Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

October 2008
« Aug   Nov »


Reflections on the “Be, Know, Do” Model of Leader Development #3

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

When Geert Hofstede, a Dutch sociologist, published his seminal research on dimensions of culture in 1980, he found that Americans were characterized by a high level of individualism – in fact, they were rated the most individualistic people in the world.

So, it should be no surprise that a model of leader development that was developed by the U.S. Army (“Be, Know, Do”) should articulate such an individualistic conceptualization of the leader. The entire focus is on what the individual is, knows and does – his personal character, knowledge and skills. The individual’s life in community is not even mentioned, except, possibly, as a sub-point under one or more of the three (some relational elements could perhaps be squeezed into “Be” or “Do”).

In short, the BKD model understands the leader entirely and only as an individual. This is the second fatal flaw of the model as a basis for healthy Christian leader development.

In an “individualistic” culture there is a loosely knit social framework in which people’s very highest priority is to take care of themselves and of their immediate families. However, a “collectivistic” culture is characterized by a tight social framework in which people distinguish between in-groups and out-groups, and they expect their in-group (relatives, churches, organizations) to look after them, and in exchange for that, they give absolute loyalty and service to it. In an individualistic culture, the needs and goals of the individual and his immediate family are the most important; in a collectivistic culture the individual puts the needs and goals of his community before that of himself and his immediate family.

Western individualism has affected even our understanding of salvation. Westerners interpret salvation as purely an individual transaction between the person and God – that we individually receive Jesus as Lord and Savior and then we individually walk with God and fulfill His plan for our lives. To a Westerner that’s what it means to be a Christian – it is entirely and exclusively one’s own personal relationship with Jesus.

The goal of Western Christianity is the spiritual maturity of the individual believer and one means toward that end is church life. We belong to churches for what we can get out of them – so they can help us grow to maturity. The role of the church is to serve the individual. The church is the “means” and the individual’s maturity is the “end.”

Biblically, however, it is the other way around. Our life together in community is not a peripheral issue in the New Testament. For the New Testament believer, the church is the “end” and the individual is the “means.” In the Western world, our church life is a part of our individual lives; biblically, our individual lives are part of our life together!

To put it another way, biblically, spiritual maturity is primarily a corporate reality – not only an individual one.

It is together that we are the “temple” or “dwelling place” of God:

In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph. 2:21-22)

It is together that we know His love and are filled with His fullness:

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17-19)

It is together that we grow to maturity:

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:15-16)

It is together that we, as the Bride of Christ, are united with Jesus for eternity:

…“the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:31-32)

We cannot grow to maturity or fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves. We need each other:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…Now the body is not made up of one part but of many…God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor. 12:12-27)

This biblical emphasis on community has key implications for Christian leaders:

  1. The healthy leader is built in community. Community is where spiritual life, relational capacity, character, vision, knowledge and skills are shaped – they cannot properly be formed outside a relational context.
  2. The healthy leader leads in the context of community. In the community he finds friendship, nurture, support, correction and accountability.

The BKD model promotes a western individualistic perspective, dealing with the leader purely as an individual, rather than as a part of a larger organism. This is not the New Testament approach.

In the New Testament, who we are in ourselves (our character, knowledge, and skills) is nowhere near as foundational or important as who we are in Christ and in community. Thus, the BKD model – while, again, a considerable improvement over the traditional academic-only focus of much traditional Christian leader development – does not give sufficient attention to the importance of community in the life-formation and ongoing ministry of the Christian leader.

This is not to suggest that the U.S. Army has no sense of corporate responsibility. According to the Army’s BKD model, institutionally-shared values form the identity of the organization, binding together all its members. But, once again, this is a vastly different concept than the biblical picture of the Church in which we are held together not by values but by the corporately-indwelling life of Christ.

In conclusion, community is not a secondary issue in Christian leadership or leader development. A healthy leader is built in community and leads in community. This is a core reality that must be central in our understanding and practices of leader development.

Comments 1
  • Laurence Yap
    Posted on

    Laurence Yap Laurence Yap

    Reply Author


    I am so grateful of the model you have brought up here – BKD Model. I am developing the leadership development of my organization with Kauzes and Posner Model as the foundation to build leadership culture.

    God Bless!

    Warm Regards,
    Laurence Yap