Small Wars Journal

The Hands, Head and Heart Leadership Model

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 9:21pm

The Hands, Head and Heart Leadership Model

Ted Thomas and Ted Ihrke

“You flunked!” These are words no one likes to hear, but that was my evaluation after my first attempt at becoming a jumpmaster. I was an engineer officer filling an infantry slot in an elite ranger battalion and newly assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Infantry Regiment where my first task was to complete Jumpmaster School. My first jump since graduating from Ranger School almost three years prior would be as a student in Jumpmaster School. Jumping out of airplanes is quite a challenge for me since I get airsick and am afraid of heights. I would now hang out of an aircraft door over 1200 feet in the air and be responsible for the safety of the other jumpers. I was scared, nervous, and feeling sick. My voice quavered and my legs shook as I gave the jump commands. Afterwards, when I asked the evaluator why I flunked, he said that I had not done anything wrong in my commands or actions in the aircraft but that I looked scared. I assured him I was scared, but I told him he could not flunk me for simply looking scared. He told me as a jumpmaster I was responsible for the safety and well-being of 64 jumpers on the aircraft. A scared jumpmaster will have all 64 jumpers scared and a scared paratrooper is not a safe jumper. I flunked.

That night I talked to my wife and reflected on what I should do. I decided the only thing I could do was to act like a confident, excited jumpmaster. If there had been a panel of judges, I decided my performance would have to be good enough for them to award me an Oscar for my performance. The next day I slapped people on the back, grunted, and sounded enthusiastic. I popped my chest out and strutted around like I knew exactly what I was doing. I acted like I was the expert jumpmaster; I focused on the jumpers and their mood and spirits. When it was time to give the jump commands I watched the jumpers and shouted out the commands with enthusiasm, almost acting angry when I did so. After I landed I thought about the experience and realized that I had not been as scared or felt as sick when I acted confident. I was more focused outward on the safety of others than inward on myself. When I received my evaluation I passed with no issues, winning my own private Oscar in the process.

Training and Education

Although Jumpmaster School is taught in a training environment, it gave me a tremendous education in leadership. Leadership educators often discuss whether leadership can be taught in a classroom. I have no doubt that leadership can be taught, but the more relevant question is whether the student in the classroom can learn leadership.

After years of teaching, I believe there are three important aspects that should be emphasized when teaching leadership in an academic setting. The first is to develop better judgment by becoming a more critical thinker. Critical thinking is a disciplined approach to thinking that considers the discrete components of thought as well as the quality of thought.1 The second aspect in leadership education is to realize the importance of humility, which leads to a more open mind to learning. Humility enables good leaders to understand the importance of lifelong learning. Teachers can help students by challenging their paradigms, helping them realize none of us have all the answers, and no one is right all of the time. Challenging paradigms is also a good way to exercise critical thinking. The third aspect students can learn in the classroom is the development of a context to make meaning or sense of their own experiences by learning and applying models and theories of leadership in different environments. Theories of leadership are normally developed after people study what successful leaders did or did not do. John P. Kotter, in his 1996 book Leading Change, developed his change model after analyzing hundreds of leaders and trying to explain how they were successful in initiating and maintaining change in their organizations.2

Studying pure theory can be both dry and irrelevant, but when tied to a story as the context to frame the theory, it becomes “sticky” and pertinent to the learner. To improve retention it is helpful for the student to relate theory to their own personal experience and project into the future what this means to them and how this will help them with future leadership opportunities and challenges. Deriving meaning from our experiences is a deliberate endeavor and represents a key element of reflective thinking.3 Studying theory provides a vocabulary and context to explain and understand personal leadership experiences to self and to others. This understanding will help students link their experiences to their present thoughts to become a basis for future action.

