A Blog by John Bossong

Leadership and Legitimacy

People in leadership positions rely on people.  You don’t have to, but, good luck trying to accomplish anything without other people.  Lone Rangers typically wind up alone on the range these days.

Individuals want to collaborate. Work in teams. Accomplish. Invest in something worthwhile with a purpose. Leaders play a crucial role in making it all happen. You can rely on yourself (and risk winding up alone on the range) or engage your workforce and let them succeed.

When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters — first and foremost — how they behave – Malcolm Gladwell, David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art Of Battling Giants.



Gladwell cites the “principle of legitimacy” in David and Goliath.  He explains that the principle of legitimacy is based on three things, (1) people need to feel they have a voice, (2) predictability and (3) fairness.

How can you apply legitimacy to your leadership?

Do the people you lead have a true voice? Are they heard? When it’s not your idea is it a bad idea? People want to be a part of the success. They want to contribute. The question is will you let them? Everyone should have a voice. Everyone has something to bring to the table. When their voice doesn’t seem to matter, they’ll find somewhere it does.

The only thing constant today is change and the rate of change. But, people do like predictability. It’s comfortable. Are you a predictable leader or do you lead with the “flavor of the month”. Does each month or quarter elicit a new program or fad? Leaving last months savior sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today – Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath.

Do your people know what to expect on a day-to-day basis or is every day a roller coaster of emotions? Some amount of chaos and unpredictability may be good. But is it the norm? Remember, how you behave will dictate the influence you have.

Everyone wants to be treated fairly.  What does fair mean where you work? Do you define what fair means during the employee onboarding process? Do the people you lead know and understand what fair looks and feels like in the organization?

The authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another – Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath.

Is what’s fair for one department or division fair for another? Merriam-Webster defines fair as (1) agreeing with what is thought to be right or acceptable, (2) treating people in a way that does not favor some over others and (3) not too harsh or critical.

Fair seems practical and right for leaders. It seems right for everyone, regardless of position or title. But, leadership’s not about positions, everyone leads at some level. So, fair is good, it’s right and it makes sense when leading people, groups, teams, your family or anything.

Have a great Thanksgiving week and pick up a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants to read over the Holiday’s. You’ll be a better leader because of it.



  1. I love all of Malcolm’s books.

    Legitimacy is earned. It is not given, not a title, not a position.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. I’ll be reading it next week. Gladwell can craft a
    story that’s for sure but…..looking forward to reading so I can be objective.

    • Marty,

      You are right, Gladwell can really take the information and craft a story. I’ve enjoyed all of his books. They really make you think. Hope you enjoy reading it.

      Take care,

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