7 Ways to Lead When You’re Not in Charge [Judges 4:17-23]


Are you a supporting character in your job, family, or church?

That is, big decisions are made elsewhere, and you’re just left to follow along.

In other words, you’re on the sidelines of life, watching things happen but unable to truly influence the outcome.

Maybe you’re in a job where you lack authority, or perhaps your leadership qualities go unnoticed.

The story of Jael in Judges 4:17-22 reminds us that even without a formal title, we can all be leaders – and sometimes, the most unexpected heroes.

Her story offers these seven powerful lessons on how to lead even when you’re not in charge.

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7 Ways to Lead When You’re Not in Charge [Judges 4:17-23]

#1 – Opportunism

Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.” [Judges 4:17]

Opportunism is the ability to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, regardless of planning or principles.

Leadership isn’t about following a script; it’s about discerning opportunities and using them wisely.

Judges 4:17 tells us Sisera, the enemy leader, fled to Jael’s tent.

This wasn’t a pre-arranged meeting; it was an unexpected opportunity.

Jael, a woman not known for her military prowess, seized an unexpected opportunity by defying cultural and societal expectations in the following ways:

  • In ancient times, women had separate tents from their husbands [Genesis 24:67; 31:33]. According to the customs, a guest like Sisera should have gone to Jael’s husband’s tent for refuge. Sisera believed he would be safer in a woman’s tent, assuming pursuers would not look there. Jael used this misconception to her advantage.
  • Jael broke a fundamental principle of hospitality by betraying Sisera. Though many would see her actions as treacherous, she prioritized the greater good of Israel over personal or cultural expectations.
  • As a Kenite, Jael was not fully an Israelite. Kenites were Israel’s distant ancestors, descended from Abraham and his second wife Keturah [Genesis 25:1-4]. In her position, it would have been safer to side with Sisera because “there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite” [Judges 4:17b].

Jael’s actions exemplify several key ways to seize opportunities, such as:

  • Taking the initiative: Jael didn’t wait for instructions or a leadership role. Look for ways to contribute your skills and talents within your current situation. Maybe it’s offering a fresh perspective in a meeting, volunteering your help on a project, or simply offering a listening ear to a colleague. Every contribution, no matter how small, can make a difference.
  • Acting with Courage and Conviction: Despite the potential danger, Jael acted with faith in God’s plan. Develop the courage and conviction to do what you believe is right, even when it’s difficult.
  • Embracing our Unique Roles: Jael wasn’t a soldier; she was a homemaker. Yet, she leveraged her skills and position to impact the battle’s outcome. Similarly, find your strengths and use them to contribute, even if it seems unconventional.

#2 – Hospitality

And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.” [Judges 4:18]

Hospitality involves the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors, or strangers.

Genuine care and concern can pave the way for effective leadership.

Jael’s initial act of hospitality disarmed Sisera.

She used kindness as a strategic tool to create a false sense of security and get close enough to Sisera.

Let your behavior be your loudest message by:

  • Building trust and rapport with others fosters a positive environment and opens doors for influence.
  • Demonstrating the qualities you want to see in others – courage, kindness, integrity.
  • Inspiring others with consistent and genuine everyday actions and interactions.

Are you known for your kindness, integrity, or work ethic?

Let your actions speak volumes about who you are and what you stand for.

#3 – Resourcefulness

And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.” [Judges 4:19]

Resourcefulness is the ability to find solutions using available resources, even if they are limited.

When Sisera requested water, Jael used a readily available “milk bottle” to fulfill his needs.

This seemingly mundane act further lulled him into a sense of trust.

This reminds us that leadership isn’t about having fancy resources.

It’s about using your unique skills and the tools at your disposal to influence the situation.

Identify your strengths, even the ordinary ones, and leverage them creatively to solve problems and inspire others.

For example, do you use your creativity to solve problems, your communication skills to bridge divides, or your organizational skills to streamline processes?

#4 – Perceptiveness

Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and enquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.” [Judges 4:20]

Perceptiveness involves keen observation to identify weaknesses in a situation and use that knowledge to one’s advantage.

For example, when Sisera asked Jael to stand guard, she recognized the vulnerability – his need for rest and trust.