There is a definite distinction between training and education, although there can be considerable overlap between the two. The importance in the distinction lies in how the instructor approaches teaching the student. In training, the instructor tells the student what to think and in some cases how they should think in certain situations. Education, on the other hand, is focused on providing a learning context that fosters the development of the three aspects of leadership previously discussed. This context consists of blending theory with reality. An excellent method is the use of leadership theory reinforced with a case study to provide context and help with meaning making. This teaching strategy allows students to analyze and synthesize information. Training teaches the “correct answer” and is used in situations where there is a clear cause and effect relationship resulting in certainty. Education prepares leaders for problems that have no correct answer; there is not an explicit cause and effect relationship established yet and one may never emerge. Uncertainty clouds decision making in situations requiring the skills and habits of thought developed in education. Training often focuses on drill or muscle memory while education emphasizes reflection and deeper thinking. In training there is an input requiring an action and then time to reflect on performance.

In education, there is an input which requires reflection on what to do and then action to do it. It is usually easy to measure training results because there is a right answer or because a time, distance, or quantitative measure can be applied. In education there may be no experience to compare performance or to measure the success of a solution. Training tends to be teacher centric with the instructor serving as the “sage on the stage,” while education places emphasis on the learner guiding his or her own experience and understanding. The teacher then becomes the “guide on the side” in the learning process.4

The Hands, Head & Heart Model

Army leadership doctrine is codified in ADRP 6-22 and is largely defined by the Leadership Requirements Model. This model describes the attributes and competencies needed by the leader to be successful and by definition this model is leader centric.5 However, leaders don’t operate in a vacuum; therefore, leadership can more accurately be viewed as an enterprise between the leader and the led. The maturity and effectiveness of the relationship between these parties will largely dictate the nature of that relationship and the appropriate leadership techniques.

The diverse nature of the relationships in an organization, as well as the complexity of problems faced emphasizes the three aspects of leadership education we previously described, as well as the concepts of training. The Hands, Head and Heart Model uses the ideas inherent in both training and education to describe a leadership model that fits in a diverse organizational setting. Training involves doing, applying, executing, and behaving. Figuratively, it is the “hands” of the model. By contrast, education is the knowing or thinking and represents the “head” of the model. It involves principles, doctrine, rules, and knowledge of the individual or organization. The third area of the model is the “heart,” or the becoming part. This involves the end state or vision. It is where values, beliefs, and purpose come into play. The Hands, Head and Heart Model fits exactly with the Army’s Be-Know-Do Model developed over 30 years ago.6

We have addressed the relation of training to doing and hands, the relation of education to knowing and head, but we have not looked at a corresponding concept for becoming and heart. This third area deals with how a person sees himself and those around him, his schema, biases, paradigms, and beliefs. The heart could be described as a person’s personal philosophy and belief system.

Thus, one’s belief system deals with emotions and feelings. It explains “why to think” instead of “how or what to think.” The heart is values centric instead of instructor or student centric. It deals with a values based answer instead of a correct or uncertain one. It involves reflection first, then action, and finally input. The reflection is where the belief and value systems are formed. The action is taken to foster that belief system and the input is the result of the actions taken. Instead of the way things are (training) or the way things can be (education), it becomes the way things ought to be according to that belief system. When work rises to a level that involves the concepts of beliefs and values it becomes a profession. 

Using the Affordable Health Care Act as an example, there is a philosophy behind the decisions that created this legislation. It is a philosophy that every person has a right to health care. If that is the case, then supporters believe the government has a responsibility to take care of the health of its citizens. By extension, since the government taxes its citizenry to provide government services, then all of us share in that governmental responsibility. In other words, the government has a right to tax one person to pay for the health care of another person.

Opponents generally believe that the government is one of the least effective and efficient ways to help people and that people have a personal responsibility to take care of themselves and not pass that burden on to others. In either case there is a personal belief system or philosophy regarding the proper role of government. This belief may cause people to get very emotional, based on their values.

We have discussed the three corners of the hands, head, and heart triangle. Between the three corners are the legs of the triangle. These legs are identified as structure, desire, and trust. Structure is what connects the head and hands, the knowing and doing.

