Creative Leadership

Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned from The Salvation Army’s Jim Knaggs

My friend Jim Knaggs has retired from a long leadership career in The Salvation Army. He finishes his work as the Commissioner for the Western Territory of the United States, and certainly as one of the most respected leaders in this remarkable global organization. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Jim for the last few years as we created The Salvation Army Vision Network – the first “digital street corner” for an organization that was founded by preaching to people on the street corners in London, England. Jim has remarkable vision, and knew The Salvation Army needed to have a voice in the digital world, and I was thrilled to partner in that task.

During that time, I’ve been in numerous meetings with Jim, and watched him lead his team. I’ve also had the opportunity to spend an enormous amount of time behind the scenes, brainstorming, developing ideas, and watching him work. As a result, here’s a list of leadership principles I’ve learned over the years from Jim Knaggs:

1. He doesn’t micromanage, he gives people plenty of rope. Jim gives his team enormous latitude when it comes to ideas and execution. As a result, he allows them to push the boundaries – or use that rope to hang themselves. I’ve seen him reward his team, and I’ve seen him dismiss employees. But in every case, he gave them freedom to chart their own course and it was their own choices that determined the outcome.

2. He is a quiet leader. I’ve been in plenty of situations with Jim where I might have blown my stack, but Jim quietly deals with the issue. He never gets in anyone’s face, doesn’t get emotional, and keeps an even keel. Definitely a plus when situations get intense.

3. He doesn’t take credit. He helps his team set the stage for success, and then allows them to take credit for their victories.

4. He’s not afraid to make decisions. A leader should listen to his or her team, do the research, and get all the information possible, but at some point, they have to make a decision.

5. He’s willing to take a risk. Jim has a real gift for seeing potential in people. I don’t know if some people have an instinct about things, but I think it’s more about having faith in people. Sometimes that faith is rewarded with remarkable results, and occasionally it’s rewarded with failure. I’ve seen both during my time with Jim, but I’ve learned that if we’re ever to break out of our boxes, our complacent thinking, and our ruts, we have to take a risk. When was the last time you really took a chance on something you believed in?

6. He’s all about outcomes. Effort is important, intentions are important, and desire is important. But Jim knows that without positive outcomes, it’s all dust in the wind. For instance, he designed a computer app so that every Sunday afternoon, he gets the results of what happened at every Salvation Army church in his territory. Attendance, programs, giving, new visitors, salvations….

7. And finally, speaking of salvations, he is totally focused on sharing Jesus with the world. In everything we do, the most important question from Jim is: “Has anyone accepted Christ as a result of this effort?” For Jim, quality matters, excellence matters, perception matters, and execution matters, but all that pales in comparison to the importance of sharing Jesus with the world. If all leaders of Christian churches, ministries, and nonprofits had that attitude, I’m convinced the world would be a different place.

I’ve been honored to serve with Jim. I hope to continue our important work online with The Salvation Army, but there will definitely be a huge hole in that work with his absence. He will be definitely missed, but I have a feeling a leader of that stature never completely rides into the sunset.  And in the meantime, you can follow his very popular leadership blog here.

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  1. I too, had the privilege of serving under the leadership of Jim Knaggs and alongside Phil Cooke at The Salvation Army Vision Network. Both men are brilliant leaders. As for Commissioner Knaggs, I couldn’t agree more with everything stated above. What always struck me was his attentiveness to anyone speaking with him. Eye contact, full individual attention, engagement and a sincere heart for the person he was interacting with, no matter who they were. He makes you feel comfortable, yet you sense his magnitude as a leader. And his desire for people to know Jesus, well, you can see it in his eyes…they light up when he speaks about sharing the gospel. It was an honor and an education I will always treasure to have been a part of the ministry of TSA under Commissioner Jim Knaggs. Thank you Phil that I can count on coming back here to not only read your blog but his as well.

    1. I read a quote recently that applies to this: “Good leaders make you feel like they’re smart. GREAT leaders make you feel like YOU’RE smart.” That would apply to Jim. Thanks for sharing Suzanne!

  2. I agree 1000% with everything you stated here, Phil, regarding Commissioner’s qualities. Never before have I had the honor of working under a leader so passionate about people. And, it’s not just Comissioner. His wife and his children, some whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past couple years, are true jewels. Certainly going to miss this man and his visionary style, especially when it comes to spreading the Gospel of Jesus across the globe. Excellent write-up, Phil! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  3. Great post Phil. Thanks for it. And I agree wholeheartedly on both Jim and Carolyn being exceptional leaders. Here’s a few things I’ve observed that have influenced my own leadership:

    1. deep and wide. deep faith – wide vision. personal relationship and guidance from Jesus and a vision to impact the entire world. amazing combo.

    2. gifted and grace-filled. It’s already rare to find people so gifted in so many things (music, preaching, teaching, leadership, and many more). But to match the giftedness with grace-filled living is much harder. They have an extra measure of both.

    3. together and unique. The way they lead together is solid partnership. One thing I’ve observed that makes this work is a deep togetherness that isn’t about position or schedules but is an understanding and attention that focuses their efforts and energy on shared mission. They also celebrate their differences – allowing each other to be themselves. Their relationship is a strength and it’s a beautiful leadership model.

    If I keep going I’ll be posting a blog myself (look for it soon at 🙂
    Thanks again Phil.

    1. Excellent addition Danielle. The “solid partnership” is particularly interesting in a time when so few marriages last. They do make a fantastic team together. And I’ll be looking for your post on your blog!

  4. Commissioner Jim Knaggs has lead with incredible vision and devotion to his Lord and Savior. This is especially so in the world of media. Although a multi generational Salvationist, his passion for the Movement in pointing people to Christ through the Salvation Army is immeasurable, and proves that commitment is first generation and not “handed down”. Proverbs 29:18 states “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” I salute both Jim and Carolyn as they retire from active service. Countless lives have been transformed for the Kingdom, thanks to these two loyal disciples of Christ.

  5. Keys to shaping future (effective) leaders. Thanks for sharing your observations of Jim Knaggs and lessons learned. His leadership undoubtedly impacted many with results to be seen well into the future.

  6. Jim knaggs had his first influence upon
    me before I was even a Salvationist when my family did Family Camp for him in the Eastern territory. He has had an even greater influence on me as an officer watching from afar as he led the Western territory in recent years. He is a man of vision, grace, and a man after God’s heart. I pray that I might be that kind of leader.

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