I will begin this reflection with a bold, but verifiable claim: WebstUR, the UR mascot, epitomizes the legitimacy and emotional intelligence that preside in the UR Events Office (well, for the purpose of this blog post, specifically).
What exactly do I mean by “legitimacy” here? When I use this term, I am referring to two Leadership theories that we studied in Theories and Models: the Tyler (2006) theory that links voluntary acquiescence to institutional legitimacy, and the Salovey and Grewal (2005) scientific study on emotional intelligence. If you are thinking, “Huh, this seems random, but I’m intrigued!”, allow me to expand upon why I believe that my five-minute claim to fame as WebstUR plays a role in all of this.
Yesterday, in the Jepson Alumni Center, we celebrated a woman in the office as she entered retirement. Normally, I would have stayed back to cover the office while the full-time employees attended the reception, but I had another duty calling…to be, or not to be…WebstUR!
I want to first point out that this “duty” was more of a voluntary endeavor, which got me thinking…would I have agreed to this in a different scenario—under different environmental circumstances? All of it just happened so fast, and before I could say “Web ‘Em”, I was dressed head to toe in a spider suit. Let me back up.
In the most recent biweekly staff meeting, we came to the conclusion that featuring WebstUR as a surprise guest for Lynn would round out the retirement festivities. A few people exchanged glances when the idea was first brought to the table, and eventually it felt natural for me to raise my hand in favor of being WebstUR. I did, in fact, volunteer as tribute. I bring up the voluntary component here not to boast that I was so “self-sacrificing” as to agree to embody WebstUR at the retirement reception, but rather I want to draw attention to the fact that I felt comfortable volunteering in the first-place. This is where legitimacy comes into view.
According to Tyler (2006), legitimacy is secured when group members/employees view acquiescence as voluntary, as opposed to mandatory—especially when “social arrangements are appropriate, proper, and just”. In essence, people are less likely to volunteer/speak up if the company culture, or an overriding dominance imposes fear in them. To this point, one way that a company/group loses a foundation of trust (and therefore, legitimacy) is through the repeated abuse of power.
In his article, “Psychological Perspectives on Legitimacy and Legitimation”, Tyler (2006) draws upon teachings of Aristotle and Socrates to debunk the widely-accepted idea that power is the sole driver behind influence within and throughout the fabric of social dynamics. His study hinges upon the idea that too much power can lead to corruption, which then diminishes the potential for or prior existence of legitimacy. When this happens, group members feel less connected, and less comfortable showing up/agreeing to take on tasks. This lack of trust can harbor resentment between higher-ups and subordinates, and it can also foster an overall imbalance of power, which ultimately results in disorganized leadership. I believe that my willingness to be WebstUR in a slightly unfamiliar setting stemmed from a recognition of the Events Office’s legitimacy. Whereas an over-emphasis on reward/punishment creates a fraught environment, a cohesive, incentive-free cultural structure renders confidence and philanthropic behavior.
Building on the difference between legitimacy and power, I will now discuss the impact of emotional intelligence within interpersonal settings. Salovey and Grewal (2005) posit emotional intelligence as a four-branch model that includes 1) Perception, 2) Use, 3) Understanding, and 4) Management. If one is apt to perceive a hypothetical emotional response from a situation because they first understand another person’s emotions, then they can manage situations/outcomes for better use in improving interpersonal communication/company culture overall. Emotional intelligence is to harmonious relations as legitimacy is to voluntary behavior. When a group of people/employees can join these two together, they whip up a recipe for success.
According to Salovey and Grewal (2005), “the emotionally intelligent person can capitalize fully upon his or her changing moods in order to fit the task at hand”. Thus, it is more efficient to “navigate emotional environments” when a strong sense of intuition exists at an individual’s core. In other words, the science of emotional intelligence starts first with the awareness of self, and then moves carefully into an all-encompassing awareness of others for the broader sake of company morale, as well as productivity.
Before sitting down to write this reflection, I lacked a complete purview of WebstUR’s role. I just figured I would dance across the room to a Vanilla Ice classic (“Ice Ice Baby”), approaching the soon-to-be retiree, and then call it a day. However, through the fuzzy eye holes of a wooly spider head, I saw the sentiment on Lynn’s face–one that signified years of appreciation for not only what WebstUR represents on behalf of the University, but more subtly, how people have celebrated her service in the Events Office.
In hindsight, I better understand how the emotional intelligence/legitimacy phenomena apply in the context of sustaining meaningful relationships at work (and beyond). To me, the idea to surprise Lynn via WebstUR represented the level of emotional intelligence that exists in the Events Office. And, my quickness to volunteer for such a simple, yet meaningful experience was not truly my doing—I have the legitimacy of the office environment to thank.
In conclusion, the UR Events Office upholds a precedent of trust between its employees; as emotional intelligence bolsters positive awareness in the office, legitimacy solidifies community.