It is the processes, programs, resources, people, money, facilities, assignments, organization, rewards, punishments, and the leadership and education programs. If the structure is not in place, there is either great frustration because of an inability to do what we know and understand, or a lot of drudgery in doing because of a lack of understanding of how it fits together. Most organizations work in this area between coercion and compliance. In some organizations, such as a sweatshop making clothes in Bangladesh, the leadership is perfectly happy controlling the hands of its workers and paying them for a job. In other organizations, career employees are treated as a commodity to hire or fire based on their knowledge, education, and performance. Many high tech companies are organized this way.

The second leg of the triangle is trust, which ties the hands to the heart. To achieve commitment to the organization and to its vision there needs to be trust that what one is doing will achieve the desired vision and values. Trust needs to flow up, down, and laterally within the organization.

Trust also needs to exist in the organization itself and its purpose, values, interests, and vision, as well as trust in the equipment, competence, and capacity of the organization. Without this trust the employees will never adopt the vision and values and devote their heart to the mission.7

Desire forms the third leg of the triangle and it ties together the head and the heart. There has to be a desire to become part of the vision, a desire to adopt the values and beliefs espoused, and a dedication of one’s heart to the vision. If there is no desire to be a part of the vision, to adopt the values, then there will be no commitment and the heart will not be in it. The desire has to be personal, but can also be reflected in a cultural or social desire connected to how the person was raised. This leg is tied to personal emotions and feelings which connect the head to the heart.

In the middle of the triangle are routines, reflection, and relationships. They are enablers because they help facilitate the development of the three legs of the triangle. Routines are the equivalent of organizational habits and they become part of its culture. They are connected to the hands or doing part of an organization. Routines can be constructive or destructive.

The leader has a choice to let them happen or to consciously choose routines that enhance the organization’s effectiveness and efficiency. The structure often drives the routines but there are also informal routines, which become part of the culture outside of the official structure.8

Reflection is part of sense making, of gaining understanding of the explicit and tacit knowledge in an organization. The reflective thinker is curious and has a passion for learning and dealing with his or her experiences in a way that builds understanding for future action. Reflection links directly to building intuition. It is related to the head or mind and thinking. Reflection helps make experiences actionable and give expertise to one’s thinking. Reflection helps connect what we know with what we want.9 If there is a dissonance between the organization’s mission, vision and purpose, and the desires of the employee, they will either become alienated  and look for another position or bide their time for something better to show up, or their desires will change to eliminate the dissonance.

Relationships are a key to the success of any organization. Bad relationships between bosses and peers are one of the primary reasons why people leave organizations. Relationships often drive desire and trust.10

If there is no trust in an organization, there is no faith to adopt the values or vision. Relationships are important to enjoying work and building consensus for the vision and values of the organization. They are significant to gaining the heart of the employees.

These three enablers give strength to the legs of the triangle. The desired routines in an organization need to be a part of the structure or they will never take hold. They have to reinforce and support the values and vision or desire and trust collapse, and the heart is no longer in it. Likewise, as people reflect on their work and career, they need to identify something they want or something to establish their buy-in. They will either engender a desire to be a part of something bigger than they are or create a desire to leave for another organization. Relationships build emotional ties to the members of the organization, which reinforces desire and trust. In total, these three enablers tie together the hands, head, and heart with the structure, desire, and trust to succeed as an organization.

Leaders enhance organizational integrity when they encourage actions that are consistent with the values and accepted cultural norms of the unit. Over time leaders who act this way also earn their Soldier’s trust.

Conversely, leaders can undermine trust when they hypocritically betray the espoused norms of their organization. We have recently seen this phenomenon with the military’s ineffective handling of the enormous number of sexual assault and harassment cases. A person who is sexually assaulted suffers a tremendous lack of trust, especially when the perpetrator is a fellow Soldier or when the chain of command does not take action to punish the offender. That individual’s desires will no longer connect with those of the organization, when what they know does not reflect their desire to become part of an organization and culture that condones and allows sexual assault by its actions albeit not by its rules and regulations. If the structure is not in place to prevent sexual harassment or punish those who commit it, they are only biding time to quit and leave the organization.11 When the routines or habits of the organization no longer reflect the person’s values and vision of themselves and when relationships isolate individuals or cause them to feel outcast and unwanted, the leadership model falls apart. As we have seen, the Hand, Head, and Heart Leadership Model helps codify how leaders can gain commitment to their vision based on shared values and beliefs, ideas which help build organizational integrity and trust.


