How To Lead When You Are Not In Charge

I have the daily privilege of serving on an incredible team of leaders. It is a regular thing for me to knock on someone else's door and ask for their input, their expertise, or their discernment on an issue. My dog, (who is always happy for the interruption) and I are often engaged in my office for similar reasons. I believe this type of give and take is essential for any organisation to thrive. 

Too many of us sit back, wait, and believe the lie that we can't lead unless we're the boss and in charge. We think if only we were on top of the org chart then we could really lead. Fortunately, I serve with a team that doesn't think that way.

Our church is led by a vision team comprising of Lay Elders, Ordained Ministers, and myself as the Lead Pastor. We have two "official" meetings a month, one focused on spiritual development, and the other on church logistics and operations. As you might expect, the meetings focused on spiritual growth are a very sweet and protected time for this vision team. Without them, we wouldn't be nearly as effective.

Currently, we have been studying the life of Paul, specifically, while in chains aboard a prisoner ship headed for certain shipwreck (Acts 27). John Macarthur writes in his comments about this passage: "Leadership is something not automatically conferred by title or rank. Leadership is influence. Leadership is a matter of ability, not position." The Apostle Paul was certainly not in any position of authority in this instance, however it was he who everyone aboard the ship listened to when the situation went sour. God used Paul's influence to save the lives of every man aboard the ship.

Our team's discussion was a healthy one. One of our leaders pointed out that in any room, just pay attention to the direction heads snap when crisis or controversy strikes. The individual people look towards might hold a position of authority, but often times they do not. It's all a matter of influence.

Clay Scroggins wrote a book recently by the title How To Lead When You Are Not In Charge. And who is Clay Scroggins? Perhaps you have heard of North Point Community Church? Andy Stanley is the senior pastor. Clay Scroggins serves as the church's lead pastor and, in turn, leads the North Point Community Church staff.

Andy Stanley has been recognized as one of the great communicators and leaders of our day, yet he points much of his success back to Scroggins, and Clay's uncanny ability to influence others both above and below him in the org chart. The majority of us will never be a CEO or Executive Director of an organization. But there is a lie that accompanies this fact. The lie says, "until I am in charge, I cannot lead. When I am in charge, then I will lead." We believe organizational positions directly correlate to our leadership abilities. But if we believe the precept that leadership is influence, we must also know we all have influence.

Here are the 4 big ideas Scroggins gives about leading when you're not in charge:

1. Lead Myself - It starts with me. I can never be led better than I am leading myself. When I wait to be led, I diminish my influence and lose out on opportunities in front of me.The intangible benefits of leading yourself well are that you will become easy to lead, others will have a desire to lead you. 

2. Choose Positivity - Energy is the greatest benefit you can bring to a team. By choosing positivity you are fighting for "we" over "me". By putting the team or organization first, you're ensuring the success of not only yourself, but everyone else around you. 

3. Think Critically - At every level in your organization, get leaders to constantly think, "how can we make it better?" Stop thinking like an employee and start thinking like an owner. Thinking critically is a skill, but being critical is a snare. 

4. Reject Passivity
Every level in an organization has information, experience and perspective that affects its direction. Intentionality is the enemy of passivity. Learn to reject passivity while you are under authority, and you will become a leader who is actually worthy of authority.

I believe I am experiencing a leadership team that lives these principles well. I hope that these ideas might help you navigate leading when you are not in charge and maybe give you the courage to boldly help your organization improve as well. 

​Pastor Milo



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