Like Jael, you can sharpen your perceptiveness through;

  • Using your observational skills to find creative ways to overcome challenges.
  • Considering different approaches and their potential outcomes.
  • Thinking beyond immediate tasks, that is considering the bigger picture.

What are the challenges or opportunities facing your team, family, or community?

Can you identify ways to address them by capitalizing on those weaknesses?

#5 – Adaptability

Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.” [Judges 4:21]

Adaptability is the ability to change your approach in response to new situations or challenges.

Jael didn’t hesitate to use an unconventional weapon – a tent peg – to address the situation decisively.

A tent peg wasn’t a traditional weapon, but it proved effective at that moment.

Effective leaders are adaptable by being able to;

  • Adjust their approach and behavior in response to new situations or challenges.
  • Develop diverse skills and be prepared to think on your feet and outside the box to navigate challenges effectively.
  • Leverage their strengths and talents to lead and influence others. Jael used her understanding of her environment (the tent) and a readily available tool (the tent peg) to her advantage.

The unexpected is often part of the equation, so embrace your ability to learn and adapt.

#6 – Communication

And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.” [Judges 4:22]

After decisively taking action, Jael didn’t simply leave Barak in the dark.

She actively communicated her success, ensuring the mission’s completion.

From Jael’s communication strategy, modern-day leaders can learn the following about becoming effective communicators;

  • Clarity: Jael’s message was clear and concise: “Come, and I will show thee the man whom thou seekest.” She didn’t leave room for confusion about the situation. Before communicating, ensure your message is clear and concise. Avoid jargon and ambiguity. Tailor your communication style to your audience.
  • Actionable: Her words prompted Barak to take immediate action. He knew exactly what to expect when entering the tent.
  • Confidence and Conviction: Jael doesn’t preface her statement with doubt or hesitation. She speaks with confidence, conveying the truth of the situation. Project confidence in your message, both verbally and nonverbally. Your conviction will inspire trust and action in others.
  • Timely: Jael understood the importance of immediate communication. She met Barak as he pursued Sisera, ensuring he wouldn’t miss this crucial information. Don’t let important information wait. Address issues promptly and keep those who need to know informed.

By incorporating these communication strategies, you can ensure your message is heard, understood, and acted upon.

After all, a leader without the power to communicate effectively is like a tent peg without a hammer – potentially useful but ultimately limited in its impact.

#7 – Faith

So, God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.” [Judges 4:23]

Faith is a powerful motivator.

It empowers you to take initiative, face challenges with courage, and inspire confidence in others.

Some Bible translations highlight that Jael acted “knowing in her heart that the Lord God of Israel was fighting against Sisera” in Judges 4:18.

Leadership is more fulfilling when grounded in something bigger than yourself through:

  • Trusting in a Higher Authority: Jael’s actions were driven by her faith in God. Lead with humility, trusting in a power greater than yourself to guide your actions and amplify your influence.
  • Embracing Your Role in the Bigger Picture: Jael understood her role in God’s plan, even though it wasn’t a traditional leadership position. Recognize your contribution to the larger team or purpose, regardless of your official title.
  • Focusing on the Common Goal: Despite her personal feelings, Jael prioritized Israel’s victory. Focus on the team’s success, not personal gain or recognition.
  • Trusting in God’s Timing: Jael’s actions aligned perfectly with Barak’s pursuit. Trust that your contributions, big or small, will play a role in the bigger picture as guided by God.

Jael’s story reminds us that we can lead from where we are because:

  • Leadership isn’t about titles or positions. It’s about seeing opportunities, using your unique gifts, and acting with courage and faith.
  • Leadership isn’t about waiting for your turn. It’s about making the most of the opportunities you have right now.
  • Leadership isn’t about spectacular roles. It’s about each of us playing our part, small or big, in God’s grand narrative.
  • Leadership is a journey, not a destination. It’s about making a difference in the world, one step at a time.

How can you be more proactive in your leadership role, big or small? Share your ideas in the comments!

Great leaders empower others. Share and tag someone who might be inspired by this post!

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Are you looking for a deeper understanding of your faith? I’m excited to let you know that I have written books that delve into scripture and offer insights to help you grow in your Christian walk. Learn more about my books by visiting this link.

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