A Better Model of Leader Development; Repairing the Education Philosophy within Army Leader Development

Written By: Franklin C. Annis, EdD

For almost as long as the it existed, the U.S. Army has attempted to build a philosophy of military leadership. The military has dedicated vast resources in understanding what great leaders should “be, know, and do”. In fact, the vast majority of all research into military leadership concerns the qualities that good leaders display.[1] Unfortunately by placing the emphasis of scholarship on what good leaders are, the U.S. Military has almost entirely ignored the process on how an individual becomes a good leader. This is having an increasingly negative affect on military leaders as the speed and complexity of warfare continues to increase.

It is not sufficient to simply study what good leaders “be, know, and do” to create an educational system that could replicate the successes of the great military leaders in American history. The Army must develop a solid educational philosophy to create a “culture of learning” and provide the tools needed to continually improve individual leadership abilities. Until this occurs, we will proverbially continue to “build a castle on a foundation of sand”, as we reprimand our Soldiers for not acting more like Patton or Eisenhower due to our own failures to explain how Patton or Eisenhower became great leaders. If we build a solid educational philosophy into the Army Leader Development Model, we could give our Soldiers the missing “road map” to explain how to get from “Point A” (their current leadership skills) to “Point B” (the desired traits, abilities, and skills within our leadership philosophy).

In October 2017, the Army announced once again that it would revise the Non-Commissioned Officer Education System (NCOES) and rewrite the Army’s leadership manual (Field Manual 6–22). The major question remains is if the Army will continue to ignore educational philosophy. Will we repeat the mistakes of the past and place all our emphasis on the desired end state and leave a broken educational philosophy in place that will make another revision inevitable in the short-term? Or will we build a strong educational philosophy that will change our culture and drive battlefield innovation and leadership abilities for generations to come?

The Problematic Definition of Self-Development with the Army Leader Development Model

Unfortunately, failures in establishing consistent definitions within the Army Leader Development Model and creating supporting materials for the pillars/domains of leader development have plagued the Army for decades. This is most troubling in the area of self-development. The Army continues to struggle in providing a complete and consistent definition of this critical aspect of the Army Leader Development Model.

Table 1 — Definition of Self-Development

In Table 1, you can clearly see the constantly shifting definition of self-development. With a lack of a clearly defined definition of the concept of self-development, it should come as no surprise that this concept is misunderstood within our ranks. The art of self-development is critical in driving innovation on the battlefield. While both the operational and institutional domain of the Army Leader Development Model (ALDM) provide Soldiers with leadership skills and abilities, it does so in a largely uniformed nature. If everyone is learning the same things through similar experiences and identical education, why would we ever hope to believe that this approach would foster innovative leaders? It is the domain of self-development that allows leaders to develop themselves to address their specific personal developmental needs and situational requirements. Since learning through self-development is not preprogramed, a high-degree of variance occurs. As a result, self-developed leaders bring the diversity of thought that is required to drive battlefield innovation. Given the importance of self-development on leadership abilities, the Army educational philosophy should be written to clearly define and fully support this critical activity.

Given that military education philosophy was largely built on top of the theory of Andragogy (adult education) developed by Dr. Malcom Knowles, it has always surprised me that the Army has not utilized his concept of “self-directed learning” as the model for Army self-development. Knowles defined self-directed learning as:

[A] process in which an individual takes the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.[2]

In all the Army instructor courses I have attended, from Army Basic Instructor Course (ABIC) to Small Group Instructor Training Course (SGITC), it was clear that the underlying student-centered learning models utilized in Army education where built on the theory of Andragogy. However, the Army hasn’t fully embraced the Knowles philosophy by excluding his concept of self-directed learning. This took a complete and highly functional educational philosophy and introduced a dangerous void that destabilized the whole philosophy. What we have been left with is a void filled by a constantly shifting definition of Army self-development that lacks the tools and materials to support the development of Army leaders.

