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Legitimacy: The Sole Basis of Leadership
By Timothy F Bednarz

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 needs 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.

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.

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…”

For more information on this topic, 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. is the author of the 125 books included in Pinpoint Skill Development Training Series. He has also authored “Great! What Makes Leaders Great,” which was selected by “Foreword Review Magazine” as one of the top ten career books published in 2011, as well as a finalist in the “2011 Foreword Review Book of the Year Awards.”

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