Leadership has been a topic of military training and education programs for centuries. Both are needed but they approach the subject at different learning levels. Training is most appropriate when preparing leaders to tackle the more straightforward, clearly defined problems. Education, on the other hand, aims to prepare leaders for ambiguous environments requiring higher-level judgment and reflection. The Hands, Head, and Heart Model of leadership attempts to describe the dynamics of organizational life through the lens of training and education. This model further links motives to actions to reflect the requirements and challenges of leading a diverse organization. In the end leaders strive for commitment from their subordinates; commitment truly represents the gold standard between the leader and the led. However, commitment can only be gained when what one does reflects what they know and reinforces who they are. When hands, head and heart are in alignment through structures, trust, and desires, there is an integrity which builds commitment. Leaders have the responsibility to build organizations that have this integrity and to recruit people who can maintain the relationships, reflection, and routines that enable organizational integrity.

End Notes

1. Richard Paul & Linda Elder, Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools. 7th Edition, 2014.

2. Kotter, John P. Leading Change. (Harvard Mass, Harvard Business School Press, 1996).

3. Rodgers, Carol. Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking. (Teachers College Record, Volume 104, Number 4, Teachers College, Columbia University 2002) pp. 842-866.

4. Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, TRADOC PAM 525-8-2, The U.S. Army Learning Concept for 2015, (Fort Monroe, VA, 20 Jan. 2011) p. 20.

5. Headquarters, Department of the Army, ADRP 6-22, Army Leadership, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of the Army, 2012).

6. Headquarters, Department of the Army, FM 22-100, Army Leadership, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of the Army, 1983).

7. Hurley, Robert F; Gillespie, Nicole; Ferrin, Donald L.; and Dietz, Graham. Designing Trustworthy Organizations. (MIT Sloan Management Review: Summer 2013 Research Feature, June 18, 2013).

8. Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit. (New York Random House 2012).

9. Rodgers, ibid.

10. Buckingham, Marcus; Coffman, Curt. First, Break All The Rules. (Simon & Schuster, New York; copyright © 1999 by the Gallup Organization). pp. 30-36.

11. Martin, Gary. “Vote delayed on sexual-assault measures,” (2013) <> (22 November 2013).

About the Author(s)

Ted Ihrke is an Assistant Professor and Curriculum Developer in the Department of Command and Leadership in the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, KS.  Ted graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree from Texas A&M University in 1981 and served nearly 27 years in various command and staff positions in the United States Army. He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff Officers Course and received a Master of Arts Degree in Management and Leadership from Webster University in 2007.

Ted served as a Staff Leader in the Army’s Combined Arms Services and Staff School from 1997 to 2000.  This six weeks course was designed to prepare officers to assume battalion and brigade staff positions and focused on communication skills, problem solving and staff interaction.  Ted joined the Department of Command and Leadership in 2005 where his efforts have focused on curriculum development and instruction in critical thinking, decision making, organizational level leadership, and ethics.

Ted Thomas is the Director of the Department of Command and Leadership in the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, KS. Ted graduated from the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, NY in 1978 and served 20 years in various command and staff positions before retiring as a battalion commander in 1998. He received a M.S. degree in Civil Engineering (1986) from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Ph.D. in Engineering Management (1998) from Missouri University of Science and Technology. He taught at USMA from 1987 to 1990 becoming an Assistant Professor and Course Director for Structural Analysis from 1989-1990. 

Dr. Thomas joined the faculty at CGSC in 2005 and became the department director in 2007. He supervises over 35 civilian and military department members who develop and deliver leadership curriculum for the 10-month long resident Command and General Staff Officer Course. Over 1400 resident students annually attend the course, with representation from 80 plus countries across the globe and members from each branch of the armed services. Over nine hundred students attend at satellite locations and non-resident courses teach another four thousand plus students annually.