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

Phil Cooke

My friend Jim Knaggs is retiring 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.


Phil Cooke is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.

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