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How to Lead When You're Not in Charge

My name is Leah Pilkington and I’ve been involved with the Coldwater Canada team this past year as an intern. During my internship, I got to read How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge written by Clay Scroggins, and I’ve been invited to share some of my insights from the book with you. While I love to read, my experience with books on leadership was pretty non-existent prior to reading this book, but I was excited to dive in!

Leading when you’re not in charge was initially a strange concept to me. Scroggins unpacks this idea by challenging the preconceived assumption that to lead, one must also be in charge. While he covers some great topics related to Christ-centred leadership, the heart of this book boils down to learning how we can cultivate influence in the place or position we’re in, regardless of whether we are in charge or have authority.

While I can’t imagine summing up this entire book in one blog post, I do hope to share some of my personal reflections and takeaways. So without further ado, my four personal takeaways from How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge.

People lead without authority all the time

Just look throughout history! Some of the most powerful leaders in history leveraged their influence when they had very little authority. In his book, Scroggins briefly shares the stories of Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. When I think of great leaders throughout history, these men would be somewhere on my list. Neither of these leaders had any actual authority and had to rely on their influence to successfully lead their movements and revolutions.

We are are able to cultivate influence anywhere and at anytime! We may be unaware of our influence, but why not choose to harness our influence to have a positive impact?

Question for reflection: What areas of your life do you have influence and are you using that influence to have a positive impact?

Preparing for tough conversations goes past knowing what you want to say

Scroggins addresses the importance of being emotionally neutral before getting in a room with your boss. This idea is pretty simple but impactful. Prior to reading this book, I had often let my emotions get the better of me when engaging in a tough conversation. So, what does remaining emotionally neutral look like? It means going into a meeting with a calm demeanour. If you feel like there’s the possibility that you might raise your voice or burst into tears, you’re not ready to challenge this issue. So next time you have an issue to address with your boss, take stock of where you are at emotionally. Is this going to be fruitful conversation or is it going to make the situation worse?

Positivity shouldn’t stand alone

I used to see positivity and optimism as a two-for-one package deal. The words “I’m not being negative, I’m just being realistic” have come out of my mouth on more than one occasion throughout my life. Scroggins relates the necessity of positivity in successful leadership but he also dedicates a chapter to the need for that positivity to be coupled with an ability to think critically.

“Every good leader is also a critical thinker. Leaders intuitively know how to make something better...You will always be looking for ways to make things better, to say things better, to do things better. That’s what leaders do.” (135)

The ability to think critically is not something we are born with. It is a skill that must be developed over time. Scroggins shares a few ideas to help develop this skill and I connected with one in particular: understanding the difference between being critical and thinking critically and that it all comes down to motive.

“People who are critical want you to lose. They’re motivated to tear something down. People who are great critical thinkers want you to win. They’re motivated to make something better...When I point out something wrong with what you’re doing because I think I see a better way for you, I’m thinking critically to serve you.” (143-4)

Question for reflection: What are you doing to develop your ability to think critically? Are you motivated to build others up or tear others down?

The best leader we can aspire to be like is Jesus. End of story.

This idea was proposed to me early on in my experience with Coldwater Canada. If we’re going to model our leadership against anybody, it should be Jesus. But this idea, is a big one! There’s a lot to learn from Jesus as a thorough read of the Gospels will show. In an effort to keep this brief, I want to focus on one aspect of Jesus’ character: his capacity to love others. Scroggins illustrates this in his book:

“[Jesus] focused on talking to everyone and treating even the most marginalized within society with respect”

So what does this translate to for us? That means everyone is deserving of our most heartfelt respect. That means thanking the barista who makes your coffee in the morning, smiling at the homeless who are living on the streets and choosing to not participate in work politics that bring people down. It’s an intentional choice and one that has to be made everyday.

Question for reflection: Is your behaviour and actions reflective of Jesus’ leadership?

Prior to reading this book, leading when you’re not in a position of authority was a new concept for me. Reading Scroggins’ principles on this topic have broadened my view on what leadership can look like.

My hope for this blog post is that it would inspire you to think about the power of influence when we’re lacking authority. So, to conclude I would like to leave you with a challenge. If you haven’t explored how to lead when you aren’t in charge, I would encourage you to pick up this book to learn more about it for yourself. Leaders equipped to influence even when they’re not in charge can have a tremendous impact, so choose to be one of these leaders today!

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