How to Lead When You're Not in Charge
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How to Lead When You're Not in Charge

Clay Scroggins

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  1. 240 pages
  2. English
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  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

How to Lead When You're Not in Charge

Clay Scroggins

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About This Book

Are you hungry to help others through leadership but don't feel like you have the authority?

One of the greatest myths of leadership is that you must be in charge in order to lead. Great leaders don't buy it. Great leaders--whether they have the official authority or not--learn how to be an influential presence wherever they are.

In How to Lead When You're Not in Charge, author and pastor Clay Scroggins explains the nature of leadership and what's needed to be a great leader--even when you answer to someone else.

Drawing from biblical principles and his experience as the lead pastor of Buckhead Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Clay will help you nurture your vision and cultivate influence with integrity and confidence, even when you lack authority in your organization or ministry.

In this book, Clay will walk you through the challenge of leadership and the four basic behaviors all great leaders have and how to cultivate them:

  • Leading yourself
  • Choosing positivity
  • Thinking critically
  • Rejecting passivity

With practical wisdom and humor, Clay Scroggins will help you free yourself to become the great leader you want to be so you can make a difference. Even when you're not in charge.


"This book will be one of the most, if not the most, pivotal leadership books you'll ever read." - Andy Stanley

"If you're ready to lead right where you are, this book can show you how to start." - Dave Ramsey

"Read this book! The marketplace is full of leadership messages, but this one is a stand out." - Louie Giglio

