Skip to content

Blog / How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: An Interview with Clay Scroggins

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: An Interview with Clay Scroggins

Clay ScrogginsPaul admonishes Christians to defer to those in authority, but what if they’re incompetent or half-hearted? How can you lead if you’re not in charge?

In this Q&A, Clay Scroggins (@clayscroggins) talks about his book, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority (Zondervan, 2017).

What lie about leadership did you believe early in your work life?

Dr. Clay Scroggins: When I was growing up, I felt most alive in positions of leadership. Unfortunately, it was just so natural to believe that I had to have a title to feel like a leader. Whether it was running for student government or being named captain of a sports team, I felt like the title gave me the opportunity to lead. The more I’ve learned about leadership, the more I realize it’s actually the other way around. The title comes after leadership has been proven.
Buy your copy of How to Lead When You're Not in Charge in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

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.

What have you learned about leadership while working under your boss, Andy Stanley?

Dr. Clay Scroggins: From my perspective, Andy has spent a lot of his life intentionally seeking to create a leadership culture where decisions are pushed down to the lowest level possible. He wants to ensure the people who are responsible for executing a decision have the authority to make the decision. If North Point gravitates toward one end of the spectrum, it’s toward freedom to lead out instead of having a culture of high control. At North Point, if you have a desire to push forward, ideas for adding value, and a sense of purpose, but fail to lead out because you aren’t in charge, you can only blame yourself.

I still remember the moment my excuses for not leading well were exposed. I realized I had been focused on blaming others instead of actually leading. My exposure was more of an internal conviction of my need to change. But it was still a game-changer, drastically changing the way I think about leadership. I learned that leaders don’t sit back and point fingers. Leaders lead with the authority of leadership—or without it. If you’re a leader, you’ll lead when you’re needed.

Are you suggesting authority isn’t part of the leadership equation?

Dr. Clay Scroggins: Absolutely not, but authority isn’t the starting block for leadership.

At one point during his ministry, Jesus warned his followers to not confuse a position of authority or power with a call to lead. Because they were in danger of getting this wrong, he made an abrupt distinction between how he wanted them to lead and the way things typically operated in the world. “Not so with you!” he says. What’s the “not so” of leadership that Jesus referred to here? It’s the type of leader who seeks authority for his or her personal gain. Jesus taught them that the best leaders, the ones who are aligned with him, will lead as servants, aware of their responsibility as they answer to a higher call.

Even when we have authority and official positions of leadership, inspiring leaders do not need to leverage their authority. “Not so with you” leaders learn that there are ways to cultivate influence and build trust. Jesus tells us this is the way to lead—by example and for the right reasons.

What role does ambition play in a leader’s life?

Dr. Clay Scroggins: To me, this gets to the heart of the why of leadership—the engine that motivates your leadership train.

Leaders are driven by something inside of them and it does no good to not know what that is. Too often, there’s a distortion inside of leaders when they’re faced with dealing with the ambition to lead but without the authority to lead. This distortion limits our influence and causes a host of issues that will follow us wherever our professional life takes us.

The distortion I see for many young leaders revolves around this one word: ambition. I call it a distortion for a reason. I believe God has placed a desire for more—a desire to see things change, to make things better, and to lead—inside of us, but it gets easily twisted. And when the ambition inside us is distorted, it affects every aspect of our leadership, and something meant for good can be co-opted by a selfish motive or a narrow focus that’s of no benefit to anyone but you. We either sit on our hands in passivity or we feel like we need to go out on our own to let our ambition loose. However, I believe there’s a third way.

What does it mean to “lead yourself” first?

Dr. Clay Scroggins: You’re in charge of you. You’re in charge of your emotions, your thoughts, and your decisions. It’s the law of personal responsibility, because everyone is responsible for leading something, even if that something is just you. When you’re not in charge, the most common temptation you’ll face is to abdicate responsibility. “If they had wanted me to take responsibility, they would have put me in charge. And since I’m not in charge of all, I’m in charge of nothing.” But this is dangerous. This attitude is not evidence of a lack of leadership; it’s a sign of bad leadership. Remember, all of us are leaders. You have leadership in you, and if you find yourself abdicating responsibility because you’re not in charge, step one is to recognize it. Step two is to fix it. When you’re not in charge, you can still take charge of you.

Do you see “leading yourself” as a prerequisite for leading others?

Dr. Clay Scroggins: Great leaders know how to lead when they’re in charge because they’ve been leading long before they were ever given that authority. That’s the big idea I hope people will take away from How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge. I hope loads of people will see that it’s possible to lead from where they are right now. I hope they know they don’t have to wait for that future position they’ve been dreaming about in order to begin leading.

Leadership starts right now, wherever you are. 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 to lead until people call you a leader. It’s about doing everything you can to lead from right where you are.

One of the best things you can do today is to begin asking yourself questions about how and why you want to lead when you’re in charge. Then, start leading with those answers in mind. Anyone can daydream about what they will do once they’re in charge. But it takes a unique person, a real leader, to imagine this reality and then put it into action before they have that position of authority.

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Dr. Clay Scroggins: Hebrews 12:1-3. I memorized this as a teenager and it’s one of the passages I just naturally come back to over and over again. I love the idea of running a race, because, though I don’t love running, I do relate to the idea that life is a marathon. It. Is. An. Everyday. Race. And the best way to run is to be as light as possible, throwing off everything that would hinder. When the race gets tough, keeping my eye on the prize, just as Jesus did, is the best way to run!

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Dr. Clay Scroggins: I’ve used Bible Gateway for as long as I can remember using the internet. The layout is simple and so accessible. Bible Gateway is a gift to us all!

Bio: Clay Scroggins is the lead pastor of North Point Community Church, providing visionary and directional leadership for all of the local church staff and congregation. As the original and largest campus of North Point Ministries, ranked by Outreach Magazine in 2014 as the Largest Church in America, NPCC averages over 12,000 people in attendance. Clay works for Andy Stanley, one of the greatest leaders on the planet, and understands firsthand how to manage the tension of leading when you’re not in charge.

Starting out as a facilities intern (AKA, Vice-President of Nothing), he has worked his way through many organizational levels of North Point Ministries and know all too well the challenge of authority deprivation. Clay holds a degree in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech as well as a Master’s degree and doctorate with an emphasis in Online Church from Dallas Theological Seminary. He lives in Forsyth County, Georgia, with his wife, Jenny, and their four children.

Leading family, friends, neighbors, church members in studying the Bible? Bible Gateway Plus makes your job easier! Get biblically wise and spiritually fit. Try it right now!

Filed under Books, Interviews, Leadership