In my dissertation study, I surveyed multiple Lieutenant Colonels concerning the topic of Army Self-Development. This audience expressed a far higher confidence in Knowles’ definition of self-directed learning than the definition of Army self-development presented in DA Pam 350–58.[3] Knowles’ definition had a mean score of 4.13 in comparison to the DA Pam 350–58 score of 3.5 (on a 5-point Likert scale with 1 representing strongly disagree and 5 representing strongly agree).[4] The only recommendation on how to improve Knowles’ definition that came from this research was to make the implicit explicit by adding the claus that self-development requires a continuous cycle of assessment and reassessment.[5]

I call on the Army to clearly define and provide sufficient supporting materials for the concept of self-development in order to repair and complete a unified educational philosophy for the U.S. Army. It would be my recommendation to return to the theories of Malcolm Knowles and fully utilize his theory of Andragogy to include his concept of self-directed learning. This would not only provide the stable definition and concept of self-development that is required to build quality Army leaders, but it would also make volumes of civilian literature and research on self-directed learning available to military learners.

Problems with the FM 6–22

With the FM 6–22[6] being the most frequent doctrinal guidance on leadership that Soldiers encounter, it is a shame the current edition presents so many flaws. The most significant flaw of this manual is that it does not present the Army Leader Development Model. Shouldn’t any manual that presents guidance on Army leadership begin with the ways a Soldier should go about learning the art of leadership? While we do present the ALDM in the DA PAM 350–58, how many junior Soldiers would go hunting for this information in an obscure reference? The Army needs to ensure the “how to learn” (educational philosophy) is presented alongside “what to learn” (Army leadership philosophy) if we wish to maximize the leadership development within our Soldiers.

Table 2 — Table 2–3 from FM 6–22 (Edits displayed in color)

The next major flaw in the current FM 6–22 is that it presents a broken categorization system. In Table 2–3,[7] several developmental opportunities are divided into the categories of formal, semi formal, and informal. I have highlighted the major error in this table as self-development cannot be formally driven. There should have never been a “formal” category of self-development (i.e. “structed self-development”) as anything that could fit within this category would also fall under the definition of formal education. To not dilute the true purpose and importance of self-development, a formal category for self-development should have never been created. If the Army had adapted Knowles’ complete theory of Andragogy or had a functional educational philosophy of its own, this error would have been unlikely to have occurred.

The Heart of the Problem

While I do believe the three pillar/domain approach of operational, institutional, and self-development provide an adequate concept of leader development, I believe these pillars/domains have been left ill-defined. To come to a better definition and concept of leader development, we must not define these pillars/domains by the types of activities that are engaged in but rather the intent of the learning activity.

Figure 1 — Army Leader Development Model, DA PAM 350–58, 1994, pg 2.

I believed the leader development model published in the 1994 edition of the DA PAM 350–58[8] to be the easiest to understand (Figure 1). While the terms of the model have slightly changed, there is clear emphasis that a leader develops through these three activities. I would recommend that we try to return to a model that is as simple and clear as this one.

The latest version of the Army Leader Development Model published in the latest edition of the DA PAM 350–58 (Figure 2) is far more complex.[9] In fact, it is so complex that even I as an educational theorist have problems deciphering the model. Honestly, did the terms education, experience, and training really need to appear in four different locations on this graphic? This graphic failed because it attempted to display the means of gaining knowledge along with the intent of the learning. The Army would have been far better served keeping these two concepts separate.

Figure 2 — ALDM from DA PAM 350–38, 2013, pg. 2.

The other major problem in this figure is that the “domains” of operational, institutional, and self-development overlap. While I would assert the correct reading of this diagram would display how these three concepts could be executed at the same time, some may misread this to imply a single activity could be simultaneously in more than one domain. This may have started the problems found within the Structured Self-Development courses thinking they could fulfill both the functions of self-development and education at the same time.

Solving the Problem

If we are to solve the confusion around the Army Leader Development Model and create a functional educational philosophy, we should first begin by clearly and simply defining the pillars/domains within this model. The three foundational concepts of operational experience, institutional training, and self-development present a solid and complete foundation for this model if defined correctly. The first step to correcting our current situation is to ensure these pillars/domains are defined around the “intent” of the training, experience, or education and not by the process of learning. In other words, the format of the learning (classroom, online, experiential, etc.) wouldn’t dictate where these activities are found within the model.

