Scott Kedersha Books

How do I lead and add value when I’m not in charge?

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. We think, “Until I have organizational authority, I can’t lead or influence others.” Every one of us understands the tension that comes with wanting to lead but thinking we can’t because we’re not in charge.

A few years ago I moved into more of a leadership/management position away from a more hands-on ministry role. Along the way, I’ve gone from having anywhere from two to 20 direct or indirect reports on the teams I help lead. Regardless of the role I played and my job responsibilities, I’ve lived in the tension of trying to lead when I’m not in charge. In some seasons I’ve done this very well, and in other seasons it’s been a significant struggle for me.

As soon as I saw the title of Clay Scroggin’s new book, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority, I knew I would want to read it due to the above-referenced tension I’ve lived in the past few years at work. I desire to be a great employee and do whatever I can to help my boss succeed in his job. At the same time, I want to do what I can to help him grow, lead up, and do the best I can to lead and honor God and others.

I’m so glad I read this book and highly recommend Clay’s book on your own or with a team. Below I give a brief summary of the book and share who I think would benefit from reading this book. And, I have a copy to give away to one of you (details at the end of the post).

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge is organized into three main sections: 

Part 1) Understanding Our Challenge

The first three chapters focus on helping the reader better understand the tension of trying to lead when you’re not in charge. He shares about the importance of the reader understanding who they are and provides a helpful guide to understanding ambition. Any follower of Christ should lead with the main ambition being to help others for God’s glory.

Part 2) The Four Behaviors

In this section, Clay describes four behaviors every leader needs to focus on before they become too preoccupied with leading up.

  • Lead yourself – He discusses the importance of self-leadership, and how every leader should know themselves, including their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Choose Positivity – We can bring energy, humility, and a positive attitude to everything we do and every environment we find ourselves in. The individual who leads up brings a positive energy to every situation. They’re not like a wet blanket that snuffs out the fun or sucks the life out a room.
  • Think Critically – Everyone in the organization can make things better by being an owner, by observing, by creating time to think, and by desiring to help others succeed.
  • Reject Passivity – We need to reject passivity, and instead, we need to take action. This is one of my favorite chapters. Clay shares three habits to reject passivity (CPR) – 1) Choose – make a choice, 2) Plan – never present your boss with just a problem; rather, think in terms of solutions, and 3) Respond – respond to what’s most important to your boss and move accordingly.

Part 3) Challenging Authority

In this last section, Clay talks about how difficult it can be to challenge others or to receive a challenge. We’re to build a bridge of relationship, not a wall of distrust. Nothing is more important than your relationship when you challenge up. When you attempt to lead up, you must genuinely want what’s best for your boss and their best interests.

He also shares a principle I first heard many years ago: champion your boss publicly and challenge them privately. I’ve tried to apply this principle over the years and encourage my direct reports to do the same when they either want to encourage or challenge me.

Finally, he shares that you can lead others when you’re not in charge, right now! You don’t have to wait until you’re the boss. In fact, if you sit back and wait until you’re the boss to challenge up, then you’ll probably never even get the opportunity to lead others. The habit of leading up when you’re not in charge is a fundamental skill for anyone who hopes to have authority and influence in any organization.

In the last chapter, Clay shares:

“… you can be the leader you want to be today. You have everything you need to lead. You have the examples of those around you. You have the example of Jesus. You interact with people you can serve every day. Leadership is not about waiting until people call you a leader. It’s about doing everything you can to lead right where you are.”

Target Audience: Anyone in full-time vocational ministry, wherever you fall on the org chart, would benefit from reading this book. I’d also recommend it to any Christian working in a non-church based environment, whether it’s a non-profit or for-profit company or industry.

Final Thoughts:

One caveat as I wrap-up this review: Clay is a good friend of mine. We’ve known each other for over 10 years through seminary and ministry. That being said, I’ve read the book and written this review as unbiased as I can. If the book was not helpful, then I would not have written such a positive review. And, if I didn’t like it or personally benefit from it, then I would not encourage you to read it. Fortunately, I enjoyed it, am starting to apply it, and highly encourage you to read it.

Clay’s a gifted leader, pastor, and communicator. You can tell Clay wrote it – he speaks in his own, unique voice and engages the leader with his authentic examples from his life as well as with his great sense of humor and awesome hip hop references. I’m glad I read this book, and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve how they lead when they’re not in charge. I plan on rereading this book, the second time around with the men and women who report to me on our church staff.

For more on this book, check it out on Amazon.

Also, Clay has compiled some great resources and some bonuses. This would be an outstanding book to read with a team. Check them out here!

And, I have one copy I’d love to give away to a reader. Leave a comment below, on Facebook, or Instagram, on why you’d like to read this book, and I’ll draw for a winner and send you the book.

Your Turn:

  • Are you leading up now, or are you waiting until you’re in charge before you start leading up?
  • Check out Andy Stanley’s two-part interview with Clay Scroggins on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. Each episode lasts about 25 minutes and would be well worth your time and listen.