Entrepreneurs are frequently seen as leaders, but not all leaders are seen as entrepreneurs. In the political arena, the divide between leaders and entrepreneurs is at its greatest. Political leaders frequently follow patterns set before them. A society has a set of rules that community members agree to follow in order to maintain peace. Political leaders follow the guidelines of those rules; leading the society by example. This does not mean that political leaders have no ability to change the rules of the society, but it does mean that they have to work within then structure that already exists. Political entrepreneurs, or policy entrepreneurs, have more of an ability to be creative and mobile. Policy entrepreneurs are supposed to create change by defining problems, build teams, assess risk, and find the right time to present their policy change. In short, political leaders lead within the existing political structure and create change from within the government, while polity entrepreneurs try to break through the structure of government to implement change from outside of the “political machine.”
Political leaders and policy entrepreneurs both use the psychodynamic approach to leadership. In order to relate to masses of people, leaders and entrepreneurs in the political field pull on their own life experiences to bring forward ideas for change. Ralph Nadar was a political leader who pulled on his childhood to lead by example; and Lois Gibbs became a policy entrepreneur by using her personal experiences and emotion as a concerned mother to effectively lead her community. While both were successful in the political arena, Gibbs was a more successful in enacting change than Nader was, because of her use of the psychodynamic leadership style and her gender.
The psychodynamic approach to leadership is fundamental to a political leader or entrepreneur. The leadership style says there are reasons behind everything a leader does because people “are all products of [their] past experiences” and how a leader regulates emotion is pivotal to how that leader “guides relationships through [his or her] life” (Northouse 297). It takes into account a leader’s life experiences and how they consciously or subconsciously impact the way leaders interact with their followers. There is not one formula for being an effective psychodynamic leader; rather the approach allows leaders to be authentic to themselves. Therefore, the psychodynamic approach focuses mainly on influential human relationships to explain why leaders treat and what they expect from their followers (Northouse 302). The psychodynamic approach can be a great form of leadership because it is up to the intensions of the leader, but it can also help bolster the narcissistic tendencies in leaders. The downfalls are seeing the world as “friend or foe,” mirroring those who are nearby, or identifying with and adopting the vision of the dominant personality (Northouse 303, 304). Political leaders and entrepreneurs need to be able to relate to others using personal experiences, identify issues, and lead by example; the psychodynamic approach helps them maintain trust and inspire confidence with their followers.
The psychodynamic approach is a style of leadership that is more likely to be gendered. Gender can be a higher factor in the success of a psychodynamic leader because of the biological differences between men and women, the way western society genders childhood, the dependency of childhood and young adult experiences, and the lack of a strict formula or ability to grow in the psychodynamic approach to leadership. It is a fact that women are underrepresented in majority leadership positions (Northouse 419). Northouse explains this underrepresentation as the “leadership labyrinth,” which is comprised of gender differences, prejudice, and the lack of human capital investment (Northouse 400). The justification for women being behind in leadership roles is that women are less likely to be highly educated, well trained, and with work experience than men, although this has been proven less prevalent by recent studies (Northouse 399). The more prevalent social issues that keep women from holding leadership positions are the gender differences between leadership styles, self-promotion, negotiation traits, stereotypes, and biased perception (Northouse 400). Yet, with all these elements holding women back, they tend to be “more democratic [and] perceptive” to their followers than their male counterparts, like psychodynamic leaders focusing on human relationships (Northouse 402). The Leadership Labyrinth doesn’t limit all women from entering majority leadership positions, it just makes it more difficult for many women to do so. The psychodynamic approach calls on the way leaders were raised, and if a leader was raised to believe gender stereotypes that would hinder their respect of women leaders, then their way of interacting with female peers would be less fair.
Ralph Nader was a political leader who lead like a true psychodynamic approach leader. The lessons he learned as a child directly impacted the way he led. He was raised to be “socially concerned, health conscious, and [value] education and civic activism” (Goertzel 1). His first political win was “against the ‘reckless, unsafe hyper-horsepower-minded automobile industry’” (Goertzel 2). Even after the successful passage of both the Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, Nader was so against the big auto-business industry he refused to own a car (Habenczius 3, Goertzel 2). He was uncompromising and morally driven; and like a true political leader, he chose to lead by example. Nader like many narcistic psychodynamic leaders was “fixated on issues or power, status, prestige, and superiority” as suggested by his “persistence in running for president” (Northouse 305, Goertzel 2). Some speculate that his running for the presidency was to promote his personal superiority, rather than for the issues he fought for (Goertzel 2). Nader was known for his self-righteous stances, and moral superiority to others which caused him to be seen now in a more negative light.
Lois Gibbs opted for the entrepreneurial side of the political sphere, and that is what helped her be so successful. When she moved to Love Canal, Gibbs noticed both of her children getting sick. After learning her children were spending time on a playground that was built over toxic waste, Gibbs was worried about the safety of her children (Copeland); so, she pulled on her experience as a concerned mother to inspire others to feel the same worry. Similar to the studies cited by Northouse, Gibbs was a woman who favored democracy as a leader; so, she decided to put together a homeowner’s association for her town, with the goal of making it “the most democratic organization on earth” (Greene). She was able to master one issue, toxic waste removal, and work with one government organization, the EPA. Like a true policy entrepreneur, Gibbs was the bridge between the government, the people, and the problem. Now, she was a housewife who was concerned about the health and safety of her children and home, which falls into the stereotype of women. But, in this case being a woman and mother may have helped her argument and working outside the structure of the classic masculine pollical leader she was able to help create change. She worked outside of the political lines and used sometimes unorthodox methods to get the attention of people who could help her. She then was able to continue her work in Washington DC with her organization, The Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (Greene).
In conclusion, policy entrepreneurs have more flexibility. Flexibility in how they act, who they interact with, and what policies they work with. Political Leaders are expected to have a broad knowledge of many things, where policy entrepreneurs can be experts at one thing. While today gender roles are less prevalent in society, they are still very much subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) stuck in people’s minds. Gibbs was able to be a ground-breaking policy entrepreneur because she was an expert at one thing that was seen as “feminine.” Concern for the health of children was seen as both a mother’s duty and protecting the youth. I am hesitant to believe she would have won a seat if she had run on her anti-toxic-waste platform for the New York senate. Gibb’s gender helped her succeed as a policy entrepreneur where it could have hindered her as a political leader.
Copeland, Libby Ingrid. “Washingtonpost.Com: Style Live: Showcase.” n.d. Accessed October 11, 2019. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/daily/loisgibbs.htm.
Goertzel, Ted. “Ralph Nader: The Political Psychology of a Puritanical Perfectionist.”
Greene, Ronnie. “From Homemaker to Hell-Raiser in Love Canal.” n.d. Center for Public Integrity. Accessed October 11, 2019. https://publicintegrity.org/environment/from-homemaker-to-hell-raiser-in-love-canal/.
Habenczius, Peter. “Childhood Denied: The Roots of Ralph Nader’s Righteousness.” Minnesota: Clio’s Psyche, 2001.
Northouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2016.