Working for Someone Else? Here’s One of the Most Dangerous Temptations You Face


by Clay Scroggins, adapted from his new book How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority. Andy Stanley calls it “one of the most, if not the most, pivotal leadership books you’ll ever read.”

One of the most dangerous temptations we face when we’re working for someone else is passivity.

If authority brings us a feeling of control, the lack of that authority makes us feel, acutely, our lack of control. And when I feel out of the loop, without any control over the plan, I tend to feel disconnected from the outcome. As much as being in control forces me to think deliberately about my decisions, feeling like I lack control causes me to do the opposite. When I feel like I’m being handed decisions, I throw my hands up, but not in the Taio Cruz kind of way. Worse, when I make decisions to move forward and those decisions get overturned by “those in charge,” I tend to respond by sitting on my hands, passively.

The example that immediately comes to my mind in our organization is the preaching calendar. For those of you who preach, what would you say is the key ingredient to a great sermon series? If we can agree to set aside the power of God for a moment, I would argue that it’s great planning. I’ve found that my best preaching happens when I’ve had time to let an idea simmer. Just like great pork butt, low and slow is the key. The further out I plan, the better I can prepare, and the more likely I am to cultivate life-changing, God-breathed principles and applications.

The challenge I face as a campus pastor is that Andy Stanley ultimately controls our preaching calendar. And don’t misunderstand me; he should control it! He’s the one preaching around thirty-five Sundays a year, the majority of our services. And even though he tries to plan ahead, sometimes the length of his series changes. A four-part series turns into a five-part series, and that turns my three-part series into a two-part series as the schedule changes and I adapt around him. If I’m not married to an idea, it’s not usually a problem to change. But it can be frustrating and problematic when I’ve spent hours and hours planning and preparing for a three-part series only to find out a week beforehand that it’s changed and I need to drop an entire message. As frustrating as that can be, the greatest temptation is for me to become passive about my planning for the next time. It’s easier to just wait on the firm plan than to create firm ideas around a wobbly plan.

Maybe you don’t have the authority you want. Or you’re frustrated because your well-planned idea keeps getting shot down. Maybe you’re discouraged because you feel like you’ve been labeled and it’s keeping you from the opportunities you want. Well, “Don’t let it beat cha.” It wants to. If you don’t pay attention to it, it will. Before you even realize it, the passivity of subordination will settle on you like the plague. That’s why resisting passivity is the best response.

There is nothing helpful about passivity when leading others. Anyone who has created anything has done it through intentionality. Even those who try and fail gain the benefit of an opportunity for learning. Thomas Edison is credited for saying, “I didn’t fail. I just found 2,000 ways not to make a light bulb.” The greatest danger of not being in charge and waiting around until you are, is that you never learn to risk or fail and how to handle that experience. You never learn from those mistakes. Learn to recognize that low-level fear in you that says, “If you try and fail, you’ll get labeled as someone who can’t.” Learning to ignore that voice is crucial. So being aware of passivity is the first step, but step two is learning to reject it and take action.

When you wait for your boss to tell you what to do, your boss then has to think about how to do their job and your job. If you’re always waiting to be handed more responsibility or a new opportunity, you’ll likely become someone who can’t be handed anything of importance. On our team, the people I trust most are the ones handling the most and taking the initiative to find and solve the problems I haven’t even noticed yet. So if you’re not busy, get busy! A waiting posture doesn’t win in the long run. If you don’t know where to start, look around. There are always responsibilities, projects, processes, products, or even people who are underutilized that others around you are just not noticing.

— Clay Scroggins, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority

How To Use This Book 

Clay Scroggins explains what you need to be a great leader—even when you answer to someone else. In this book you will discover:

  • The common identity traps that snag leaders
  • How to approach ambition in healthy ways
  • What you can learn from a less-than-stellar boss
  • How to deal with a dead-end job—do you stay or do you go?

When you’re just getting started on your leadership journey or you’ve been at it for years, you’ll see why you don’t have to wait for a title or a position to start making a difference. How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge will show you how to lead right where you are—right now.

Buy the Book to Learn More

How To lead When You're Not In Charge
by Clay Scroggins