Healthy Leaders


Why I Don’t Use the “Be, Know, Do” Model of Leader Development

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

It may be a surprise to learn that the “Be, Know, Do” (BKD) model of leader development which has gained some degree of popularity in both formal and non-formal Christian leader development did not originate in the church, but in the U.S. Army.

In view of its endorsement and extensive use by such a large-scale and diverse organization whose mission wholly relies on the ongoing building of new leaders, the BKD model clearly has some degree of credibility.

There are questions, however, about the appropriateness and, most importantly, the sufficiency of this model for specifically Christian leader development. This article will examine the BKD model as an overarching framework for understanding Christian leader development.

The Need for an Appropriate Goal

The very first step in designing an effective leader development strategy must be to clearly define the goal. Into what, exactly, are we trying to build the emerging leader? If our leader development efforts are successful, what will they produce? What will the leader “look like” at the end of an effective process?

Thus, we must first define the “ideal” Christian leader – or, in our language, the “healthy” Christian leader. This definition of the healthy Christian leader then becomes the goal of all leader development activities. The “process” – or all the various activities that we implement in order to build the leader – must directly correspond to the goal and help the emerging leader move toward the goal in his development.

This highlights the extreme importance of having the right goal. If the goal is not appropriate or adequate, then the process (which proceeds from the goal) will be insufficient and the leader development work itself will not be successful.

The BKD Model as a Holistic Goal for Leader Development

The BKD model is a framework for understanding the goal of leader development. According to the Army, leaders lead others by their character, by their competence, and by their actions; therefore, effective leader development must focus on the leader’s character and values (“Be”), his competencies (“Know”), and his decisions and actions (“Do”).

Versions of the BKD model have influenced U.S. Army leadership doctrine for more than half a century, and the Army’s long-term, continuing reliance on this model is significant evidence of its robustness.

Clearly, this model provides a holistic goal, and leader development toward this goal becomes synonymous with the building of the whole person.

While the three components of the BKD model are necessarily interrelated and integrated, for the sake of clarity we will discuss each of them separately.

“Be” – Character First!

The Army sees itself as a values-based organization; therefore, the BKD model emphasizes “character-based” leadership. In addition to personal character development (in the seven main areas of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage), the “Be” component stresses adherence to organizationally-shared values that bind together all members of the Army. This component also addresses mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

“Know” – Know What and Know How!

The second component focuses on competencies: what a leader needs to know (in the sense of both “know what” and “know how”) in four main areas:

“Do” – Acting Well!

The last component of the BKD model focuses on the actions of a leader:

Three Levels of Leadership

In an extremely useful demarcation, the Army’s BKD model distinguishes between three levels of leadership, with each level requiring distinct capacities and skills:


As we begin to reflect on the strengths and limitations of the BKD model, our purpose is not to critique the Army’s use of this model, but rather its use in distinctly Christian leader development.

The model has numerous strengths:

Thus, in defining a holistic goal for leader development, the BKD model has some clear strengths; indeed, it is far superior to a purely academic approach. According to the Army, leaders lead others by their character, by their competence, and by their actions; therefore, effective leader development must focus on the leader’s character and values (“Be”), his competencies (“Know”), and his decisions and actions (“Do”).

But, is it all positive?

As we will see, the BKD model also has significant limitations – especially when used as a basis for the design of distinctly Christian leader development.

The Limitations of the BKD Model

The BKD model emphasizes character development – indeed character is so important to the Army that it comes first. Certainly, character is vitally important in Christian leadership but it is not first.

Christ is first!

However, Christ is entirely missing from the BKD model. This is not a small issue; rather, it is a critical and ultimately-fatal flaw of the BKD model as a basis for Christian leader development.

Union with the Person of Jesus Christ is not a “part” of Christian leadership – it is the very nature of Christian leadership. Thus, union with Christ must explicitly and pervasively define Christian leader development.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus lived in continuous union with His Father. This inward, spiritual fellowship was the source of everything in His life and ministry:

For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent Me. (John 6:38)

… the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)

By Myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear… (John 5:30)

The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?” Jesus answered, “My teaching is not My own. It comes from Him who sent Me…” (John 7:15-16)

… what I have heard from Him I tell the world…I do nothing on My own but speak just what the Father has taught Me. (John 8:26-28)

… it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work. (John 14:10)

… These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent Me. (John 14:24)

Jesus lived in continuous fellowship with His Father, and through that fellowship He drew from, and lived by, His Father’s life. Thus, Jesus’ leadership came from His inward union with His Father and perfectly revealed the Father:

If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him… Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father… (John 14:7-9)

Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in Me, he does not believe in Me only, but in the one who sent Me. When he looks at Me, he sees the One who sent Me.” (John 12:44-45)

Furthermore, just as Jesus lived His life by the indwelling life of His Father, so we are to live our Christian lives by the life of Jesus in us.

Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so (i.e. even so, or in the same manner) the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. (John 6:57)

Just as Jesus lived in continuous fellowship with His Father, so we are to live in constant inward fellowship with Him by His Spirit. Jesus’ leadership came entirely from His union with His Father, and He sent us out to lead in the same way.

