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Legitimate Power and its Uses

Legitimate power in leadership is the power that a leader gets by default due to his position in an organisation; a leader essentially is distinguished from a follower due to the greater rights and responsibility he has than others i.e. additional rights that legitimate power bestows and distinguishes him from followers.

In a large organisation there is a power structure and every leader has some higher authority to answer to unless he lies at the very apex of the power pyramid. Legitimate power in leadership can be a relative concept due to the very nature of power. It flows towards the one who readily takes it in the sense that a leader may exercise more power than the limits of legitimate power by accepting additional responsibility from his seniors. In addition a leader may exercise power lesser than the limits of legitimate boundaries by deputizing his jobs to people who come under him in the power structure. Be it business leadership, educational leadership, corporate leadership or any organisational leadership it's always good to have a clear idea of what is the extent of legitimate power that can be exercised at every level of the hierarchy. In that way the organisation runs smoothly and there is lesser friction than when people forget what their legitimate powers are and they abuse power.

Example of Legitimate Power Exercised

Let us consider the case of the armed forces. In no other organisation is the chain of command and power structure so well defined and strictly implemented and as a result this organisation is an excellent example of exercised legitimate power in leadership. In the army, unlike any other organization, a soldier of senior rank who is a commanding officer literally has absolute control over the soldiers under his command. This is a consequence of the legitimate power that he possesses due to his rank in the chain of command. The granting of legitimate powers at every level in the chain of command is important if the army has to clinically achieve its goal and orders are carried out to the word. If legitimate power in leadership of armed forces is not exercised properly then the chain of command will be in disarray. In 'civilian life' however the limits of legitimate power are not that well defined or exercised.

The army is a good example of legitimate power in leadership and also illegitimate power in leadership too. When a military general pulls off a coup and takes over a government it's illegitimate power being exercised in all it glory. This 'army coup' phenomenon has been repeated countless times in history. The modus operandi of the dictatorial regime that emerges after a coup is to conveniently alter the constitution of that country to justify their action and concentrate absolute power in the hands of the coup leader. This is also an example of illegitimate power exercised and then legitimised. The nature of power is such that there are only a few who fail to get seduced by it. Absolute power always corrupts absolutely. A quote by Abraham Lincoln puts the nature of power in perspective:

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

Being a leader is tough and you have to walk the thin line which separates legitimate power in leadership and illegitimate power beyond. Doing that requires loads of restraint, self control and a clear idea of what is fair and what is not fair.

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