LEADMission and Culture

Leadership Milestones

“What goes into making a leader?” I asked John Rondon, who is a longtime member of The Salvation Army’s Brooklyn, N.Y., Bay Ridge Corps; a New York City public school teacher; and a 2018 LEAD Summit instructor. His story exhibits four leadership milestones that every good leader should realize.

Discovery – Sensing a call is both emotional and rational. It often begins in childhood. Astronaut Mike Massimino says that his journey began as a child when he watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.

Rondon moved from Puerto Rico to New York at age 9. One Thursday evening, at age 10, while walking through his Bronx neighborhood, he heard brass band music pouring from a Salvation Army building. He entered and was mesmerized by the tuba. A band member said, “Come to Sunday school, and I’ll teach you to play.”

You may discover your calling piece–by–piece, as if forming a puzzle. One central piece is Jesus’ call, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Disciple–making is critical work for the Army.

Formation – Experiences can delight us or humble us. None are wasted if we are growing. Julius Caesar (100–44 BC) acknowledged that “experience is the best teacher of all things useful” (De Bello Civili 2.8). Formal training is important, but Rondon describes an experience that made him more useful to God than ever.

While attending a thriving church that needed an adult Sunday school teacher, he thought, I was a former officer; I’m the answer to their prayer. As an educated and experienced person, he was cut out for the task. To his surprise, they asked if he could teach primary children, a humbler role. It changed his philosophy of service. Now, he says, “Where God wants us, we serve … duty is more important than affirmation.”

Paul called himself a servant (Greek, doulos) of God as he began his letter to Titus (1:1). The letter reveals that the qualities that make a good servant also make a good leader. Christian leadership is counter–cultural in a society that celebrates pride and considers obey a derogatory, four–letter word.

Excellence – Like anyone else, Christians in the workplace earn respect by performing well. Excellence was non–negotiable for Rondon because, he says, “The Bible was on my desk.” Its visibility heightened his accountability.

Rondon said, “I got to know families intimately,” taking a pastoral approach—praying, counseling, and even conducting weddings and funerals when requested. He got some flak for that; but, he says, “someone always came to the defense.” When people value your contribution, they stand with you.

Succession – Good leaders pass on their competencies, attitudes, and responsibilities. In education, Rondon says, “You don’t fulfill your purpose until you’ve duplicated yourself.”

Leaders don’t think enough about succession. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, said he measures his success by how the company does years after his retirement. Some leaders take pride in being needed and think that leaving a role must be negative. But, changes in leadership are inevitable and can be healthy. Every day, leaders should be preparing for when they are no longer in that role. Think of the attention Jesus gave to preparing His disciples for His departure (Acts 1:1–9).

by Isaiah Allen

Exercise: What’s Your Story?

  • In a few sentences, write your story of discovery.
  • Succinctly describe two or three experiences of your own formation.
  • What would people who know you say you’re really good at doing? Where are you improving?
  • Tell how you will nurture two or three people as part of your succession plan.
  • Now, share your story with others, including your corps officer (pastor).
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