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Nitish Mukherjee

The author is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion

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Dark Roast Double Shot: The Bedrock of Iconic Leadership

The strength of great leadership however comes from the depth of commitment of the followers.

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Over the years the one subject that has been a topic of perennial discussion over umpteen Dark Roast Double Shots is the issue of organisational culture. Its power, influence and inescapable authority on the outcome for individuals and institutions. There are those who are cognizant of the fact that our attitude towards both ‘performance’ and ‘people’ matter. There are others who believe that rewards come to those who focus on performance and deliver it on a continuous basis. That is all that matters. They argue that individuals as well as companies that have delivered great results in spite of their known toxicity towards colleagues and employees, have gained monetarily and materially. That is indeed true and there are enough instances of it. This thought though is mendacious, in as much as it is a half-truth. The whole  truth is that while some have carried home the bounty, others have paid the price with their sufferance. If you find that conscionable then this read is not for you.

The pandemic perhaps has brought out the best in us, as well as the worst. The business pressures on ostensible leaders have often shaken off their veneer and brought forth their true self. The increasing instances of abuse of authority and use of abusive language seems to have lacerated people; if their voices in social media or counselling sessions are to be heeded. It may also be a case of people now calling out publicly a malady that has long infested the relationships between those in authority and those who support them. Organisational hesitation in addressing these issues, to keep performing leaders within the fold, is a telling commentary on the culture they foster. Much of this behaviour is manifested because of the belief in some, that authority flows from power that is vested in them by virtue of their position and the fulsome exercise of it. The strength of great leadership however comes from the depth of commitment of the followers. How leaders behave determines whether or not the followers will follow. Authority, power and influence flows from the legitimacy that followers bestow on the leaders. 

The concept of legitimacy in philosophical terms can be seen as early as Plato and later in the writings of Dante and Descartes; but it was the German sociologist and economist Max Weber who in the nineteenth century gave it form outside of a philosophical expression to suggest that there were only three strategies to justify the right of rulers to rule.

Legal Authority

It is based on a system of rules that is applied administratively and judicially in accordance with known principles. 

Traditional Authority

It is based on a system in which authority is legitimate because it "has always existed".

Charismatic Authority

It is based on the charisma of the leader, who shows that he possesses the right to lead by virtue of magical powers, prophecies, heroism, etc.

Closer home in 2013 in a book titled ‘David and Goliath’ Malcolm Gladwell defined the three elements of legitimacy as trustworthiness, neutrality and standing. He said people will obey when they believe they are being treated legitimately. Legitimacy for him was based on three things which he called ‘Principles of Legitimacy’.

1.Those being ruled need to feel that they have a voice in the arrangement 

2.The rules must be predictable and consistent.

3.The rules must be consistently applied and appear to be fair to all being asked to follow the rules.

As you do all this, leaders have to understand that garnering legitimacy starts with being sharply focussed on the paradigm that you exist in and the changes that are constantly happening. At one time slavery, monarchy, oligarchy was considered legitimate; till the contexts changed. Those who read the rice survived, the others perished. As civilisation progresses brute force of power is giving way to equality, civility and permission. Even those who espouse force when conflict seems inevitable, have to build a narrative of legitimacy to ensure that their own leadership is not threatened.

The concept of legitimacy has to be an inalienable part of any corporate culture; but as the drivers of legitimacy change there should be a concomitant change in behaviour, processes and systems to embrace that change. Organisations, brands or individuals who want to be leaders with ardent followers need to ask themselves these three questions.

How do ‘I’ know what is changing?

Change embraces everything. Social, cultural, economic and political views, thoughts and philosophies are in a constant state of flux. Some see the green shoots; some see the trees and some see it only when the flower is in full bloom. Serendipity apart what are the internal and external listening posts that you have set up to give you the early warning signals? 

Why is the change happening?

Understanding change is as important as identifying it. Knowing why it is happening not only helps you internalise the change it also gives you insights in to the changes that would be expected of you, your organisation or your brand because of the altered perspective. Knowledge brings conviction to your response to change.

Am I a follower or a leader in change? 

Laggards don’t lead. If you are yet to bring in gender diversity, equal pay, start work on rapidly reducing the carbon footprint, bring greater transparency in governance, start building better relations with the local community, have greater interaction with your shareholders among others, when you know that sooner or later you have to get there, you know the answer. Leading change for the better gives you the legitimacy to lead. Avoiding change erodes that legitimacy.

Leadership at its best is not just about wealth or profits, it is the act of leaving behind a lasting legacy that others will be honoured to take forward. The bedrock of iconic leadership is a culture based on the concept of legitimacy which has the flexibility and agility to respond to an ever-changing world.    

You can DM me on LinkedIn or write in to [email protected]

(Nitish Mukherjee is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion.)