This is the source of Christian leadership: fellowship with Jesus Christ by His indwelling Spirit. It is Divine fellowship that enables us to live and to lead according to Divine life.

… If a man abides in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It was Jesus’ fellowship with His Father, in itself, that enabled Him to live and lead by His Father’s life. So it is our fellowship with the Father and the Son, in itself, that will be the source of our life and leadership.

Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. (John 17:3)

… He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him…My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:21-23)

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18, NKJV)

Biblically, Christian leadership is not character-based; it is Christ-based.

According to the Army’s BKD model, values are crucial to leader development because values “tell” the leader what he needs to do, guiding his everyday actions and decisions. This view, however exemplary for a secular organization, is not a biblical view of Christian leadership.

In Christian leadership, everything does not proceed from character and values; everything proceeds from union with Christ. This is not mere semantics but goes to the very heart of how we understand the Christian life and Christian leadership.

To make this distinction is not to undermine the importance of character and values. On the contrary, this actually establishes true character and values, proceeding not from human effort but from the indwelling life of Christ!

… If a man abides in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit… (John 15:5)

so that you may be… filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:10-11)

True Christian leadership is not possible without Christ first!

When character is first and Christ is omitted (or “sub-pointed”) the result is human righteousness, which, in God’s eyes, is like “filthy rags.”

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags… (Is. 64:6)

… apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

This is not just the “best” way; it is the only way to true Christian leadership. Everything else is mere human works. Jesus is preeminent!

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:11)

And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. (Col. 1:18)

It is conceivable that someone would add Christ as a sub-point to the BKD model; for example: “Be” (the leader walks in union with Christ) or “Know” (the leader knows God). However, in view of the absolute preeminence and centrality of union with Jesus Christ as the very core of what Christian leadership is, to adapt the BKD model to Christian leader development by simply adding Christ as a polite sub-point is hardly appropriate! Union with Christ is not a sub-point added as an afterthought – it is the very core, the very essence of Christian leadership and must be at the very center of all our leader development endeavors.

In summary, while we recognize the appropriateness of the Army’s use of the BKD model, it is absolutely unacceptable as a model for Christian leadership and leader development; its neglect of the Person of Jesus Christ disqualifies it.

But that’s not the only problem with this model.

The BKD Model and Individualistic Western Culture

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 concept 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 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 in exchange for 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, biblical spiritual maturity is primarily a corporate reality as opposed to 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 academics-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 from 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.

And there are more problems with this model. It does not give sufficient attention to vision.

Leadership and Vision

Vision is central to leadership. The very essence of leadership is movement: the leader helps people move from where they are to a better place in the purposes of God. Thus, Christian leadership is not merely taking care of people, but it involves helping God’s people grow, serve, build others, impact the world around them and fulfill God’s purposes.

A healthy vision must not be disconnected from a deep union with Christ. Christ comes first!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned:

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly…. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. (Life Together)

Solomon wrote:

For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God. (Eccl. 5:7)

A true calling comes from God. Then it becomes the leader’s own vision, something he can share passionately with others. Without Divine initiation, however, man’s vision is mere human ambition.

A healthy vision must come originally from Christ and be received in the integrity of the leader’s heart. Left to himself, man’s vision will often contain a mixture. He might have a genuine calling from God, but there will often be much of himself mixed in with it too. This is one reason why God allows us (like Joseph and Moses) to go through sufferings – to purify our hearts from mixture (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

In addition, the calling must be submitted to community. It is only as the leader is genuinely accountable to his community and allows them to help mold and clarify his calling that he is assured of purity of vision. Thus, the calling of the leader must be birthed in Christ, purified in community and built upon fire-tested character.

This is a healthy vision in the heart and ministry of a healthy Christian leader. Consequently, it is not sufficient for vision to be a mere sub-point in the leader development process; it must be well-built in an emerging leader’s life.

Today, many churches are limited by leaders who do not have a clear vision from God. Such leaders may be able to preach nice sermons on biblically-related subjects but they are not equipped to actually lead their flocks toward effective impact in the complex and fast-changing world around them.

If the church is to grow to maturity in Christ, we need leaders of clear and godly vision. The building of this vision must be a central part of our leader development processes.

We Need a More Biblical Model than BKD

Our purpose in pointing out these serious weaknesses is not to critique the Army’s use of this model, but rather its use as a goal for Christian leader development.

According to the U.S. Army, leaders lead others by their character, by their competence, and by their actions; therefore, effective leader development must focus on the leader’s character and values (“Be”), his competencies (“Know”), and his decisions and actions (“Do”).

While this holistic model is far superior to a purely academic approach, it has significant limitations for Christian leader development. As we have seen, the BKD model:

If we are going to build healthy leaders, we must build all 5Cs: Christ, Community, Character, Calling and Competencies. Don’t settle for less!

Are you interested in writing for Head on over to our Write for Us page to submit an article!