On a cold and wet day last March, I drove into downtown Pittsburgh to complete an application for something I never thought I would need: registration to run for public office. A week later, I announced my candidacy for Mayor of Coraopolis, a small town of about 6,000 people, located 13 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. On November 7, 2017, I won the election and took office at the start of 2018. After nearly a year on the job, I can honestly say I love it. One of the biggest surprises is how my work at TrueSense, and especially in serving The Salvation Army, has prepared me for this uncommon task. There are many commonalities in these two jobs — far more than I’d imagined.
Here are the top three ways working with The Salvation Army prepared me to be mayor:
- You will always find time for what matters most.
Obviously, I didn’t quit my day job. In fact, our work at TrueSense has never been more important or intense than it is now — and I love that. Which means that to make a meaningful impact on the town I love, I look to mornings, evenings, and weekends as the time to focus on mayoral work. Yes, there are parades, first pitches, and speeches to historical societies, but I also need to hear pothole concerns from residents (akin to your clients and donors) and collaborate with neighboring communities about regional vision (similar to cross-agency planning). All of this takes time — the kind of time I didn’t know I had until I wedged it in against (or in place of) other, less tactical chores. The work of a Salvation Army Corps Officer or development professional can be incredibly taxing to even the best time managers, but there is always time for the most important responsibilities.
- It all comes back to “R and R.”
While rest and relaxation are important, that’s not what I mean by “R and R.” What I refer to here are two areas of focus that have been our highest priority when working with Salvation Army clients, and in how we want them to work with donors: Relationships and Results. As mayor, relationships and results are also key objectives — and that means investment in both time and talent. As a trusted mission in communities across the country, you focus on the relationships you build with your donors. But to make that relationship significant, you also have to be sure your programs and ministry have relevant impact. As a trusted agency partner, it is incumbent on us to spend quality time with clients, so we can transparently share the goals of our work and what makes us tick. But all the love in the world won’t matter if our strategies are unsound or if our work is fraught with errors.
- Develop thick skin and a forward-looking face.
I don’t know about you, but I hate it when someone says (or even believes) something about me that is patently false. But it happens to us all — including The Salvation Army — so it’s essential that we do what we can to not break our stride. Not everyone will be our fan, but we have to understand all sides and let the worst moments evaporate. Before the election last year, I reflected on what I’d learned in the process of running. The best lesson came to me from a book, based on the lives of two leaders from our world’s past: Winston Churchill and George Orwell. From his magnificent book, The Fight for Freedom, author Thomas E. Ricks writes these words: “If there is anything we can take away from [these men], it is the wisdom of employing this two-step process, especially in times of mind-bending crisis: Work diligently to discern the facts of the matter, and then use your principles to respond.”
There is much work to do, both in our towns and in our work as Salvation Army leaders and partners. I am honored to work among so many talented and dedicated women and men where I have been placed, and I look forward to the months and years ahead to find out how we can better shape our futures. Whether everyone agrees with you isn’t important. Operating with respect, conviction, and grace is.
If you’re thinking of throwing your hat in the ring for a public office, I’d encourage you to go for it! And if you’re ever in the Pittsburgh area, drive a little west to Coraopolis and let me buy you a cup of coffee.
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