow self-promotion; and trust me, your peers are laughing at you. Do the right thing by your team and your organization and you will reap the benefits; put yourself first and you will fall on your face over the long term.


Do should be a “no-brainer,” but so many leaders fall short when it comes to what should be by now second-nature for any leader. First of all, learn to listen. Always. Be open 24/7, understand your team’s problems, and ask questions that will help them solve them. That’s how you empower future leaders.

Above all, always do what you say you are going to do. If you can’t do this, you have no business being a leader.

And lastly, always be early and never shy away from carrying more than your share of the workload. You have to be ready to take on the hard jobs and then do them well; you can’t do that if you can’t be on time, and no one will take you seriously if they notice you are carrying a lighter load. And, trust me, they will notice both of these things and it will cost you your legitimacy and authority faster than almost anything else.

Following the “Be, Know, Do” model will give you the courage to be the type of leader that always does what is right, regardless of consequence or circumstance. This paradigm will allow you to create a leadership profile that merges who you are and what you believe in, so that you can provide motivation, purpose, and the proper guidance for your team to achieve mission success.

Chris Erickson is a combat veteran and former Green Beret with extensive experience deployed to various locations across the world. He now works in the communications industry. You can follow him on Twitter @EricksonPrime

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.