Leadership Legitimacy with a Peer Supervisor

One theory of leadership that I was interested in exploring in my internship experience is the theory of legitimacy of leaders: how they earn it, retain it, and utilize it. As I’ve explained in many of my blog posts, the way that the leadership is structured in the office is in nested hierarchies, with the partners, seniors associates, associates, and interns. As an intern, I answer directly to one of the associates who serves as the internship coordinator. As the associates are typically only a year or two out of college, it is interesting to observe how they obtain legitimacy as a leader when all of the interns are nearly the same age as them. My supervisor, Mark, has almost full reign on what assignments the interns have, what learning experiences we have in the office, and what rules we have as interns.

In Tom Tyler’s article “Psychological Perspectives on Legitimacy and Legitimation”, he discusses how in the workplace, organizational viability is improved when members of group view the organizational rules and authority as legitimate and are more likely to obey these set rules. Legitimacy theory provides support for institutions outside of the group members’ own self-interest (Weatherford 1999). In terms of my workplace, I believe that because all of the interns view our supervisor Mark as a “legitimate” authority, regardless of his proximity in age to us, we all are ready to complete any task he gives us and view it as legitimate. I think that this could be attributed to the fact that right from the start Mark has been the one who has taught us everything we need to know around the office and the one who is always our point of contact. Contrary to Tyler’s article, I actually think that the interns’ self-interest actually contributes to the legitimacy of our supervisor, as we all know that although he is close to us in age and that there are more senior partners at the firm, he will eventually be the one who would serve as an employer reference for us if we ask for one for a future job application. Because of this fact, we view him as a legitimate leader regardless of his age.