How to Lead When You’re NOT in the First Chair

Be Patient
Your time will come. It may not be as swiftly as you would like, but your time to lead and carry out the full vision will come. When you let impatience get the best of you, that’s when disloyalty and self-destruction will appear. Those over you are probably where they are because they were patient. They probably had to go through worse things than you have. Timing is everything. I am not a choir director at heart, but I led a traditional choir the first four years of my ministry. Every time I would get fed up with it, I would pray for patience. I’m glad I stuck with it, because I learned so much through that time and I appreciate living in the vision I had then even more now. Patience is a major virtue in leadership. When we wait for our vision to come into fruition at just the right time, it will mean so much more. Be patient.

Enjoy This Time
If you are under someone’s authority, then you are not ultimately responsible. They are. Because I am not the main leader, I have the luxury of deferring problems that can only be resolved from the top. There have been many times that I’ve said, “That’s not my problem.” This is a luxury of being a following leader. You are not ultimately responsible. Enjoy this time.

Make the Most of This Time
If the vision you have is bigger than your current situation, then take this time to really flesh out, brainstorm, and start planning the strategy and way you will eventually carry that vision. This is also a luxury for the following leader. Wisdom says prepare and plan now for what’s to come later. One day you’re not going to have as much time to sit and dream and brainstorm your philosophy and structure of the vision you have. You’ll be too busy trying to carry it out. Make the most of your time now. Don’t waste it.

Learn From Your Leader
You are probably somewhat different than your current leader. You’ve probably said, “If I was the leader, I would … .” You probably think differently. That’s not a bad thing. That also means your leader thinks differently. They may have ideas you would not think of, and they certainly have some wisdom you don’t have yet. Watch and listen. Learn from their successes. Also, learn from their mistakes. The comedian Dave Chapelle credits a lot of his success to studying and watching other comics bomb on stage. He learned what didn’t work and what wasn’t funny. Learning from our leader’s mistakes is as valuable as learning from their successes. Not repeating mistakes is major progress.

A great leader will always be a great following leader first. Learn to follow without regrets. It will make you a much better leader when your time comes.  

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Gary Durbin
Gary is the Worship Arts Director at Redemption Chapel in Stow, Ohio. He is also a blogger and a songwriter with a passion to serve the church. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two children and have been married since 1999. You can follow him on Twitter & Instagram @garydurbin or on Facebook at