How to be a Leader When You’re Not the One in Charge

Being a leader and being in charge are not the same thing. There is a misconception in both Church and secular contexts that being a leader means that you have some sort of title and you’ve been given responsibility for other people. Leadership, however, is simply creating a pathway for other people to follow, and that doesn’t require a job title or for other people to give you official recognition as a leader. As a matter of fact, it’s important that you learn how to lead before being put in charge of something. With that in mind, here are some ways you can begin leading right where you are:

  1. Honor your leaders, even when you disagree with them. Whether your context is church, work, education, family, etc., you have a God-given mandate to honor your leaders. I can hear somebody out there saying, “Well, my leaders don’t follow God, and they make bone-headed decisions.” That may very well be the case, but they still qualify for your honor. Take a look at how the prophet Daniel honored King Darius after the king threw him in the lion’s den:

    At the first light of dawn the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he reached the den, he cried out in anguish to Daniel. “Daniel, servant of the living God,” the king said, “has your God whom you serve continually been able to rescue you from the lions? ” Then Daniel spoke with the king: “May the king live forever. My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths. They haven’t hurt me, for I was found innocent before Him. Also, I have not committed a crime against you, my king.” Daniel 6:19-22 (HCSB)

    “May the king live forever”?!? Are you kidding me? Darius was an evil man who committed many atrocities, and Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den for not bowing down to worship this despot. But Daniel responded to Darius’s evil with God’s good, and he honored his leader even when his leader wasn’t worthy of honor. As a result, Darius saw the power of God on Daniel’s life and he turned away from his sin. Even though Daniel wasn’t in charge, his honor and Godly leadership influenced an empire.

  2. Leave negativity behind. People rarely ever get criticized into doing a better job, and situations rarely improve because of complaining. Whether you are in public or in private, in person or on social media, don’t buy into the world’s way of thinking that the one who complains the loudest makes the biggest impact. Complainers only drag others down with them. Think about the Israelites in the wilderness: complaining turned a 40-day journey into a 40-year nightmare. Complaining cost an entire generation their opportunity to enter the Promised Land.
  3. Be an encourager. Encourage both your leaders and your peers. Look for the good things God has implanted in the people around you, and let your words draw out the best in them. Remember, your words carry the power of the Holy Spirit. Make sure you’re covering your team with blessings and not curses.
  4. Work hard. Don’t wait for an important job before you begin working hard. Remember, you are ultimately working for God, not for the person in charge. Every assignment you have deserves your utmost. Jesus said that your works are what makes your light shine on the world. “Let them see your good works, and praise your Father in Heaven.” Every job you have is an opportunity to showcase the glory of God.
  5. Offer advice sparingly. Many people believe that becoming a leader involves inserting themselves into situations above their current pay grade. The truth, however, is that nobody enjoys being around a know-it-all. Let the wisdom of God inform and influence the tasks you have been assigned to, and when your leaders and peers see how successful you are at everything you set your hands to, you won’t have to go to them with advice; they’ll come to you.
  6. Don’t self-promote. Again, let your actions speak for themselves. Remember whose Kingdom you belong to. When the disciples argued about which one of them was the greatest, Jesus told them that being great in God’s Kingdom means being the servant of all. You don’t have to talk yourself up or herald your own successes. In the book of Genesis, Joseph started his career as a slave but he ended up being the 2nd in command of all of Egypt. He didn’t get there by constantly reminding other people of his qualifications and accomplishments. No, his leaders noticed that everything Joseph touched succeeded. You don’t have to highlight yourself. When it’s time for promotion, God will always highlight you.
  7. Choose your battles. You might not agree with every decision your leaders make, but only things that violate your core principles as a Christian warrant defiance. Remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They served alongside wizards and satanic spiritualists under King Nebuchadnezzar who was the ancient-world equivalent of Saddam Hussein. They served this terrible man with great honor, and we only have two accounts of defiance. The first was when they were commanded to eat food that was sacrificed to idols. The second was when they refused to bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. In both cases, God backed up their righteous defiance with His power. As a result, God changed the empire of Babylon and even saved Nebuchadnezzar.
  8. Be the solution to problems. It’s easy to find faults and identify problems, but a leader is somebody who is willing to be the solution. A good rule of thumb is to always come up with a solution before pointing out a problem. Be willing to be the person who works extra to fix broken things.
  9. Pray for God’s blessings on your team and your leaders. When the Israelites were in Babylonian captivity, God instructed them through the prophet Jeremiah to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” where they were exiled. When we intercede for our leaders, whether or not they know Jesus, God’s blessings are set into motion. When they are blessed, you will also be blessed.
  10. Help others succeed. The Kingdom of God is not a zero-sum game. When somebody else succeeds, it doesn’t mean that you are losing. True leaders bring out the best in everyone and help those around them win. Ditch the spirit that says you have to get ahead by dragging others down. Be the catalyst that sets others up for success.
  11. Celebrate your team members’ victories. Even when somebody else gets the promotion or credit you were looking for, rejoice in their victory as if it were your own.  We have the opportunity to partake in other people’s victories, but we miss out when we refuse to praise God for his blessings on others. Jesus said to “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”
  12. Be a learner. Effective leaders never assume that they have it all figured out. They are always learning, always bettering their craft, always gleaning wisdom from others. Learn from your team members and friends. Have a teachable spirit. Often, you will find that things you assumed you knew better were not actually the best way.

Joseph, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: none of them were the person in charge. They all started in places of absolute subservience, but they led from where they God placed them. God gave them influence because they didn’t wait for a better position before taking on a mantle of leadership. You don’t have to be the pastor or worship leader to shift the atmosphere in your church. You don’t have to be the boss to change the leadership culture of your workplace. You don’t have to be the patriarch to see God move in your family. You don’t have to be the principal to transform your school into a thriving environment.

Remember, whoever is faithful with a little will be trusted with much. Don’t bury your talents in the ground while you wait for a better position. Use every opportunity God has given to you to display His wisdom and glory. When you stop chasing a position and begin leading right where you are, leadership opportunities will find you.


  1. This is so good, with some practical reminders of how to “guard my heart.” Thank-you for posting this on you blog–it confirms some other advice/encouragement I recieved recently.

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