First, I would define Operational Experience as any learning that occurs “on the job”. For example, you learn how to be a (insert leadership position) by doing the job. In essence, squad leaders hone the art of leadership as a squad leader by doing the job and functioning in this role in collective training. This is the same with all leadership positions. To determine what leadership positions are required/recommended to progress through the ranks, Officers should consult the DA PAM 600–3[10] and NCOs should consult the DA PAM 600–25.[11]

Secondly, I would define Institutional Training as any learning experience separated from “on the job” training that is required by law, regulation, policy, or direct order. This learning can occur through multiple different learning delivery methods from civilian institutions to military schoolhouses and from traditional classrooms to online training. The Institutional Training pillar/domain could also be active throughout the various levels of command, from HQDA requiring certain training course for promotion to local commanders that want their Soldiers to read specific books.

Finally, I would define Self-Development as the voluntary actions of an individual to engage in learning activities to address personal weaknesses or gain new knowledge outside what had been directed by the Army. This pillar/domain is essentially all the learning experiences outside what the military is requiring Soldiers to learn and the operational environments the Army is placing Soldiers in. This learning would be Soldier driven, although peers, subordinates, and leaders could recommend areas that the Soldier may want to work on and various methods to utilize. If possible, it would be best to define this concept through Malcolm Knowles’ theory of self-directed learning.

This pillar would be left “unscripted” understanding that any learning activities that commanders direct would fall within the Institutional pillar/domain. The ultimate goal of this pillar/domain would be to teach Soldiers to select learning activities over non-learning opportunities. In other words, we want to develop our Soldiers to be readers and to choose to spend a portion of their free time engaging in a learning activity instead of less productive activities.[12]

While this might sound confusing at first, we cannot simply classify one course of training program as part of any pillar/domain. This goes back to the understanding that the pillars/domains are divided by intent and not the actual learning activity. For example, a Health Care Specialist (68W) completing the National Registry Emergency Medical Technician — Basic Course is engaging in the Institutional pillar/domain as this course is a requirement of their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). But let us say there is an Information Technology Specialist (25B) assigned to a medical unit. He decides to take the same course so he could assist in the event of a mass casualty event. His engagement in this course would be considered engaging in Self-Development because there is no requirement for him to complete this course. The 25B is diversifying and expanding his capabilities beyond expectation and this is the type of activity we should be encouraging as leaders.

A New Model to Graphically Display the Leader Development Model

I have spent considerable time thinking of the best way to graphically display the interactions between the pillars/domains of Operational, Institutional, and Self-development. I realized that all three of these learning intents are required to be an effective leader and all three of these intents impact the effectiveness of each other. So, my first thought for a new model of Army leader development would be that of a three-legged stool. This comes from the understanding that a three-legged stool doesn’t “wobble” because all three legs support the weight of the stool. This is true even if all three legs are of different height (which could represent the time dedicated to each pillar/domain). However, the thought of a stool being used as a model for Army leader development isn’t a very romantic notion so I must search further.

Figure 3 — Annis “Tripod” Model of Leader Development

Hopefully the concept of a tripod would be understood by most Soldiers. Each leg of the tripod would symbolize each of the learning intents of Operational Assignments, Institutional Training, and Self-Development (Figure 3). In this model, it would be asserted that the height of tripod would correspond with leadership abilities, with greater height equaling greater ability. As we adjust the time and gained proficiency in each of these learning intents, it becomes clear the best way of increase leadership abilities is to have a balanced approach among operational, institutional, and self-development learning (Figure 4).

Figure 4 — Balanced Application of Annis “Tripod” Model

An academic that spends his whole life studying Army courses with no operational experience is unlikely to improve their leadership abilities (Figure 5).

Figure 5 — Unbalanced Application of Annis “Tripod” Model (Academic)

The same could be said about a leader with vast amounts of operational experience that spends no time addressing his leadership weaknesses through self-development (Figure 6).

Figure 6 — Unbalanced Application of Annis “Tripod” Model (Operational)

The best of our leaders are ones that have rich operational experience, have learned the philosophies and approaches offered within institutional training and have engaged in self-development to drive innovation and address personal weaknesses.


