Leading When You Are Not the Leader


I love learning about history, particularly about WWII. I find the stories of the greatest generation inspiring and extremely thought-provoking. Some of the greatest leaders in the last century came out of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Recently, I finished two fascinating books about Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1944) and Harry S. Truman (The Accidental President)

One of the most striking observations of both presidents was their ability to lead when they weren’t the leader. Of course they were the clear leaders of the United States, but they were equals during negotiations with other world leaders. Both FDR and Truman knew they must be disciplined to listen and be personally fit to lead.

As disciplined listeners FDR and Truman took the time to clearly understand the explicit and implicit goals of their peers.

  1. What are the explicit goals? In most churches this is the mission statement posted in your bulletin or the words posted on the walls around your building. It is important to have explicit goals giving your church purpose. Many of the people visiting your church will be drawn to a place that has clear purpose for them and their community.
  2. What are the implicit goals? Sometimes these goals aren’t as easy to communicate. Implicit goals are not plainly expressed and could take a staff member or regular attender months to uncover. Often implicit goals are a reflection of your culture. In some cases the implicit goals overrule the explicit goals.

Leading personally means you are F.I.T. to lead:

Feel – How do people feel about you when you walk into the room? It is important to cultivate a positive chemistry with the people around you.

Integrity – This is closely related to how people feel, but think is very important to differentiate. You can have a ton of integrity, but if you are a jerk no one will follow you. Integrity speaks to your character and if you are someone who is disciplined to make the right decisions even if it means you have to admit you were wrong.

Talent – You don’t have to be the most talented person in the room, but you do have to understand amongst the team where your talents are best used. People want to know that you are competent, dependable, and ready to do your part. Some of the best leaders are the ones who are willing to acquire new talents when the task demands them to.

Leading when you aren’t the leader is hard. I believe you become a more effective leader when you understand the explicit and implicit goals of the people and churches or organizations you are leading. Individually, we also should strive to be F.I.T. leaders that people want to follow.  

Posted on July 15, 2020

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  • Leading when you aren’t the leader is a difficult situation, because you sometimes have to do it from the shadows. If management discovers that you are doing it, they will likely be fearful and start accusing you of usurping them. Frequently, you do it in secret.

    • Kevin Spratt says on

      Mark, thanks for your comment.

      You express well the tension all leaders experience between honoring their leader and also contributing as an individual. The reality is that we all answer to someone else and never do we want to usurp authority. My hope is to communicate as secondary or supporting leader we have to understand the organization well and be people of integrity to lead well.