Independent Thought Alarm and Principle of Legitimacy in Leadership and Governance

People aren’t complicated. Human nature is fairly predictable. And we don’t need a plethora of rules and regulations to define every possible way a person might step out of line. Typically, we can boil it all down to the basics – a few simple things most people want and deserve.

Governance and Leadership Independent Thought and Principle of Legitimacy

The Principle of Legitimacy

An idea was proposed at the 1814 Congress of Vienna as lawful monarchs from royal families who ruled before Napoleon were restored to full power. Titled the Principle of Legitimacy, it was a governance guideline to ensure peace and order. It included these five concepts:

  1. Rules don’t change: people like to know what they can count on. No one likes to be evaluated against a moving target. Some say a sense of certainty is one of the greatest human needs.
  2. Authority is fair: remember when you were a kid and you got punished for something your sibling did? We didn’t like it then and now that we’re grown up, fairness is still important. However, fair doesn’t always have to mean equitable.
  3. Things make sense: the reasonable person can see a pattern, cause of action, greater purpose, and ends that justify the means. Nobody likes to feel like they fell down the rabbit hole.
  4. People have a voice: they have the opportunity to raise issues (see my CARLA Concept), express concerns, identify gaps. Freedom of speech is a bedrock of our nation. Many organizations do themselves in when people don’t feel free to speak up.
  5. We need to be heard: some say we humans are one big walking ear. In over 35 studies, listening was identified as a top skill needed in business today. Yet, fewer than 2% of us receiving training in listening skills.

You can bump these needs up against major interpersonal and workplace issues: internal and external customer service, employee engagement, job satisfaction, harassment prevention, teamwork and communication skills. Definitely leadership.

We can also make sure each one of the items above is reflected in our vision and mission statements, policies, training programs and meeting norms.

Another Approach to Leadership and Governance

Sometimes its easier to say what we won’t do versus what we shall do. Otherwise you have an increasingly long and complicated set of rules that try to identify every possible way people can mess up. (If you’ve ever been a a parent, you know darned well how creative young ‘uns can be!)

Leadership boards often define roles and responsibilities by stating, “We agree to do nothing that will embarrass our constituents, compromise our values or (the best one yet) require a lawyer.” 

Why even our U.S. Bill of Rights outlines governance using negative terms: “Congress shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The intent was obviously to give law-making power to Congress within a framework of constraint.

Bottom Line: let’s keep things simple, easy to communicate, able to withstand the test of time and to establish guidelines the average person can understand. I can think of plenty of places where that would make life a whole heckuva lot easier for huge groups of people.

Autonomy and Expectations

Back in the day when I was a call center rep and then a supervisor of a sales and service team, we were expected to meet weekly standards of performance. These were goals that outlined what percentage of our time could be spent on activities such as breaks, lunch, “after call work”, “available” time and “unavailable” time. The lower the “unavailable” time the better, since that meant we were able to take as many customer calls as possible. Some people went hog wild with their unavailable time while others were more conservative in their use. And of course, the more time people were on the phone, the more productive (and profitable) they were.

But there were no suggested limits. Supervisors just encouraged people to keep unavailable time to a minimum. That is until someone came up with the bright idea that if we put boundaries (a PC word for “rules”) in place, we could better set expectations. So, we asked them to keep unavailable time below 10% of their overall sign-in time. Miraculously, the numbers fell in line. People now had some wiggle-room and a range to work within. Most were able to do it!


  • It gave team members the freedom to have some control over their environment. When you’re tied to a phone line all day long, you don’t have a ton of autonomy. Autonomy is self-determination: the ability to do what one does independently without being forced or coerced by some outside power. And autonomy is one of the biggest predictors of employee engagement and job satisfaction.
  • Team members were able to exercise personal judgment in how they’d spend their time. Considering these were people who raised families, paid mortgages, squeezed in college courses and dealt with all kinds of life’s demands, why did we think they wouldn’t be able to manage 10% of their unavailable time? (Sometimes we treat people like kids just because they’re at the grass-roots level.)
  • Supervisors didn’t have to get all cranky because someone failed to meet a target we hadn’t clearly defined. Nobody likes to be the bad guy or deliver negative news.
  • It stoked the fires of healthy competition as folks bet each other to see “how low they could go” within that 10% range. They had fun with it and it did indeed “lift all boats.”

In summary, the more we understand how people “tick”, what motivates them or discourages them, the easier it is to lead, collaborate, debate and execute (as in make things happen). What was true in 1787 and 1814 is still true today. Governance and leadership go hand in hand.