This past Friday, Malcolm Gladwell spoke at Belmont University for a leadership breakfast. Fortunately for me, a group of students was allowed in.
A few of you asked on Twitter, so here are a few notes from the talk. At the bottom you can find links to other articles written from last week and a TED Talk Malcolm did a while ago.
Malcolm Gladwell has been speaking on legitimacy and how, when a person or group of people feel that their legitimacy has been challenged, it will drive people to fight. Anger is a direct result of feeling illegitimate, and depending on the person, that anger can be used either constructively or destructively.
This topic comes directly from the focus of his recent book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.”
He opened asking how we ought to be behave as leaders? What are we called to?
I believe that as leaders we are always called to be conscious stewards of the people with whom we have influence.
Moving into the main portion of his speech, Gladwell focused on two stories of people rising up against those with illegitimate power over them.
Alva Vanderbilt was a southern woman, renowned for her incredibly lavish lifestyle. A woman of the early 19th Century, she had no power, was constantly humiliated by the infidelity of her husband and eventually divorced him, a step that no woman of her status ever took in that era. The illegitimacy she felt caused her to rise up and fight as a suffragette, becoming a driving force behind the woman’s right movement.
During the start of The Troubles in Ireland, a band of thousands of woman gathered together and marched on a group of English troops, singing “We Will Overcome” as they went. Seeing this mass of furious women, the armed troops fled. This moment has been considered a turing point in the conflict ever since as the women rose up to stand against the forces they saw as illegitimate.
These are the stories Malcolm used to set the stage for his position on needing to secure legitimacy for our constituents as leaders.
Legitimacy is defined by the respect, fairness and trust that a system, person, or government caries with it. If a man feels controlled by something that denies a respectful hearing of his complaints, fair treatment of his family, or trustworthy protection of his rights, how can he feel safe? Without safety, all feeling of legitimacy is gone and anger rises up to action.
When people are denied their legitimacy, it almost always inspires rage. The power of that emotion, though, is what people do with it. Malcolm gave the example of education. We have to make students feel legitimate to get them to be willing to participate in their own education. They need to be respected and have a say in their learning. Teachers must treat students fairly. Lastly, students must be able to trust the environment they are in daily.
During the Q&A, Malcom was asked what makes him feel excited. He replied, saying that he loves it when something threatens or expands his world view.
You have to put what you believe at risk.
He noted that this is a really complex world. People must be allowed to change their minds. They have to be allowed to change what they think as they gain greater understanding.
Indeed, I am terrified by those that have never changed their mind.
Take a look at these other, more formal, articles by two different attendees:
And finally, one of my favorite TED Talks: