5 Ways to Lead When You Are Not In Charge

For a long time leadership has been understood as having an important title, which then provides the authority to lead. This understanding means we can’t lead until we are the top dog. I believe nothing is further from the truth. Leadership is defined as influence. Influence is the capacity to impact someone else’s character, thoughts, and behavior. This means that regardless of title or job description, we have the opportunity to lead others. While most of us are probably not the boss, it does not mean we cannot leverage our influence to make the people and the organization around us better, even our boss! Today I will focus on five traits that help me “lead-up” when interacting with my boss. These will help leverage your influence with your boss and lead when I’m not in charge.

Free your boss of expectations
We can create expectations of our bosses in our heads that are far from reality. This might surprise you at first, but take a moment and think about it. These include how they should do their job, how they should treat us, what communication style they should use, and even how they should run the organization. Expectations always affect relationships. Why? Because they have the power to drastically impact how we interact with our boss, and even how we do our job. Over time these expectations will slowly deteriorate our relationship with our boss. Let’s be honest with ourselves and evaluate the expectations we place on our bosses—then wipe the slate clean. Practice saying this out loud, “My boss owes me nothing.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t expect respect or fair pay. But dropping expectations strengthens our connection with our boss.

Value their time
Our bosses are busy. Heck, we are probably pretty busy. Let’s honor our bosses time by presenting only the essential things that need their attention. Personally, I like to meet with my boss early in the week with 3-4 things that needs their input in order for me to do my job. I stick to my list and include only the most important details. If you are in leadership, you understand that a source of frustration is when people repeatedly ask you to make their decisions for them. Trust that your boss has your back, make decisions and take responsibility for the results, while only bringing the essential things to them. Another thing I practice is frequently ask my boss “what can I do for you?” Our tasks often shift as the week evolves and I can value for my boss’ time by helming them do what only they can do.

Bring positive energy
I’m not saying that you have to be a rainbow-puking unicorn all the time, but brining positive energy separates good leaders from great leaders. The worst thing in the workplace may just be a rainbow-puking unicorn, but the second are people who are disengaged and lethargic. If we put ourselves in our bosses shoes (and be honest again), we would throughly enjoy leading energetic, passionate and engaged people. Imagine a meeting full of positive energy and the productivity it would generate. These people are fun to be around and create incredible influence – the very definition of a leader. Leading when you are not in charge is bringing positive energy to your workplace, campus, service project and family.

Don’t present problems, propose solutions
Leaders anticipate problems. Craig Groschel say that, “When we are done anticipating and fixing problems, we are no longer leading.” This means that leaders don’t just anticipate problems, but fix them as well. We can’t just present problems, but propose solutions – this how we lead when we aren’t in charge. These are what Craig call anticipatory leaders. University of Alabama Head football coach Nick Saban has a great leader and coach by developing principles to draw out the best from his staff and players. When a player is rehabbing an injury, Coach Saban does not just want a report of the injury, but wants to see the proposed plan to recouperate the injury. Proposing solutions when presenting a problem is leading when we aren’t in charge.

Pull some extra weight
It’s easy to cling to our job description, while waving off any request to help others because we busy enough with our own tasks. But when our coworkers succeed, our organization succeeds. There is something polarizing and contagious about those who genuinely help others. In fact, few things gain influence better than pulling a little extra weight. While employees adhere to their job description, leaders pull extra weight. So, why not? Go ahead. Jump in and pull some extra weight for your coworkers and your boss. Lend some time to a project, invest some sweat into moving that shipment, listen to your coworker’s pitch before the big meeting.

Leadership is influence. We don’t need to wait for a title to give us permission to lead others. We can leverage our influence with our boss and use the five traits above will expand your influence and help you “lead-up.” These trials will also make the people around us better and help our organization succeed. If you practice these things, I promise that if and when you are the boss, you will be a better leader for it.


David is a nerd in the full sense of the word. He lives and breathes Star Wars, often hoping it will come up spontaneously in conversations. He loves Apple products, social media, music, graphic design and technology in general. David, a beach boy through and though, originally from South Jersey, attended Elim Bible Institute in Rochester, from 2009-2012, then transferred to Roberts Wesleyan college for one semester with his then finance, before being hired as the Youth Pastor along with his now wife of five years, Sarah, in January 2013. David and Sarah love youth ministry and are obsessed with coffee, food, leadership and their baby boy Emerson. In his spare time David likes...scratch that, when do Dads have free tome?! David enjoys listening to audio books, longboard, snowboarding, LEGOs and coffee, lots of coffee. He has a passion for leadership, organizational management and strategy and helping people pursue their passions while becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus.