Every health system leader has unprecedented executive management challenges facing their organization in the wake of the pandemic.
On this episode of “Leader Dialogue Radio“, the panel is joined by pastor, speaker and author Clay Scroggins to discuss his book “How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge“ and how to leverage influence when one lacks authority, such as situations that may face leaders and providers in these disruptive COVID times.
Listen to the podcast here
How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge With Clay Scroggins
I’m honored to be joined by some friends of mine, Ben Sawyer, Darin Vercillo and Dr. Chuck Peck. Chuck is my co-host. Darin Vercillo and Ben are executives with About Healthcare. Welcome. It’s good to be back with you.
It’s good to be here, Roger.
I’m particularly excited about this episode because we’ve been talking a lot about the challenges that healthcare leaders are facing and burnout is a significant problem. We’ve talked a lot about it and probably some of you are burned out from us talking about burnout. We’re not done with it yet because it’s such an extraordinary, difficult problem. I found a book that had an amazing title called How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Dr. Clay Scroggins.
I was so taken with that title because when I was active in leading healthcare, I found so many people who were frustrated about not having the authority to lead but the desire to lead. Clay’s book spoke to me. I’ve given away hundreds of copies of this book to leaders in the health systems that I’ve had the privilege of leading over the last several years. I always love subtitles and his subtitle is Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority. Dr. Clay Scroggins is a pastor, teacher, leader, speaker and author, an industrial engineer, a dad and a bunch of other stuff that’s important. Clay, thank you so much for being willing to talk with us.
I’m glad to get to be here, Roger. The way you all are attempting to serve people through interviews like this says a lot about you. It’s remarkable. I’m grateful for you to take your light and giving me a little moment to be able to talk about what I’m passionate about.
What a great thing to write a book like this but then to have the foreword written by a guy like Andy Stanley, who says, “Every leadership team needs to read this book.” He means that sincerely because you worked with him for many years. He says, “If you want to build a leadership culture in your organization, you should make this book required reading for everyone on your team.”
That’s high praise from a guy like Andy Stanley. Clay, you’ve been a pastor and doing this full-time, exclaiming your leadership influence. You have a lot of sports and scriptural references. What does that say to us as healthcare leaders in our audience where we’re trying to deal with some of these things in healthcare?
I wrote this from a pastoral perspective because that’s who I am. In the same way, it would be like saying to one of you, “Write a book on leadership and don’t use any medical examples.” That would be tough to do. My hope is that the principles of the book are true in whatever field that you work in. I believe the way leadership, influence and authority work is there are principles that we can learn or either leverage or fight against, even.
In a way, they’re business-agnostic. They fit in any industry like healthcare, clergy and academia. For those reading, I do not claim to know a whole lot about what you do but I’m hoping that you bring your context and I’m going to offer some principles of leadership. Through that, maybe we’ll find some context that might lead to some growth in all of us. That’s certainly what I’m hoping for.
All of us need to take a holistic look at this. We need to look everywhere we can to find help because these problems are particularly difficult and thorny. We’ve got some leaders who are well-trained in their particular field of influence and study but quitting their jobs. There are a lot of frustrations that have led to this sense. I’m sure you’re finding this as you speak. We’ve talked a bit about The Great Resignation. How have youth taken this concept of leading when you’re not in charge and applied that as an antidote to The Great Resignation?
Leadership is business agnostic. It really fits in any industry. Click To Tweet
Everyone wants to feel like what they’re working on matters and their voice matters, that they have the ability to make a change. They have the ability and the opportunity to move people. To do what they might not want to do and accomplish what they want to accomplish. That’s the foundation of this book. It is baked into our DNA as a human to want to be working on something.
“I’m going to spend more time working and doing just about anything else. If I’m going to do that, I may as well do it in such a way that it matters, makes a difference and moves something forward.” It’s in us as humans to want to do that, grow something, build something, move ideas forward, see something progress and develop.
The options that we end up finding when we’re relying on authority to do that or a position like, “If I was only the leader of the hospital or the leaders of all of the medical team that I work on. If I can only get these patients to do exactly what I say to do because I have all the credentials for them to do that,” we end up finding pretty quickly that that’s not the way leadership works.
There’s been plenty of people who’ve had a lot of authority who were not great leaders. There have been plenty of people who didn’t have the title to do what they did and yet still figured out a way to move people to do what they might not have wanted to do and accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. The essence of that is building influence. It’s the ability to cultivate influence. Some of that comes from the credibility of our education. Some of that comes from our experience. I’ve found that a lot more has to do with the way we’re leading, operating and living this life. We have this opportunity to cultivate influence whether we have the authority or don’t.
Clay, it’s great to have you on with us. As you spoke about what you did, the memories of the book If I Ran the Zoo came to mind. It’s interesting what you said. It is applicable and germane to many of the organizations that we work with. From the About Healthcare side, we work on access and orchestration of patient care within hospital systems.
Healthcare systems and hospitals are inherently hierarchical. If you are in the leadership team, you have the influence and a seat at the table. If you happen to be maybe the lead neurosurgeon and you’re not on the leadership team, you can go to that team and say, “This is what I want,” and get it done.” Let’s say you’re tasked with a project like bringing up access, an orchestration strategy, a transfer center or a patient-flow strategy within the organization where you see that need, tackle it and get things done. You have great ideas. You’re working with an organization like About Healthcare.
You want to bring something in only to get stonewalled at some point by your technology group within your organization who says, “We’ve invested $500 million in our HER. That’s the only group we’ll work with.” How do you empower that mid-tier manager who has big aspirations and a strategy they want to bring forward and help them understand how they can move that project forward, despite the headwinds that face them?
Darin, I love practical questions like that. Thanks for bringing so much context. That is such a great example of why this matters so deeply because it’s not impossible. There are times when we get stonewalled and get the answer, “No.” Part of it is learning how to reframe no to not now or maybe later. Learning how to not give up and say, “I’m not going to accept this as the final answer. I’m going to find a new approach.” We also have to look in the mirror and go, “What am I doing that’s working and not working?” It is a very basic question for all of us to figure out.
All of our behaviors are contributing to our influence or costing us influence. We have to pay attention. We have to take all that frustration and discouragement and decide, “I’m going to look in the mirror.” Michael Jackson said, “Start with the man in the mirror.” We got to start there and say, “I’m going to try to figure out, ‘What am I doing that’s working and not working?’” People with far less authority, less ability and fewer resources even perhaps have accomplished great things by learning to cultivate more influence.
What led me to write this book is I felt stuck in the middle and the hierarchy of an organization. I felt like I got more bosses than I know what to do with. I would get a promotion so I would get more authority and then I would think, “It is the moment. Now that I have my boss’s job, I can get everybody to do what I finally want them to do.” I quickly learned, “That is not the way leadership works.” I call it wielding the gun of authority.
If you were to say, “I’m the boss. Listen to me and do exactly what I say,” people will do that in the short term but you will not cultivate followers that way. One of the reasons why people are resigning from their jobs is they are tired of working for people that say, “Quit asking why. Go do the job.” No, people want to know, “Why does this matter? Tell me what’s behind all this. Tell me where we’re going.”
There’s this ancient proverb that says, “When there is no vision, the people will perish.” That’s a powerful statement that when the leader is not able to or not cast a vision for like, “Here’s where we’re going and why we’re doing it,” people will eventually give up and go, “I just don’t want to do that anymore.”
All of our behaviors are either contributing to our influence or costing us influence. Click To Tweet
Learning how to lead up, lead our peers and even how to lead with this same influence is the key hallmark for not just leaders of today but future leaders, the leaders of tomorrow, as well. We begin by looking in the mirror and going, “What can I do to become a person that has more influence than I currently have?”
That is a perfect segue. I wanted you to talk about section two in your book, The Four Behaviors. The first one is Lead Yourself. Any other insights you have about how somebody is stuck in that position that Darin described? We could think of a lot of different scenarios but they aspire to be leaders and be more? How do you start leading yourself?
In my insight, I’ve used this as I’ve coached and mentored people in that position. I would say, “Lead yourself.” I give them a copy of the book and say, “What are you doing now? What actions are you taking to be a leader in your sphere of influence? It may not be up but it’s around you.” Go ahead. Tell us about it.
We all know the frustration of trying to lead someone who’s not leading himself or herself. It is impossible. I have a father-in-law who’s in the medical profession. He’s an internist. One of the more frustrating things for a doctor, I’m sure, is when you prescribe a path to healing and recovery but the patient won’t participate in it. It’s got to be maddening. It’s that Jordan Peterson study that he references in the Twelve Rules for Life where he says, “People are more likely to take their pet to the vet, get their pet their medication and administer medication to their pet than they are to do that for themselves.”
The first place we have to start leading, the primary responsibility we have in leadership is to lead the person that I am most responsible to lead. The person that I have the most influence and the most control over is to start leading myself. I see that step one in leading yourself well is figuring out exactly where you are. It’s seeking feedback.
It’s the willingness to go, “If I’m going to get to where I want to be, I have to start where I am. I’ve got to know exactly where I am. I have to know, what are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What are my blind spots? What are the things that are cultivating influence for me and what are the things that are costing the influence?’”
It’s that courageous move we make to invite other people into that process of, “Help me to see the things that I can’t see. Help me to understand what it is I don’t understand.” Self-awareness is the foundation of every virtue that we know of. It begins with having a PhD in understanding yourself. Knowing exactly where I am so that I can begin to create a plan to lead myself, whether I’m being well-led or not. The great news of this is that if you lead yourself well, you will always be well-led.
Clay, I’m curious. We’d like to give people some examples or best practices. I’m a big fan of Jim Collins’ Good to Great. He looked at so many organizations, good, bad and otherwise. A lot of leadership and management books tend to do that. They look at what makes the difference between a great organization and a failing organization.
I’m just curious, without necessarily mentioning names, give any examples of organizations or specific organizational cultures that allow people to flourish by allowing them to be empowered to have influence. What does that look like? I fear that a lot of the people reading are in organizations or have been their entire careers that haven’t allowed this. They don’t know what it looks like.
I would start there. I would caution people to say, “I work for an organization where this is not possible.” That is the symptom of the problem. If you start by saying, “I can’t cultivate influence because no one will let me do it,” an alarm should go off in our minds, hearts and souls to go, “I’ve already forfeited and lost my opportunity.” I don’t care how bad your boss is or how toxic your culture is in your organization. There is an opportunity for you to cultivate more influence for yourself, whether you’re in charge or not. You have to believe that.
If you do believe that you’re in a position where you’d say, “You have no idea how toxic the organization is that I work in,” then go get another job. Go work somewhere else. Life’s too short. It’s not worth it. Go do something different. I would be careful for anyone to leave before you’ve done everything you know to do to cultivate more influence for yourself.
I would start to say, “What am I doing to cultivate more influence for myself?” I would figure out, “Am I leading myself as well as I can lead myself? Do I have crystal-clear clarity on where I am? Have I asked people? Have I been willing to ask the question, ‘What is it like to be on the other side of me?’” That’s a scary question. We want to know the answer to that but we’re unwilling to often ask that question because of how scary the answer may be.
Just because you have a hard boss doesn't mean you can't get something great done. Click To Tweet
It’s learning to detach the feedback from who I am as a person and recognize that what people are saying does not label and mark me. It’s saying, “I’m going to choose a different attitude and be positive, even in the midst of toxicity,” which is so hard to do. We’re hardwired to stay within the pack. If you’re in a hard spot and you feel like everybody’s workaround’s negative, everybody’s like, “That will never happen here. The boss isn’t listening and never paying attention. We don’t have the money and budget for it. They’ve already got the contract and the plan.”
If you’re going to start with that and lead out on hope, positivity, a can-do attitude and anything-is-possible, forward-thinking, optimistic, hope-filled attitude, you’re going to feel like a loner. You got to know that. If I start feeling alone or running away from the pack, that’s common because it’s in our DNA to want to stay close to the pack. It’s learning the skill of thinking critically, learning the skill of bringing the value of connecting things, questioning things and being able to put some thought into every meeting you walk into before you walk into that meeting.
It’s learning how to, not just show up for the meeting but lead a meeting even if you’re not leading the meeting. You don’t do it in a way that’s a hostile takeover, disrespectful or some power play. You can do it in a way that is supporting others, helping others and contributing in a selfless way but in a way where you’re showing up prepared, ready to bring value to what it is you’re working on.
