On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

Everything I ever needed to know about working with people I’ve learned in my voluntary role as a Salvation Army corps sergeant major.

Originally, I thought the job was a snap–just get up on Sunday morning and welcome the people and give the announcements. Anyone who has done the job for more than a few minutes knows it’s a lot more complicated. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned–some painfully, some pleasantly, some still in progress.

Understand that once in a while you have to go in through locked doors.

I remember that Scripture citation in the Gospel of John which describes the first meeting Jesus had with his disciples after his resurrection. They were huddled together in this room–scared–confused–depressed–probably angry–but mostly very hurt. The doors to the room were locked. When Jesus perceived this from the outside he didn’t say to himself: “Well, I guess they don’t want me in there.” No! He went in through the locked doors to relate to them. Sometimes doors are physically locked to keep us out, but much more often they are psychologically, emotionally and spiritually locked. Avoid forcing yourself or your opinions on others, but never stop trying to relate. Jesus didn’t break the door down–he just ignored the locks and brought his message.

Be a peace bringer.

When he got into the room, the first thing he said was “Peace be unto to you.” In any group tensions will eventually become evident. It’s a natural by-product of human interaction. Sometimes these tensions occur as groups form around personalities or issues in which varying individuals advocate different points of view. Often, the issues that divide have nothing to do with right or wrong choices. Both sides are right. They simply perceive the world and the Army’s role in it from a different perspective. In this case, stay open with both groups–maintain communication. Help people understand each other. Clarify. Restate, and point out similarity in broad goals.

A leader’s primary responsibility is to enhance the cohesiveness of the group.

Group cohesiveness grows to the degree that the leader manages conflict effectively. This means we must listen to people. We must empathize with them–feel their feelings and reflect them back so that the senders will become aware we sense what they feel. Ignored or mismanaged conflict splinter groups–foster whisper campaigns–silence communication. If we accept the premise the group must survive, then finding ways to help people genuinely understand each other is essential. Those in conflict need to share perceptions of actions which have brought about the conflict in the past, their feelings and thoughts in relation to those actions, and their wants and needs pertaining to those actions. This won’t happen by itself. It must be facilitated in a caring and accepting manner…Such interaction can lead to action steps which resolve the conflict into a win-win situation.

Remember, neither you nor the officer is the boss.

We’re working with people who participate in our group voluntarily. We hope they share our goals. We hope they are willing to work in cooperation with others. We pray they are motivated by Christian love. They won’t act simply by command. They’ll disappear. Obviously, the officer does supervise employees. He’s their boss. The command structure is much less effective when working with the soldiers of this Army. You might have a rank of some kind with stripes on your sleeve, but telling people what to do won’t cut it. Some officers need to be reminded as well that C.O. stands for “corps officer”–not “commanding officer.” You and the officer, however, are leaders. Lead. You can only do this by helping those around you catch your vision, buy into your goals and embrace your methods.

Avoid rigidity and never use “tradition” to justify a decision.

I’ve always believed continuing to engage in actions which fail to produce results is a waste of time and energy. If something isn’t working–change. If it is working, keep it. We don’t have to fear change. It keeps us locked into programs and activities which are so safe as to be non-

growthful. Give yourself permission to experiment, but always know how you intend to evaluate the outcome of the experiment prior to initiating it.

Well–this is just for starters. What have you learned?

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