What is Legitimate Power?
Legitimate power places an emphasis on the corporate hierarchy and relies on the inherent power of a position that individuals hold within an organization. It is a belief that the title of a position, and the individual that holds it, is entitled to exert influence on subordinates solely based on the status of their position within the organization and that subordinates have in inherent obligation to accept it. Many organizations rely on this form of leadership power to establish structure within their organization, but having spent many years in the military, I think the military is an excellent example of this type of power.
In the military everyone enters the organization at the bottom and by virtue of the system they rise through the ranks (as long as they keep their nose clean and they aren’t a complete turd! If you’ve been in the military you know what a turd is!!) . It is assumed that as you fulfill certain criteria and adequately establish yourself as an individual you are ready for the next rank. And by default, you are then handed the power to lead others and those others are expected to follow your orders, regardless of your ability to lead, and solely based on your position.
Can you see the problem here? While this approach is a great way to add structure to large organizations, it often overlooks many aspects of the individual and places an emphasis on an individual’s ability to conform to the organizational environment, or at least the ability to shine in front of those that matter to ensure a greater position when the time comes.
Now, before I’m misconstrued as some angry person that must not have made it through the ranks, I’d like to qualify myself as a person that is in fact in a position to critique the system. I spent 9 years in the Marines and made it to the rank of E6 in 8 years, getting selected for the rank in the 7th year. If you have been in the military you know this is an achievement. And I must admit, many people probably perceived me as a “turd” and probably didn’t think I deserved the advancement. Setting this aside, and being aware of this fact, I noticed that many subordinates probably deserved to be higher ranking than myself based on their great ability to lead, and in contrast many of my fearless leaders really stunk and probably should have been subordinates. This leads me to the flaw in this system and form of leadership. While it is easy to promote individuals based on time and the assumption that they are ready to lead based on the experience that comes with this time, there is a human characteristic that must be acknowledged and evaluated to ensure those who are promoted to leadership positions are truly leadership material, especially if they are going to be handed inherent power with a particular position that enforces subordinate acceptance of the decisions made from that position.
While it seems I am completely criticizing this form of power, my intention is to point out a flaw that exists with legitimate power. This power can be an excellent structure for larger organizations, due to its simplicity, but evaluating the human characteristics of individuals that are going to be promoted to these positions must be part of the system for it to be most effective.
Other Types of Power