Confronted by Apathy? Insubordination? Outright Insurrection? Consider the Principle of Legitimacy

I recently finished Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (B/t/w if you haven’t yet read any of Gladwell’s books click briskly through to the bookseller of your choice once you finish reading this post) where I became acquainted with something called “the principle of legitimacy” and it blew my mind.

Now it’s possible you will read the three requirements necessary to inspire legitimacy amongst your employees, colleagues, children and think, “Duh… of course those things are necessary” so let’s turn this exercise on its head.

Before asking yourself if you meet these criteria, think about a person or organization that leaves you feeling apathetic or insubordinate, or against whom you are considering leading an insurrection.

Now ask yourself if that person or organization fulfills the following three criteria:

Do they leave you feeling like you have a voice—that if you ask a question or voice a complaint you will be heard?

Are they predictable? Are the rules you are being asked to follow today likely to be the rules you will be asked to follow tomorrow?

Do they treat everyone equally? Or do they have ‘pets’ or ‘stars’ that receive extra attention?

If you answered “No” to any of these, then your apathy/indignation/ insubordination likely make more sense to you. As Gladwell says, “Those who give orders are acutely vulnerable to the opinions of those they are ordering about.” In this case, by violating any of the three elements, above, that person or organization has lost your good opinion.

Now comes the tricky part: is it possible (if you find yourself confronted by apathy, indignation or insurrection) that you have (not from malice—simply from humanity!) violated the principles of legitimacy for those who report to you?

It’s a hard question—but it’s legitimate.

Frances Cole Jones