the shape of leadership

Leading from Influence Rather Than Authority

A review of Clay Scroggins’ book

Carter McDaniel on August 22, 2017

When I’m in charge, I won’t do it that way.”

“If I were the boss, I’d get this place fixed.”

How many times have we made, or at least thought, statements like these? It seems like from a young age we are trained to think that the ability to effect change comes only after you achieve positional authority — that leadership is the result of flexing our positional muscles. After all, no one plays Follow the Middle Manager as a kid.

Clay Scroggins goes mythbuster on this idea in his new book How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority. Scroggins asserts that influence is the true currency of leadership, and that position follows leadership, not the other way around.

Great leaders lead when they are needed, regardless of their position or level of authority. And great leaders know how to lead when they are in charge because they have been leading that way long before they were in a position of authority.

Scroggins knows a thing or two about leadership. He currently serves as lead pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia — the original and largest campus of North Point Ministries. But, like most of us in pastoral ministry, Scroggins didn’t start where he is today.

Unlike most of us, Scroggins started at North Point as a facilities intern, or, as he says, “the Vice President of Nothing.” And, even in his lead pastor role, Scroggins still isn’t totally in charge; he still answers to Andy Stanley and the Central Leadership Team at North Point.

The good news, Scroggins points out, is that influence can be cultivated. And you can (and should) cultivate influence before you have authority. In fact, if you work to cultivate your influence when you’re not in charge, it will be there for you when you are in charge.

Scroggins contends that the first steps to developing and managing our influence are largely related to understanding our identity. Leading without authority requires a keen self-understanding of who we are as an individual, apart from any titles we may or may not hold. Being precedes doing, so who we are will inform what we do and how we lead.

If you work to cultivate your influence when you’re not in charge, it will be there for you when you are in charge.

Scroggins identifies four key behaviors that leaders should continually develop to build and maintain their influence.

Lead yourself. If we don’t lead ourselves well, we won’t have credibility to lead others. Good self-leadership involves modeling good followership, monitoring our behaviors and attitudes, and having a plan for the future.

Choose positivity. Choosing positivity does not mean viewing every situation through rose-colored glasses. Rather, it is choosing to view things through a panoptic lens that provides a complete perspective of how things fit into God’s long-term plans. When we view things this way, we will cultivate a positive attitude and energy that are contagious.

Think critically. While positivity is a choice we make, critical thinking is a skill we can develop. Thinking critically about situations allows us to add value by realistically seeing where and how things need to improve.

Reject passivity. It is easy to fall into passivity when we feel like we are not in control — we feel like we should wait to act until we have more authority. Rejecting passivity is the conscious decision to take initiative and act with intention even when we feel like we lack control.

There is a key theme throughout the book that I think is especially important for pastors and church leaders to hear and keep in focus: Although the premise is that you can, and should, lead without authority, this does not mean that authority and authority structures are bad. On the contrary, authority structures are not only useful, they are ordained by God.

Romans 13:1 reminds us that everyone is “subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” So, to circumvent authority, even if it is bad authority, is to go against God’s plan.

When things need to change, authority should be challenged, not circumvented. And how we take on this challenge will both affect and utilize our influence. The book culminates in Chapters 8 and 9 with a discussion and road map of how to properly “challenge up.” Challenging up the authority structure is one of the best examples of leading with influence versus leading with authority.

We can effectively think of this as leading a boss to a decision he or she would not have made otherwise. Since subordinates have no authority over the boss (obviously), the only way to can get there is via influence.

Wherever we are in our leadership journey, it is always beneficial to evaluate and improve our influence with others. This book gives a great road map for accomplishing this while respecting the God-given idea of authority.

So, if you feel like you’re biding your time while you wait for a greater position, now is the time to start understanding your identity and influence. If you are just moving into greater positions of authority, keep developing and leading from your influence more than your position.

Or, if you find yourself in a senior management role but leveraging more position than influence, it’s not too late to engage the behaviors that develop influence. For all of us, “the next chapter starts today.”


Book Reviewed:

Clay Scroggins, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).


Listen to the Influence Podcast with Clay Scroggins.



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