If our Soldiers are to dominate the modern battlefield, they must be able to adapt and innovate faster than their adversary. The speed and technology of warfare is ever increase and forcing junior leaders to make choices that field grade officers would have made 60 years go.[13] The actions of even our junior leaders are having strategic impacts on both the success of campaigns and National Security.[14] The vast increase in the roles and responsibilities of junior leaders in the Long War demands a greater level of preparation to ensure these leaders will be successful in their assigned missions. Our current generation of Army leaders needs to be not only fluent with military tasks but also capable in areas such as city management, economics, diplomacy, psychology, and information and perception management to function effectively on the battlefield and in post-conflict zones.[15]

We must wake up and realize that our military is facing potential military conflicts on at least three different continents. We are threatened to fight in a wide range of combat from nuclear war to cyber warfare. With finite training time available, the need for a solid educational philosophy that has the ability to drive our leader development and emphasizes self-development has become increasingly important. We simply do not have enough time to train Soldiers in all possible outcomes.


The need for a solid educational philosophy within the Army can no longer be ignored. We need leaders that are expert learners. The nature of modern warfare will never allow us to perfectly prepare for the next war. Army leaders must quickly adapt personnel and equipment designed for the last war to not only meet but exceed the needs of the current conflict. With only so much time available for training, it will be increasingly impossible to train our Soldiers correctly for the next conflict. So, we must do our best to teach them how to quickly identify weaknesses, determine where to find the required knowledge, and how to quickly learn this new material to be able to outpace their opponents. While the art of self-development has always been a staple feature in great military leaders (e.g. Pershing, Eisenhower, Patton, Mattis,..), we will only see the need for self-developing leaders increase as warfare continues to evolve.

Check out Franklin’s corresponding YouTube Video at Evolving Warfighter!

Franklin C. Annis holds a Doctorate in Education (EdD) from Northcentral University. He is currently assigned as the Deputy State Surgeon for the Nebraska Army National Guard. He also created the YouTube channel “Evolving Warfighter” that presents materials on how to improve leadership through Self-Development. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not reflect the official position of the Nebraska Army National Guard, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

[1] Todd Maurer & Michael Lippstreu, Self-Initiated development of leadership capabilities: Toward establishing the validity of key motivational constructs and assessment tools. U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Science, 2010

[2] Malcom Knowles, Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. Association Press, 1975, p. 18

[3] Headquarters Department of the Army, Department of Army Pamphlet 350–58; Training: Army leader development program, Government Printing Office, 2013

[4] Franklin Annis, Clarifying the Definition, Techniques, and Integration of Self-Development to Enhance Army Officer Leader Development, Self-Published, 2016, pp. 115–117.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Headquarters Department of the Army, Field Manual (FM) 6–22; Leader Development, Government Printing Office, 2015.

[7] Ibid, 2–12.

[8] Headquarters, Department of the Army, Department of the Army Pamphlet 350–58; The enduring legacy: Leader development for America’s Army, Government Printing Office, 1994.

[9] Headquarters Department of the Army, Department of Army Pamphlet 350–58; Training: Army leader development program, Government Printing Office, 2013

[10] Headquarters Department of the Army, Department of Army Pamphlet 600–3; Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management, Government Printing Office, 2014.

[11] Headquarters Department of the Army, Department of Army Pamphlet 600–25; U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Guide, Government Printing Office, 2008.

[12] Michael Ponton, M. Gail Derrick & Paul Carr, P. B. The Relationship Between Resourcefulness and Persistence in Adult Autonomous Learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 55(2), 2005, p. 126

[13] David Hill, Junior Officer Institutional Leadership Education: Is the Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) Meeting the Challenge? U.S. Army War College, 2008.

[14] Stephen Van Riper, Training & Education Impact on 2020 Officer Career Progression, 2006, Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a508220.pdf

[15] William Linn, Officer development: A contemporary roadmap, 2008, Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a485472.pdf; Stephen Van Riper, Training & Education Impact on 2020 Officer Career Progression, 2006, Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a508220.pdf