Lastly, it’s about rejecting passivity. Knowing that when you’re not in charge, the easiest thing to do is to become passive because being in charge does bring the feeling of control. It’s a mirage. None of us is in control. You’re not anymore in control when you’re the boss than if you’re just on the team but when we’re not the boss, it’s just so much easier to feel passive and become passive. It bakes into us a cheese in macaroni. We got to be careful to reject that and intentional about saying, “I’m not going to become passive because of my lack of authority.”
Organizations that I’ve seen that are doing that well, giving people the ability to lead themselves well, celebrating people who are choosing positivity, recognizing people who are thinking critically and have given people permission to reject passivity are the outliers. Most organizations are not doing that but it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Just because you have a hard boss doesn’t mean you can’t get something great done. Loads of people have done it before and you can do it.
You blew through those four behaviors, which I love but I’d love to go back and unpack them a little bit. You are very well-read on a variety of topics. I want every one of our readers to get this book and read it because it’s packed with so much good stuff and great stories. Most of the concepts that are most helpful are the ones that are the simplest. They seem disarmingly and almost embarrassingly simple.
When you say, “Lead yourself,” that’s a real activity. That is a genuine legitimate decision that you have to make as a leader. “I’m going to lead myself well.” The second one that you talked about is, choosing to be positive. They think, “Doesn’t everybody?” No, everybody doesn’t choose it. We’re surrounded by toxic people. Talk about choosing positivity, not to be a toxic person and the influence that that has on organizations.
The hardest time it is to choose positivity for me is when someone has made a decision on my behalf that I didn’t get to weigh in on but I’m being asked to execute. Everybody knows what that feels like. I can’t imagine how many decisions are made in a hospital that you didn’t get to weigh in on but you’re being asked to buy in on. I remember in The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, reading that statement, “When you give people the opportunity to weigh in, they’re more likely to buy in,” which I thought is terrific. That’s how our country was founded.
We didn’t like that England was taxing us without giving us representation so we threw all the tea into the harbor there and said, “Enough is enough. We’re not going to do this anymore.” We all want the opportunity to weigh in. When we weigh-in, we are more likely to buy in, even if we end up disagreeing with the decision. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. The majority of our lives are spent executing decisions that we didn’t get to weigh in on. The question is, “How do we do that? How do we learn how to choose positivity when someone else has made a decision that we think is asinine or makes no sense?”
The truth is, more important than making the right decision is learning how to own the decision that’s been made, whether you got to speak into it or not. The greatest organizations in the world are not the greatest organization in the world because they have the best ideas. They’re the best organizations because they have everybody leaning into the same idea. That power of unity is so remarkable.
The problem is we want everyone else to unify our idea. It’s so much more difficult to unify around someone else’s idea. Even bad ideas can work. Bad plans can work. Bad processes can unfortunately work when everybody gets behind them and works together to accomplish them. That’s what choosing positivity at face value might seem, to your point, simplistic or bubble gum.
I had a friend who when I first passed this to him said, “It feels a little bubble gum.” I have never forgotten that. He is right. It is simplistic almost. It is powerful and simple because it’s hard to do. Most people don’t do it. It’s easy to choose positivity when everything’s going your way and everyone’s moving your way. It’s much harder when we’re having to execute in areas where we didn’t get to weigh in but those are the times where it’s most important.
When life gets hard, when we experience resistance, that's when strength is built. Click To Tweet
It moves into your comment about thinking critically but without being critical. It is the next iteration. A lot of people in very difficult situations sit back, throw their hands up in the air and say, “I’m not in charge. I can’t decide so there’s nothing I can do about it.” I love your comment. I’ve said this many times, “We can help you find your next job so that you can be unhappy there. There’s an option to be unhappy here because, unfortunately, you don’t only affect yourself. You affect everyone else. You have metastasized in our organization. We want to stop this.”
This is great. I appreciate the fact that you’re going there. Clay, I appreciate the fact that you’ve looked at this from both sides. On the one hand, the concept of how to lead when you’re not the leader and how to have influence when you’re not the one at the head of the table. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps and find the way to lead when you may not think you have the influence.
On the flip side of that, you’re espousing the idea that as leaders, we should give that opportunity and create that environment that’s beneficial to all involved. It is going to make the high-powered organization. I’m sure Chuck deals with that thing all the time as he’s coaching organizations through to success. They’ll thank you for taking it from both sides. Be that person but create that environment as well.
