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Mindsets for When You Are Not In Charge By Michael Gunnin

The Four Mindsets for Leading When You Are Not in Charge

Leading when you are not in charge is a precarious challenge. What follows are four critical mindsets if you desire to teach but don’t have a position of authority.

One: Build Influence through Impact

Leadership has been redefined recently as influence rather than authority. Leading is less about title, position, or paycheck and more about influencing others.

This redefinition of leadership is freeing for those of us seeking to lead when we aren’t in charge. It frees us to lead functionally before positionally. But how can we build credibility and gain a voice that allows us to influence beyond our current role? How do we gain influence regardless of our position?

There is a simple answer, but not always easy: Impact is the pathway to influence.

Nothing will get you more noticed within your organization, bring your ideas to be more considered, and get you invited more frequently to greater levels of influence than to generate results. Influence follows impact.

This influence doesn’t always have to be just within the scope of your job. Adding value across the silos of our organizational charts is an impact. Solving a problem for another team is an impact. Volunteering to lead a new initiative is an impact. And with effects comes influence.

Unfortunately, many who seek to lead without being in charge want a position of power without first making a positive impact. The “influence follows impact” mindset may be a slower and more difficult path to leadership, but it ensures that we are ready to lead and have built credibility with those who will follow us.

Two: Evaluate Your Motives

As an undergraduate student, I took an elective “Group Dynamics” class because I understood it to be an easy grade. We spent the semester playing games to learn how groups function.

My first exposure to the DiSC personality profile was in group dynamics. My results alarmed my professor: I have a powerful, dominant, high-achieving personality. He warned me that while I’m wired to lead, I’ll destroy every relationship on the way to the top if I’m not careful. It was a dose of self-awareness that has stuck for decades and probably saved me a lot of pain.

Three: Learn to Follow Before You Lead

We live in a culture where leadership gets celebrated, discussed, and taught. Being less than a leader may be perceived as something less than. In reality, there are many more followers than leaders in our organizations. What if we invested as much in learning to follow well as leading well? What if the reason that many who aspire to lead fail are that they never learned to follow?

For those who want to lead while not in charge, the mindset of following well is critical for success.

Following well means prioritizing, serving, honoring, and helping those who lead us. This does not mean we agree with every decision, but instead, we disagree with appropriate respect. Following well means we are willing to implement the decisions and strategies of those in charge as if they were our own, even if we might have done something different. And most importantly, following well means we honor those who lead by refraining from speaking negatively and divisively to others in the organization about those who lead.

If you want to lead but currently lack authority, how well are you following? Are you teachable when your ideas aren’t accepted? Do you learn from the strengths of others? Do you elevate those who are leading you? Are you sowing seeds of division?

Learning to follow well will prepare you to lead well. Learning to follow well is a mindset that creates opportunities to lead now but keeps others open to listening to your ideas.

Four: Use the Present to Prepare for More 

One of my favorite stories from the Bible is King David’s anointing in 1 Samuel 16. Jesse was to bring his sons to a sacrifice, where unknown to him, the prophet Samuel would anoint a new king for Israel. David, Jesse’s youngest son, wasn’t invited to the sacrifice. When Samuel discovered and questioned this, Jesse remarked that David was young and tending sheep. David is summoned, and Samuel anoints him as Israel’s next king.

David’s current position as a shepherd made everyone else think he could never lead. Yet, it was being a shepherd that prepared him for something more. The following story in 1 Samuel 17 is David’s victory over Goliath using a sling he no doubt perfected while guarding those sheep.

Many of us have seasons of work where we might feel like David. Undervalued. Working beneath our capacity. In a role that somehow feels less than. Have you considered that God may use this season to prepare you for the next one? It is a missed opportunity to not take advantage of where we are now to prepare for how God may choose to use us later in our careers. Use the present to prepare for more.

Are you stuck between where you are and where you want to be? It’s a tricky spot, especially for those who want to lead. It’s easy to drift into resentment and cynicism because we think we could do it better. However, the mindset that creates a path to actual influence is intentionally using your current season to prepare for what’s next. This mindset may make those leadership positions happen faster than you could imagine.

A Final Word

Leading when you are not in charge is plagued with potential downfalls. Your motives may be questioned. You may get frustrated when your voice isn’t heard. You may get impatient at the (slow) speed of change.

Adopting these four mindsets helps us avoid the risks of seeking to lead when we aren’t in charge. If you were made to show, then create influence through impact. Follow well. Check your motives. And never miss the opportunity to build your capacity now to lead tomorrow. 

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Michael Gunnin serves as Executive Vice President & Chief Growth Officer of Walk Thru the Bible, a ministry working in 140+ countries to help ignite a passion for God’s Word. He is the creator of several Walk Thru the Bible resources, including Bible Study Simplified and otPANORAMIC. This post was adapted for the blog from his article featured in the Spring Edition of Outcomes Magazine.


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