Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Legitimacy: The Sole Basis of Leadership

with 13 comments

My research on the leadership qualities and characteristics of famous American leaders to determine what makes leaders great, I designated a pattern that defined the great leaders as The Legitimacy Principles. These were presented in a previous article: For the purpose of clarification, the definition of The Legitimacy Principles need to be restated:

The Legitimacy Principles enumerate the linkages of leaders’ legitimacy, credibility, trust and a balance of emotional standing and bonds with all key constituencies.

The synergetic relationship between these key factors of success is the foundation of effective leadership and provides insight into a new definition of it.

The fundamental essence of leadership is legitimacy, whose substance is based upon authority and validity. While authority is conferred, validity is earned through the development of credibility, trust and a balance of emotional standing and connections with all key constituencies.

The presence of the Legitimacy Principles endow leaders with the authority to lead, manage, execute, empower, effectively communicate, sell their vision, generate a passion for success, and overcome adversity. Their absence results in ultimate failure as an effective leader.

Legitimacy is the cornerstone of effective leadership. Jon Huntsman, Sr wrote in his book, Winners Never Cheat Even in Difficult Times:

“Effective, respected leadership is maintained through mutual agreement. Leadership demanded is leadership denied. Leadership is not meant to be dominion over others. Rather, it is the composite of characteristics that earns respect, results, and a continued following.”

The great leaders possess this critical leadership trait. However, legitimacy is seldom discussed, if even mentioned in most leadership books. The absence of a definitive definition leads to confusion as to what defines legitimacy. Its definition needs to be clarified and placed within a proper context.

It is assumed that leaders automatically possess legitimacy. My research demonstrates that this is a fallacy. It shows that legitimacy is derived from two separate sources that grant leaders permission to lead.

Related: Have You Earned Permission to Lead?

The first source is authority or the power granted to leaders by either election, or appointment to an office. In the business setting, this is conferred by the stockholders through the board of directors. Rudolph Giuliani observed:

“A leader is chosen because whoever puts him there trusts his judgment, character and intelligence… It’s a leader’s duty to act on those attributes.”

The second source is validity. Validity is not conferred, nor is it automatically achieved once one is appointed. It is earned and is a contributing factor to the authority granted to a leader, typically over the span of his or her career. This defines a leader as genuine and authentic in the eyes of all key constituencies.

Related: Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness

Both sources of legitimacy compliment each other, but validity provides an enduring, yet fragile acquiescence of all the constituencies that gives a leader the tacit permission to lead. It is built upon three critical factors: trust, credibility and emotional balance.

My research demonstrates that these are the hallmarks of great leaders. Without the presence of these three critical factors, the leader’s validity collapses. Once a leader loses his or her validity, the authority to lead is significantly undermined.

Huntsman stated:

“Leadership is a privilege. Those who receive the mantle must also know they can expect an accounting of their stewardships. It is not uncommon for people to forego higher salaries to join an organization with strong, ethical leadership. Most individuals desire leadership they can admire and respect. They want to be in sync with that brand of leader, and will often parallel their own lives after that person…”

Related: Your Commitment to Others Defines You as a Leader

For more information on this topic and to read a free chapter, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011).

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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13 Responses

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  1. Timothy, once again thanks for some great insights. As always you’ve brought clarity to something with simplicity. The validity of leadership stems from, in my experience, success and trust. Both are essential. But of the two trust is the more important. People will stick with success as long as it’s successful but when things get rough your validity will be shored up by the trust you’ve built up with your followers. How do we build trust? I’m sure you’ve got another great blog post which will reveal all!

    Ara Ohanian

    November 15, 2012 at 5:00 am

    • You hit upon one key point: “People will stick with success as long as it’s successful but when things get rough your validity will be shored up by the trust you’ve built up with your followers.”

      Actually when things get rough, it is your pool of trust and credibility established over time that will help you over the crisis. Fred Smith at Fedex saw his employees rally to help the company get through the UPS strike, George Westinghouse’s employees rose up to his defense during a hostile takeover of Westinghouse Electric by J.P. Morgan. The employees of Southwest Airlines moved mountains for Herb Kelleher.

      I can cite numerous similar examples. Trust is established over time and is directly related to the emotional bonds established with all key constituencies. When these are balanced, they will all watch the leader’s back.

      You may find Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness http://wp.me/pJFqx-tK helpful in developing more insight.

      Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

      November 15, 2012 at 9:42 am

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  8. Thank you again Tim for the post and for the clarification. I remember after the interviews for my last position in a school district, the Director told me I was hired because of my leadership experience, i.e. the legitimacy you mention in the diagram. I had to earn the validity, which I built through my Servant Leadership and the trusting and respectful relationships I built with my employees. Without those relationships my hiring would have never been valid in the eyes of my people. It makes total sense as I look back on it. Appreciate the clarity.

  9. Thank you for the clarity Tim. My experience at my last position in my school district rings true with me through your articles. After my interviews, my Director told me I was hired because of my leadership experience. I had the earn the validity of my hiring through my Servant Leadership practices by building relationships with my employees. Without the success of that process, I would have never been able to effectively lead my people to the level of achievement that we achieved — not what I achieved, but what we achieved. It was the capstone of my secondary education career. Thank for helping me see the light.

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