15 December 2008

EMD I: Questions of Legitimate Leadership

If you have arrived at this post directly, and are not familiar with my research, you may want to also visit some of the posts under the Valence Theory and Thesis labels, as well as reading the very quick primer.

What do we mean by someone being a legitimate leader, that is, how do we understand the notion of legitimation in the context of organizational leadership? Traditionally – that is, in a BAH construct – legitimation is created through mutually agreed-to processes that often are created through functional decomposition of overall objectives, agreement on the necessity of control over each of the offices created by that functional decomposition, and the bureaucratic appointment of people to positions that are so-legitimated.

Many of us take the pre-existence of legitimated positions (read: bureaucracy, or “rule by the office”) for granted – whether one enters an existing position, or participates in the creation of such a position, the position itself is pre-eminent. Even a person who is playing a particular role outside of bureaucratic recognition is not legitimated until the position is “officially” created. In a so-called equitable BAH organization, people are often made to compete for a newly legitimated position, even if that position has been created specifically for them, according to the specification of the role they have already been performing (one of the unfortunate outcomes of the collective bargaining process that suggests the obsolescence of unions in a UCaPP world, but that's a post for another day). Part of the process of legitimating a position requires a demonstrated business need for the position; that is, functionally rationalized, and justified according to the objectives and outcomes of the organization. Irrespective of whether a person has been playing a role that, according to the common understanding, contributes to said objectives, if the position cannot be rationalized and justified according to the pre-existing functional decomposition of the business (a.k.a. the business model), the position cannot be legitimated.

Thus, legitimate leadership presupposes a functionally and objectively justified need to lead (read: control) whatever processes occur farther down in the functional hierarchy (read: bureaucracy) of the organization. The converse is automatically presumed to be true in a more-BAH organization: that there is a de facto requirement for a legitimate leader to exercise control. That functional hierarchy is often presumed to map directly to a hierarchy of class and status in a BAH organization - those that exercise control belong to a higher class, possessing a greater status, than those who are being controlled. Not surprisingly, this is a direct throwback to Frederick Winslow Taylor, and scientific management, circa 1911.

In a more-UCaPP organization, legitimation is collaboratively constructed through a process of emergent (near-)consensus that combines all aspects of the valence relationships. In this context, a legitimate leader is one who people will “follow” without the need for external coercion or reward, or necessarily the legitimation of office. For example, someone who is considered a “thought leader” in contemporary jargon possesses many aspects of UCaPP legitimation. Referent leaders – prominent exemplars might include people like Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, and arguably, Barack Obama – possess UCaPP legitimation, even if they additionally enjoy BAH legitimation as well. Interestingly, a UCaPP-legitimated role does not necessarily have to be functionally justified relative to the objectives of the organization, but must contribute to the intended effects of the organization, according to effective theory. Note as well that this explanation accommodates both traditional organizations and non-traditional, emergent forms that occur daily in unexpected places, often enabled by UCaPP technologies like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Meetup, and good-old-fashioned email.

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