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How To Lead When You're Not in Charge

It's the week before Christmas and Joenelle and I are in church. It's a big week for churches as they know the next week will probably bring them their largest single service attendance of the year. After the message, the pastor makes a point to have each of us hold up an invite card and think of someone by name we want to invite to Christmas Eve service. On three, we'll all say the name of that person out loud.

It could have been where we were sitting, or maybe just how loud certain people were, but on three a few hundred names were uttered and nearly half were "Mom" or "Dad."

As we walked out, the names still fresh on my mind, I realized for the first time that there is a point in all of our lives when we will be called to lead up.

What is "leading up?" Put simply, it's the process of influencing people that you traditionally wouldn't have authority over. This could be your boss or boss's boss at work, your own parents, a teacher you have, or the employee of a business you're a customer of.

Most people view leadership as a top down process, meaning influence can only occur from a higher position of authority to a lower position. The children inviting their parents to church would disagree.

If we want to see a shift in our family values, a change in the amount of respect given from our bosses, or a small business we care about become profitable, we must embrace leading up.

The process works the same as traditional leadership, but we don't have the crutch of authority to bolster our influence. Instead, we must rely on the three C's:


They say that people don't care what you know, they just want to know you care. Which is true, but also, people aren't likely to follow an idiot.


We must first lead ourselves well before other people, whether below or above us, want to follow.


People are more likely to be influenced by us if we demonstrate we can maintain a high level of performance for a long period of time. Consistency builds trust and trust builds influence.

There will come a time in all of our lives when we will want things to change and the only way forward will be to lead up. Will you?


Write down the name of someone who is "in charge" of you, even situationally. See question below.


How can you be a better leader to that person?


“Your ability to lead up now will help determine your ability to move up later.”

- Craig Groeschel

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