It’s the great flip of it that we think, “This is something I’ve got to learn when I’m not in charge.” The truth is even when we become in charge, we will learn at that point, “Have I leveraged influence to get here or have I been waiting on authority?” I remember when I was 21 years old, I interned at the State Capitol in Georgia. We had gotten a new governor at the time. There was a big change in regimes. I remember the desk I sat at was right next to the conference room where they were making policy. I’ll never forget this tense meeting where there were a dozen people there that were talking about maybe education reform.
I heard someone banging on the table and said, “I am the Governor of the State of Georgia. Listen to me.” At the time, I had never read a leadership book. I hadn’t been to a leadership conference. Probably, at the time, I don’t even know what I would have said to define leadership. At the time, I remember thinking, “Something’s broken. Someone is relying on authority to try to get people to move.”
You will find out when you become in charge whether or not you have cultivated influence or not. That’s why this is so important because it doesn’t matter the job you’re in. It matters for the rest of your career. If you can learn how to lead when you don’t have authority, you will become a better leader even when you have authority. That’s what I love about these concepts. Darin, there’s a twist in it.
I wanted to go back to the friend of Clay’s who made the bubble gum comment because that’s a great metaphor. People chew bubble gum for a few minutes and then the taste goes away. What do they do? They spit it out. We’ve got to figure out a way to continue to reinvigorate the taste of that bubblegum. That’s a metaphor for people in these positions. They’re in the organization. They come in. They’re super excited and then after some time, the taste goes away. How do we get them reinvigorated with the taste again? A lot of the things you’re offering as potential ways to do that are important.
That was an extension of a metaphor. That was excellent, Chuck. Thank you. To the person that’s reading who maybe feels discouraged, disappointed or maybe even thinking about resigning or doing something different, the answer might be, “You need to resign.” I don’t want to take that off the table. I would also say, “What you’re doing now matters so deeply.” Not because you’re in the healthcare industry. I believe health care professionals are heroes in our culture and society.
Even beyond that, it matters deeply for the rest of your career because you are learning how to cultivate more influence. Sometimes when life gets hard, we think, “I need to go do something different.” The truth of it is that when life gets hard and we experience resistance, that’s when strength is built. That’s how our body works.
Who am I to be telling you that? We grow. We build that muscle of influence in some of the most difficult positions. If it feels challenging, you are growing and developing something that I guarantee, you will use for the rest of your life. That’s why now matters way more than we can even understand.
Clay, thank you so much. I want to thank you and remind our audience they’ve been reading about our conversation with Dr. Clay Scroggins, a great author, speaker and a fun guy with a lot of important things to read about. I hope that you engage with him and get him into your leadership teams for a retreat or seminar. That’s what I’d be doing. Clay, we appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule. Thank you to my co-conspirators here. As usual, it’s been a pleasure. That’s it for us. We’ll see you next time. Thanks for reading.
- About Healthcare
- How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge
- Andy Stanley
- If I Ran the Zoo
- Twelve Rules for Life
- Good to Great
About Clay Scroggins
I’m quite passionate about organizational leadership. I’m sure you’ve noticed this too, but 99% of the leadership development content is designed for the CEO’s of the world.
(And if you’re a CEO, that isn’t shade. I think you’ll love my stuff as well because it’ll help your employees become better people and revenue-producing maniacs.)
If you’re wondering what I do all day long, you’re not alone. My parents ask the same question, but they’ve been wondering what I’m doing with my life ever since I graduated from Georgia Tech as an Industrial Engineer. Sorry Dad. I’m kiiiind of using my degree. Loosely.
I’ve spent the last 20 years working for a local church, I’ve written three leadership books, I’ve given a boatload of keynote talks, and I can play Babylon by David Gray on the acoustic guitar. So there’s that.
When I wrote my doctoral dissertation (low-key flex) on “creating online environments for personal growth,” I had no idea how much of my life I’d spend in webinars, Insta-stories, and podcasts. But I love it. And hopefully it has helped some people and will help our five kids get through college. That’s right, my amazing wife, Jenny, and I have five kids. That ain’t a hobby either.
If you’re ever in Atlanta, hit me up.
And if I can ever serve you or your organization, I’d be delighted!