Too Legit to Quit!

No one should ever have to endure the flu! How do I know? Because I’ve just (barely) survived it.

For nearly 5 days, I huddled under mounds of blankets sipping fluids and watching mindless television which has mostly consisted of the 2014 Winter Olympics and Jeopardy!

I do love Jeopardy and spent the week catching up on their Battle of the Decades which included all returning participants from the 80s and 90s. One category even included the slang which dominated my early years:



That’s legit!

With little else to ponder except the heights of my fever, I spent some serious time considering the idea of legitimacy in leadership. Last week I talked about those who fail in leadership. Some come back from mistakes, others lose their credibility and never return. So what is it that distinguishes legitimate leaders? And perhaps more importantly, if we want to be legitimate leaders what’s it going to take?

Last week, I had the opportunity to hear Malcolm Gladwell at the DMA’s Arts and Letters Live Event. During his talk, he referenced an idea from his newest book David and Goliath, where he talks about the reasons that people revolt. He references deterrence theory which would say that essentially people choose to revolt, or to disobey the law, when they determine that the benefits outweigh the consequences. As he references in his book, the theory hasn’t held up well to scrutiny.

Instead, Gladwell proposes that people obey the law when it is legitimate. He listed three elements that make the law legitimate:

  • Respect  – people are treated respectfully, which includes that they are heard
  • Fairness – people are treated fairly
  • Trustworthiness – people know that the rules aren’t all going to change overnight

His idea has some pretty good face validity.


Because when I listen to people who are fed up in their workplace, I often hear them talk about a lack of one of these things. I’ve heard it from a school teacher whose administrators change the daily schedule without giving the teachers any notice.  I’ve heard it from the employee who sits through meeting after meeting, but has learned to keep opinions to herself unless they agree with her boss’s. Sometimes I wonder how long it will be before these leaders have an outright mutiny on their hands.

I try to maintain similar standards in my classroom, with varying degrees of success.  Of course there are days when exhaustion or frustration get the better of me.  Still, on the whole, I want to create a classroom environment that maintains an air of legitimacy.

In a world where there are thousands of leadership books, hundreds of strategies, and dozens of complex approaches, I think leaders (and educators) are often just looking for something simple and practical.  How about consistently applying this simple three as a start?

Let people feel heard.

Treat people fairly.

Be trustworthy.


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Emily Row Prevost

Director of Leadership Development at East Texas Baptist University

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