How do leaders claim authority and why do they feel they have a legitimate right to expect willing obedience to their command? According to German sociologiest Max Weber there are three main modes of claiming legitimacy.
Weber was describing pure types or models but he was aware that, in the real world, mixtures will be found in the legitimation of authority. He was also aware that authority reflects the relation between leaders and followers and is not an attribute of the leader alone. Although his notion of charisma may lack rigorous definition, its importance lies in Weber's development of the idea that the leader derives his role from the belief his followers have about his mission.
- Traditional authority, which predominates in pre-modern societies, is based on belief in the sanctity of custom and tradition. It is not codified in impersonal rules but inheres in particular persons who may either inherit it or be invested with it by a higher authority.
- Charismatic authority rests on the appeal of leaders who attract followers because of their extraordinary virtuosity, whether ethical, heroic, or religious.
- Rational-legal authority anchored in impersonal rules that have been legally enacted or contractually established. This type is which has increasingly come to characterize hierarchical relations in modern society.
Adapted from Lewis A. Coser, Masters of sociological thought: ideas in historical and social context, 1977: 226-227.