Team Citrus: An Experimental Approach to Corps Leadership
By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Things were running smoothly, the officers fully meeting the expectations of their people, but the pressing needs of The Salvation Army beyond the boundaries of their own corps engendered an urgency in three retired officers—Colonel Dennis Strissel, Lt. Colonel John Roy Jones and Lt. Colonel Gary Haupt—who between them had logged over a century of service in its soul-saving mission. Some would argue they had served their time; they had done enough. A calling, however, has no time limit. So, they met and discussed the need and formulated a plan.
Having a plan was one thing. Getting others to buy into it was another. Fortunately, Lt. Colonel Kent Davis, divisional commander of the Florida Division, was interested. “Having retired officers fill in at corps where we had breakdowns or unexpected vacancies was one thing, but this was something different. They made it clear that they were very happy with the current leadership of the Citrus County Corps, but they knew that someday their officers would be sent to another appointment. This was for whenever that occurred. And if it worked in Citrus County, it might be something for other locations.”
A few months later Lt. Colonel Davis called. “Are you guys still serious about your plan?” When the reply was affirmative, Lt. Colonel Davis told them to work on the specifics. It was time for the next move.
“I presented it to the territorial administration. They were interested and told me to work out the details,” Lt. Colonel Davis recalls.
The Team Management Approach
The plan hammered out, but still a work in progress, builds on the strengths of the three retired officers whose backgrounds and skills are complementary. Points that make this a plausible option are:
- This is more desirable for a retired officer, removing the necessity of relocation while still affording meaningful service.
- It provides a preemptory solution to the personnel issue rather than a reactionary one.
- It reduces the functional demands by distributing key elements of responsibility to team members.
- It can reduce at least some open appointments by freeing up active officers needed elsewhere.
The approach outlined in Citrus County divides the responsibilities as follows:
Corps Officer for Administration (Colonel Dennis Strissel): The team leader makes the final decision should there be an impasse. He is the contact person with divisional headquarters (DHQ) and assumes the routine functions of the corps officer. Included in his purview are employee relations, community and social services, community relations and point person for media, advisory board management and development, contact person for other service and community organizations, and overseeing general fund raising such as direct mail and seasonal efforts in cooperation with the Corps Officer for Finance and Development.
Corps Officer for Finance and Development (Lt. Colonel Gary Haupt): Responsible for financial accountability, policy administration and compliance, and financial operations including budgets, statistical data, and monitoring fixed assets. This includes working with and supervising accounting staff, monitoring income and expense, assisting with fund development, financial reports and requisitions to DHQ, participation in audits, researching foundations and other prospective funding sources, working with development team from DHQ, and promotion of corps stewardship.
Corps Officer for Program (Lt. Colonel John Roy Jones): In charge of handling internal programming for the corps, management of staff, maintaining and growing current programs, overseeing and preparing Sunday program planning and implementation, overseeing outreach to the community, promotion of special events, and coordinating a preaching rotation. He is also to share and promote divisional and territorial events.
As preparations were made on a territorial level for officer moves in July 2023, it was recognized that the current corps officers, Majors Hank and Eunice Harwell, would be needed elsewhere. With the team plan approved, it was time to implement it.
There was some confusion when farewell orders went out announcing the Harwells were leaving but not who was coming to Citrus County. The people in Citrus County were concerned. The Corps Sergeant-Major (CSM), Major Stan Carr along with his wife Debi, prayed about it and then offered to fill in as corps officers. “The divisional commander thanked us for our offer but said he had something in mind that would be announced soon,” Carr remembers.
When the team was announced a few days later, it raised eyebrows around the territory. While a team approach is common in other churches, it has not been a feature of Salvation Army leadership at the corps level. At least not like this.
The team determined that they needed to augment their group with one more person: Major Stan Carr, who as the CSM represents the corps congregation.
The experience of these officers in every level of Salvation Army leadership provides a distinct advantage. “Knowing all the processes allows us to negotiate for the corps’ advantage. We go in meetings thanking God for the little advances because we believe that they will pile up and make a real change,” commented Colonel Strissel.
Coming from their perspective of serving as soldiers for several years before taking this leadership role, the team feels that the voice of soldiers is essential for long-term success. The Corps Council was retooled and has been engaged in all that has happened. Not only is the Corps Council involved, but all decisions and items discussed are shared with the soldiers of the corps. “I remind them that that Corps Council is there for them, and if they have feedback, to bring it to me so that I can move it along,” said Carr.
Jones commented, “We take the Corps Council seriously. We have to be unafraid to receive criticism. When we met with them, we challenged them immediately: where did they want to see the corps in five years?”
Consultation extends to the team as well. The three corps officers meet weekly to discuss items of common interest as well as the things they are working on individually.
In January, there will be a review of how this model is working. “If those guys are still talking to each other after Christmas, we’ll see if they are okay to go at least another year. Otherwise, we will have to look at appointing active officers in the 2024 moves,” shared Lt. Colonel Davis, “But it is our hope and expectation that this team will be functioning for at least two years, maybe longer.”
Key Elements for Consideration
When asked what they felt were important elements to keep in mind for implementing a plan like this in other corps, each had an observation.
CSM Major Carr said, “Choosing the leadership team carefully is vital. If they can’t work together or are not able to each hold up their end, it will not work.”
Lt. Colonel Jones shared, “People need to be aware of how The Army changes in a short time, particularly technology. I was surprised at how things have changed at the simplest level, like how a voucher is prepared and handled. The other thing is there is a temptation to slip over into someone else’s area. You have to stay in your lane.”
Colonel Strissel remarked, “We’ve got to remember that the call of God is for life. This thing keeps evolving from what we originally proposed. It keeps pulling you in, and that can be draining.”
Lt. Colonel Haupt said, “We believe God called us into this and it will work. But we have some obstacles. Our corps has still not fully recovered from COVID. Also, we are in a rural area where people are scattered far apart from each other which makes how we approach things a bit tricky. I have to come up with new ideas and strategies because of our situation in Citrus County.”
As they further discussed it, they projected their thoughts about how a similar model might work elsewhere or under other circumstances. How would it work with two people or four? How about in a large corps versus a smaller corps? Could a team approach be helpful for a single officer to have one or two retired officers working alongside them? Why limit it to only retired officers? Might dedicated soldiers who have specific skills also be included in a leadership team?
Asked if there was anything else, Lt. Colonel Haupt joked, “If we didn’t kill each other this week, we’re good.”