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What is meant by Legitimate Leadership?  

A key problem facing staff in a leadership role at work is to establish a sense of legitimacy for their leadership, to mobilise the consent of their people to being led by them.
This only happens when leaders have a sincere and genuine concern for those in their charge and enable their people to realise the very best in themselves.
In other words, managers have the right to demand delivery of their people, not because they pay them or because they are in a position of authority, but because they CARE for and GROW them.

Care and growth are the universal criteria for any legitimate relationship of power.

What are the roots of the Legitimate Leadership Model? 

The Legitimate Leadership Model originated from seminal research into trust in management in the South African gold mines in the late 1980s. Contrary to expectation, trust in management in the apartheid era was not consistently low, but varied immensely, both across mines and even in different shafts on the same mine.

Trust in management was not found to be a function of working/living conditions, rates of pay, trade union activity, or the sophistication of the company’s human resources policies and systems. Rather, trust in management was granted or withheld on the basis of the employees’ perception of their leadership’s genuine concern for their welfare. The leadership of a mine was seen to be legitimate and worthy, or not, of support on this basis only.

Whether the management of any enterprise is trusted and viewed as legitimate, therefore, is ultimately a function of the intent of the immediate supervisor at any level in the hierarchy.

Over the past 25 years these original findings have been confirmed in diverse organisations across the world.

What does a Legitimate Leadership intervention deliver?  

A Legitimate Leadership intervention delivers the following organisational outcomes.

The collective leadership of the enterprise is seen to be legitimate and to have the support of the majority of its employees to being led by it.
Employees throughout the organisation are convinced that both those they report to as well as their colleagues have their best interests at heart, and therefore they trust them.
The average employee is committed to the organisation’s objectives and is willing to make an above-and-beyond contribution to realising those objectives.
Less than the best performance by people is not tolerated, as evidenced by the fact that at all levels employees take accountability for, and are held accountable for, their contribution.

  For whom, and when, is a Legitimate Leadership intervention applicable?  

A Legitimate Leadership intervention is applicable in any organisation where employee contribution makes a difference to the excellence of the organisation. Whether an intervention is applicable is not a function of what the organisation does, nor where it is located. The Legitimate Leadership Model has been successfully implemented in diverse contexts, both in the public and the private sector, and in countries across the globe.

It has made a contribution in organisations beset with industrial conflict and employee distrust, and in those where relationships were essentially healthy. It has been applied in highly sophisticated environments as well as in environments which were far more basic.

What factors are critical to the successful implementation of the Legitimate Leadership Model?  

There are three critical success factors for a Legitimate Leadership intervention to succeed:

  • Insight – those who really “get” the Legitimate Leadership Model understand that leadership and power are not concerned with what you can get out of people, but rather with what you can give them. Moreover successful leadership of others is ultimately only possible from a place of personal maturity as a human being.
  • Courage – to fully implement the model takes backbone and courage. This is because the essence of legitimate leadership is benevolence in the heart, but steel in the hand. The requisite mettle is what makes legitimate leadership possible.
  • Perseverance – cultivating an organisation which embodies the principles and spirit of legitimate leadership requires patience and perseverance by everyone involved. The germination of legitimate leadership happens slowly and often takes time to be noticed. At some point, however, it takes root and gathers momentum.

Eventually, a point is reached at which some sort of critical mass is achieved – legitimate leadership has become the norm.

How is a Legitimate Leadership culture entrenched? 

A fundamental shift from “taking” to “giving” at work only happens when a critical mass of individuals in an organisation change. Whether sustainable individual change happens or not is determined by a combination of environmental conditions, the skills and knowledge at people’s disposal, and their will or lack of it at the time. In other words, people only change when they have the MEANS, the ABILITY and the WILLINGNESS to do so.

Legitimate Leadership works with the leaders of an enterprise to marshal as many positive forces for change as possible.


  • We gain leaders’ commitment to the Legitimate Leadership philosophy and establish a shared leadership language in the organisation.
  • We provide leaders with the insight into the degree to which they are aligned to the Legitimate Leadership criteria and therefore what they need to change.
  • We provide leaders with powerful leadership tools and the skills to apply them.
  • We cultivate a pool of Legitimate Leadership exemplars through one-on-one coaching.
  • We establish communities of practice where leaders challenge each other to practice legitimate leadership and share their leadership experiences and challenges.
  • We shift what leaders give their time and attention to by increasing their one-on-one time, time with their teams, and time spent “watching the game”.
  • We facilitate a change in the organisation’s systems and structures to create an organisational context which supports legitimate leadership.
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