How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge September 17, 2017

Quick note: If you are subscribed to my Thursday UNFILTERED updates, I was without power for 5 days so I wasn’t able to send it out this past Thursday. It will go out next Thursday, God willing.

Clay Scroggins has come out with a new book on leadership called How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge.

I caught up with Clay recently to interview him about his new book.


Instead of asking, “what is your book about,” I’m going to ask the question that’s behind that question. And that unspoken question is, “how are readers going to benefit from reading your book?”

Clay Scroggins: Great question! I believe that readers will feel like they have better handles on how to cultivate influence from the seat they are in today! You don’t have to wait to begin leading! You don’t have to be in charge in order to lead! You can start today!

Actually, the answer to that has actually been the most fulfilling part of this process for me. I’m a practitioner. I’ve always been that way. In fact, seminary was sometimes a struggle for me because of how theoretical it was. I wrote this book to try and help people. In fact, my favorite comment I’ve gotten from people is “This book has really helped me learn how to have more influence in my work.”

What motivated you to write this book?

Clay Scroggins: It’s my own personal journey of leadership. I actually felt like such a joke writing a leadership book because I thought, “How arrogant does someone have to be to write a leadership book?!?” But genuinely, I didn’t set out to write a leadership book from the standpoint of thinking I’m a leadership expert. Rather, I just wanted to put my own personal leadership journey to paper because I feel like it can help people who feel frustrated in the seat they’re in. I want to help people who feel like the organization has become an obstruction to their leadership as opposed to learning to leverage the organization to push ideas forward.

There are countless books on the subject of leadership in circulation. How is yours different from the others?

Clay Scroggins: 99% of leadership books are written to the person in charge. That’s not my story though. I do have some authority now, but when I was learning these lessons, I was in a position where I had far more responsibility than authority. Like everyone who is not in charge, I had to learn to cultivate influence because that’s all I had to lean on. Now that I have more authority, I’m so glad I learned those lessons when I had less authority because influence is still the currency of leadership even now that I have more authority. Authority void of influence isn’t dangerous. I want to help those who are not in charge learn how to cultivate and leverage influence now so that when the authority comes, they know that great leaders lead through influence even when they are in charge.

Tell us a bit about the experiences that shaped the insights in the book.

Clay Scroggins: Once you learn a truth about something, you start seeing it everywhere. The more familiar I have become with the distinction of authority and influence in leadership, the more I realize that it’s everywhere. Certainly, there were lessons from high school student government, college civic organizations, and even as a volunteer at North Point when I was first attending this church.

The most impact experiences have been in working for Andy Stanley. Although he sets a high bar, he’s a very empowering leader. I’ve had multiple conversations with him over the years where he was pressing me about something that hadn’t gone well. In those moments, I began noticing that my tendency was to abdicate responsibility and blame my position for my lack of leadership. Maybe not in these exact words, I would say: “If only I were in charge…” or “If I had more authority, that wouldn’t have happened.”

Give us three key insights from your book about leadership that you believe to be unique.

Clay Scroggins:

1) If being in a charge doesn’t make you a leader then not being in charge doesn’t mean that you aren’t a leader. Because leadership is influence, everyone has the potential to lead no matter what seat you’re currently sitting in.

2) Everyone is in charge of something. The greatest way to cultivate more influence is to create an oasis of excellence with what you are in charge of.

3) Great leaders are skilled at thinking critically. However, the line between thinking critically and being critical is razor thin. Critical thinking is a skill that can be worked on. Being critical is a spirit that needs to be worked out.

What are the ingredients that make a great leader in your view?

Clay Scroggins: The most valuable thing I bring my team is not my education, talent, experience, or expertise. It is my energy. A hope-filled, can-do, forward-thinking, positive person is a force to be reckon with. That makes a great leader in my mind. The challenge is bringing that every single day.

What are the two most common mistakes that leaders make?

Clay Scroggins: I can’t speak for other leaders, but I’ll give you two mistakes I’ve made. Both of these are manifestations of believing the lie that I need more authority in order to lead. When that happens, I have either resorted to passivity or forced issues with too much aggression. I either sit on my hands and miss opportunities or I put up my hands in a combative way. I can’t over-emphasize how important this idea is to resist the myth of authority-based leadership. It never works out well.

What do you say to the Christian who has been taught that they are just a “laymen,” so they can’t lead and aren’t called to leadership?

Clay Scroggins: Well first of all, it’s just not true. Every church, organization, or business has benefitted from someone who wasn’t employed by that organization. Secondly, it does no good to believe that. It doesn’t help the church and it ultimately doesn’t help the laymen either. God has given each of us a measure of influence and an opportunity in this lifetime to leverage it. If you find yourself in a church that doesn’t value your gift or hasn’t given you an opportunity to exercise those gifts, don’t quit trying!

What else would you like readers to know about your book?

Clay Scroggins: The most amount of pushback I get from this book is this: “Well, good for you, Clay. You must have a great boss. I don’t. My boss is really tough to work for. What should I do?” And I get that. I do have a great boss, but I haven’t always had great bosses. But just because you don’t have a great boss doesn’t mean this isn’t a season for you to grow.

In fact, this might be the best time for you to grow. The entire point of resistance is that it builds strength. If it were easy, you wouldn’t grow as much as you can grow during a difficult season. So don’t give up! And don’t leave too early! Learn all you can learn and allow God to help you build strengths that you’ll only be able to build under a difficult boss. It’s always worth the effort!

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