Leading Without Authority: How the Servant-Leader Gains Followers and Keeps Them

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Leading Without Authority: How the Servant-Leader Gains Followers and Keeps Them

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts. It is about one life influencing another.” John C. Maxwell

When you picture a leader what comes to mind? Most of us see someone who inspires and can inspire and move us. Political figures, athletes, members of the military and those given formal authority. There are ways however that the leader can lead without authority very effectively. Northouse (2016), wrote that “putting others first is the sine qua non of servant leadership, the defining characteristic” (p. 234).

If a leader is putting others first logically, they are going to have more followers and their followers will be more loyal. In a study conducted by Senjuri and Penkuti (2012), their method of measuring factors of a servant leader found that “correlation analyses indicate that all six dimensions of servant leadership were positively and moderately correlated to trust, ranging from 0.42 to 0.50. The highest correlation was found between the transforming influence dimension and trust (0.50), whereas the lowest between the authentic self-dimension and trust (0.42)” (p. 653).

Assessing the Results

Results such as these show how the servant leader can effectively gain followers by displaying a high amount of trust among their followers. Transforming influence can be accomplished through the servant leader showing others what a leader does, meaning they are doing something for the follower, not out of duty but out of their good will. This is one way that the servant leader leads without authority. Even the lowest score found in the case study, authentic self-dimension is key for the servant leader as well. The servant-leader by being them or authentic aren’t leading based upon position, appointment, or through legal obligation. They do what they consider best for their followers without thinking about themselves.

Priority for the servant leader is their followers first, not themselves. This may not be the picture that many of us see when we hear the word leader or maybe many of us do not even recognize when someone is a servant leader. Servant leading is about reacting to what your follower needs, these not scripted, and there is no manual on how you do it. It takes empathy, trust, caring, and ethics to put yourself in front of your followers.


Keywords: Leader, Servant, Follower


Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE

Senjaya, S., & Pekerti, A. (2010). Servant leadership as antecedent of trust in organizations.

Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 31(7), 643-663.


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