Another Harvard Business Review article I thought had meaningful relevancy to the ski industry. I have taken the liberty to make the article more ski area manager meaningful.
Front-line ski area managers are given the authority to lead by the rules of ski area governance, documented or implied via practices or verbal communication governance. They gain additional influence and credibility by demonstrating competence. Managers who achieve legitimacy have a higher level of trust and influence. This legitimacy will be gained by consistently demonstrating specific behaviors.
Management authority alone provides a limited license to lead. We listen to those in authority because we’re required to do so; authority motivates via a follow-the-rules mechanism that will never encourage someone to go above-and-beyond the call of duty.
A greater level of management influence comes from a leader’s competence — that is, credibility that comes from displaying intelligence, poise, or performance that helps followers recognize why the leader was chosen for the role.
Legitimacy is a higher-order quality that gives a manager an ongoing license to lead through good times and bad. A legitimate leader engenders goodwill and a feeling of personal connection with followers. Managers who enjoy legitimacy can motivate loyalty and inspire confidence. Legitimacy creates trust, which is a valuable currency in any organization. Enhanced trust increases people’s willingness to expend effort or give their all because they feel confident that others will do the same, that they will be recognized, and that they will be treated fairly. When people trust their manager, they will be more open to making longer-term investments in the ski area with uncertain personal payoffs, feeling confident they will not be taken advantage of. Managers with legitimacy can perform better because people give them moral support, increasing their influence.
What, then, allows front-line managers in a ski area to gain and sustain legitimacy? Here are seven behaviors ski area leaders should aim to exhibit in the role:
Employees are drawn to leaders who can tell a compelling story — a narrative that helps them understand where the ski area is coming from and where it is going. It helps even more if the leader can clearly explain how the ski area needs to adapt to critical external changes to win and each employee’s role in contributing to the ski area’s success. It’s easier to follow someone with all your heart if you know where you are headed if the path chosen makes sense, and if the role you can play on the journey is clear.
Because managers have power over others, they must be perceived to be even-handed. “That’s not fair” are words that undermine a manager’s legitimacy. As the person who sets the tone for the department or division, the manager should be caring and just. If the manager is seen to be partial to some, be unfair in judging the merits of proposals or people, or show favoritism in meting out praise and rewards, the manager loses legitimacy. When this happens, people won’t give maximum effort and will engage in self-protective and political behavior.
Behaving with integrity
Integrity is a measure of the consistency between what the manager espouses and how they behave. The closer the match, the greater the legitimacy of the manager. People may not listen to every word the manager says, but they watch the manager’s every behavior very closely. They constantly judge whether the manager walks the talk, which greatly matters to the manager’s legitimacy.
A manager’s legitimacy is boosted when she/he commits to espoused values, especially when doing so is costly. The manager who shows no hesitation in recalling an unsafe process, whatever the cost; who continues to fund key projects even when the company is losing money; or who takes responsibility for a failed decision that wasn’t entirely theirs will significantly enhance their legitimacy. Managers who are seen to forsake their values when the going gets tough are more likely to diminish their legitimacy and diminish commitment to themselves and the ski area. Having the courage to do the right thing when tested is a powerful way of gaining legitimacy.
Authentic managers are open about their successes and failures, strengths, and weaknesses. They actively seek input and feedback from others. They avoid artifice and exude a sense of “This is who I am.” When people encounter an authentic leader, they say: “I am seeing the real person here.” This openness about who they are as individuals beyond their role as a manager make authentic managers more relatable and approachable as they connect with people personally, inspiring others to follow their lead.
Putting the company first
Becoming a manager may be a prize for years of contributions to the ski area, but it is also an honor. Managers gain legitimacy to the extent their behavior demonstrates that they put the ski area’s interests above their own. One manager observed: “People need to know it’s not about you, that you are committed to serving the ski area.” Although people may raise eyebrows over a manager’s pay or privileges, it truly galls them when one puts their interests above those of the ski area. Managers who use every opportunity to acknowledge their privilege to lead the department, are generous in giving others credit for success and quick to assume responsibility for failures, and who share sacrifice themselves before they ask others to do so are more likely to enjoy legitimacy.
Leaders need to remain human, humble, and approachable to maintain their legitimacy. The manager’s job can change people, with experts often describing the risks of managerial jobs as structurally induced narcissism. The perquisites of the job are so numerous that it is hard for managers not to begin to believe in their self-importance and superiority to others.
Maintaining a sense of purpose
Managers who can provide others with a greater sense of purpose and meaning enjoy greater legitimacy. Since managers are judged for the underlying motivations that guide their conduct, those whose work is seen as being in service of some larger goal, such as creating a safe and fun experience for customers, enjoy greater legitimacy than those whose actions are seen to be motivated by more mundane goals such as increasing their value in the eyes of their boss. Infusing the department with a sense of purpose is one of the hallmarks of great leaders. Moreover, people don’t just look to leaders to enhance the performance of an organization; they also look to them to provide a greater sense of meaning from their work.
In short, while authority-based leadership is based on formal power and decision-making rights, and competence-based leadership focuses on performance, legitimacy-based leadership is based on behaviors and actions that inspire others’ trust, respect, and commitment. While all three forms of leadership can be effective in certain situations, legitimacy-based leadership is more sustainable and effective in the long run.
Much of what this article describes are attributes that would be found in a healthy organization’s culture. If the ski area has a healthy culture, legitimacy-leadership would be in place from the top all way through the management structure of the ski area. As a manager of your department, you can bring these seven behaviors to the table in the management of your department. You will be rewarded with the improvement of your department’s culture and work performance.