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I guess I’ve always wanted to be a leader.
Perhaps it started with the safety patrol in fifth grade. As if being the oldest in elementary school was not enough of an ego boost, our school selected a few of the most eager kids to serve on the team that patrolled the carpool lane. Something came over me as I put on that yellow hard hat and reflective sash. I had swagger. With just the slightest hand gesture, I could force two tons of steel to come to a complete stop. That’s power.
Maybe it started when I entered the student government presidential race in tenth grade. For some odd reason, I was on this creative kick, trying to leverage popular hip-hop songs as my campaign slogans.
“Back that thing up” and vote for Clay. Thank you, Juvenile.
“Say my name, say my name” and vote for Clay. I see you, Beyoncé.
It’s quite embarrassing now, but somehow it worked.
Or maybe it was when I subtly lobbied to be voted captain of the varsity baseball team. I was just good enough to make the team but not good enough to actually play. As disheartening as that was, becoming captain of the team seemed to be enough to satisfy my itch for leadership. “What happens in the dugout is more important than what happens on the field” became my stump speech.
Those were the moments I felt alive. Unfortunately, those times were few and far between. The rest of the time I was just another kid in class. When I had authority, I could lead. If I had no authority, I was just waiting my turn.
Sadly, through my high school years and beyond, I missed more opportunities than I took. I see that now when I look back on my first role in ministry as a student pastor. Our weekly event met on Sunday afternoons, but the best thing we were doing was mobilizing students to serve as small group leaders for kids during our morning services. Think about it. What would have helped you more as a student? Sitting in a class and listening to someone lecture you? Or actually leading your own group of younger kids and having to do some of the teaching yourself? The answer was as obvious then as it is now. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the courage to refocus our efforts and resources to encourage even more students to serve. Hindsight is 20/20, but the future doesn’t have to be so blurry if we wear the right glasses.
As I look back over my first few jobs, the common theme that has run through every one of them is regret. I regret the times I didn’t speak up. I regret the times I twiddled my thumbs, waiting for someone to tell me what to do. I regret feeling like a victim to the structure or hierarchy of the organization.
Life teaches us that the authority to lead and the opportunity to lead are a package deal. We think they go hand in hand like cranberry sauce and turkey. When we’re given the authority to lead—a title, a uniform, a corner office—then, and only then, will we have the opportunity to lead. But that’s just not true.
As we wait for the authority of leadership to present itself, are we supposed to just sit on the sidelines before we can attempt anything with even a resemblance to leadership? So it seems. Growing up, my perspective was that if you were in charge, you were naturally leading something. Parents were in charge and they seemed to be leading. The principal at school was definitely in charge. She seemed to be leading. Even the bus driver who was supposedly in charge of the bus yelled at everyone like he was trying to lead. The line leader in kindergarten was in charge, at least for the day. And what was everyone else in line doing? Just waiting until it was their turn.
Do you remember how that felt in school? I remember feeling so powerless, so helpless, and so impotent. I was one of thirty kids sitting in a row with a full bladder. Yet I couldn’t relinquish one drop of urine without someone with authority leading me to the bathroom. The reality is that ninety-nine percent of my childhood was me being led by someone with authority. When someone else is telling you what to do, you don’t have to lead anything. You don’t even have to think. You just learn to put your mind in neutral and go with the flow. When someone else is leading you, it seems as though there is no leading left to be done. So you just wait.
No one likes waiting for a turn to lead—to be the one making the decisions—but we all know what it feels like. You have ideas, but you feel like no one will listen because you don’t have the microphone. You’re not leading the meeting; you’re just in the meeting. When you tried to share your plan last time, you felt ignored. Or even worse, you felt like you were seen as a renegade or a thorn in the side of the one in charge. So you decide that maybe you’re just better off if you quit trying.
They’ll never listen.
It’s going to be like this forever. I’ll just shut up and go with it.
They just don’t get it, and there’s no sense in trying.
My first real job as an adult reinforced this. Though my desk sat on the seventeenth floor in a downtown Atlanta skyscraper like the rest of my team, everyone was eager to tell me what to do because his or her altitude on the organizational chart was higher than mine. And it seemed that the higher they were positioned on the chart, the lower the requested task was. I remember thinking, I don’t mind getting your dry cleaning, but I draw the line at picking up your snotty-nosed kid from daycare. Even I have my limits. I moved through my younger years assuming I had to be in charge in order to lead. And until I was in charge, I just needed to wait my turn.
One of my small joys in life is grocery shopping. Ever since our kids were old enough to sit up, they fawned over the grocery carts that look like little cars. Those carts are to grocery shopping what the iPad has become for the family road trip. How did we ever live without them? Game. Changer. Our kids still love sitting in the driver’s seat of the cart-car. They love the feel of the steering wheel in their hands. They love the power of having control of the cart.
But then there is that inevitable moment. That moment when the kids in the cart-car, happily driving along, suddenly realize the steering wheel doesn’t actually work. I’m cruising in the grocery store with my kids and they’re turning the steering wheel as the cart turns. Everything is working just fine. Suddenly, the kids notice the greatest aisle in the store—the candy aisle. Like Fourth of July fireworks, the bright colors and attractive packaging are putting on a show. So as quick as their little appendages can move, they aggressively begin turning the wheel. Left, left, left, left. But much to their chagrin, the cart doesn’t turn. It keeps moving straight ahead.
That’s when they turn and look up at you with that “How could this happen?” expression. It’s that dejected look of disappointment that screams, “You tricked me. This wheel doesn’t work. It does nothing. It’s useless. Completely useless. Kind of like you as a parent, Dad.”
And we learn, at an early age, that having the steering wheel is the only way to lead. And if that steering wheel is not attached to authority and power, it just doesn’t work. That’s what we’re taught by our life experiences. If we want the cart to move, we must be in control. We learn that the little wheel we’re handed is just a toy and doesn’t actually work. We think we must be in charge if we want to lead, if we want to turn the cart in a different direction. We come to see positional authority as a prerequisite for effective leadership.
Tragically, I had to land the job I had always wanted before I realized I had bought into this myth. For almost twenty years now, I have attended and now work for a large network of churches. Just after turning thirty, I was given a pretty substantial promotion. I was asked to move to one of our larger locations and become the lead pastor of that campus. It was one of those moments when I thought, Are you serious? I’m flattered, of course. However, I question your discernment because this job is huge and I secretly still want to be Puff Daddy’s hype man. Nonetheless, someone saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and I’m forever grateful. The new role was literally a dream come true.
I stepped into that job as an eager young leader, ready to shape our church into what I hoped it could be. I had strong opinions about how we should operate to serve our community best. Unfortunately, over the years, I had drifted toward an unhealthy mindset, feeling like a victim whose ideas weren’t valued or understood within the larger organization. I felt inhibited and constrained, like a tamed lion (or, at the very least, an eager meerkat) at the zoo, lying in my cage, having lost my ambition to lead.
I soon learned I was wrong, because as it turns out, the cage doesn’t even exist.
At the time, I knew I wasn’t leading to my full potential. But if you had asked me why, I would have played the victim and blamed the problems on the organization.
“They just have a way of doing things.”
“They’re not open to change.”
“They just want me to fit in the mold, toe the line, and follow the rules.”
I realize this might be true of some organizations. Many, perhaps. But it was not true of our organization. I was working (and still am) for a man named Andy Stanley. He’s the son of a preacher, and he knows the frustration of feeling hamstrung by a large, fossilized organization. Andy has spent most of his life intentionally seeking to create a leadership culture where the people who are responsible for executing a decision are the ones with the authority to make the decision. I’ll be the first to admit that our organization is not perfect, but we certainly aren’t a place where those who want to lead and have gifts and ideas should feel frustrated and blocked. At North Point, if you aren’t leading because you don’t feel like you’re in charge, it’s no one’s fault but your own. If our organization gravitates toward one end of the spectrum, it’s toward freedom to lead and not high control.
I still remember the moment my excuses were exposed, and I realized I had been too focused on blaming others instead of actually leading. Thankfully, my exposure was less of a “Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show” moment and, instead, was more of a strong conviction of my need to change. It was a defining moment for me, drastically changing the way I thought about leadership. The story itself was not dramatic, but for some reason, it was exactly what I needed in order to see what I was not seeing.
I was meeting with Andy, who was now my boss, trying to explain why something we had done had not gone as expected—and why none of it was my fault. Our central organization had given our campus some content for a presentation, along with instructions for pulling it off, but it had not gone as planned. Again, they determined the direction and provided the curriculum. It was our job to execute. The question loomed large, like an elephant in the room: “Why didn’t this go well?”
Confidently, passionately, and succinctly, I gave Andy three good reasons. The information had come to us late, the work given to us was sloppy, and the presentation was less than creative. I think I might have used the word “lame” to describe it. My argument was airtight: blame, blame, blame. It was clear that we were the victims. The failure of the presentation had nothing to do with us; it was someone else’s fault. As I finished listing my reasons, I felt like Andy should probably be thanking us for doing our best with these less than great materials.
But that’s not what he did. Instead, he patiently poked and prodded for a few more minutes, asking me some good, tough questions. He asked, “So if you didn’t like the outline, why wouldn’t you just change it to make it great?” As he asked and I answered, I began to smell the stink of my polluted thoughts. Like a surgeon removing a cancer, Andy’s inquisition led me to a moment of insight. As we talked, I began to realize the problem was not with our organization at all. It was with me.
I could have sat there, confident I was a passive victim of the institutional machinery, blaming and making excuses all day long. Instead, I experienced a moment of deep self-awareness. The truth of a key leadership principle hit me like a ton of bricks. I bumped into it so abruptly that I sheepishly couldn’t wait to le...

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