In a leadership ethics course, we were asked to find an example of a leadership dilemma which exemplified Immanuel Kant’s ethical principles. During that research, I stumbled upon the name, Sallie Krawcheck, who is the co-founder and CEO of Ellevest and has worked for many of the biggest names on Wall Street. Krawcheck has been described as one of the last honest analysts on Wall Street in the past and has twice made an ethically correct decision at the peril of her job (Krawcheck, 2017). Despite these job-ending decisions, she is an enormously successful leader and I was fascinated to learn more about her leadership style. The deeper we look into Krawcheck, the more clearly we see that she exemplifies the psychodynamic approach to leadership. The psychodynamic leadership approach defines itself as a deep dive into human behavior at an organizational level (Northouse, 2016, p. 295). This approach bases itself on the trait approach but acknowledges the complexities of the human mind and all that goes into our decisions, interactions and motivations (Northouse, 2016, p. 295). This approach finds that a leader is more effective if they understand themselves and if they understand the people they are trying to lead (Northouse, 2016, p. 295).
In regard to the leader understanding their own traits and how they impact her leadership personality, Krawcheck has established some fundamental principles which could be important for any leader. She indicates first and foremost that being a leader is very hard work (Krawcheck, 2006). In addition, Krawcheck discusses that a leader needs to be able to handle rejection with a very thick skin (Krawcheck, 2006). Part of having that thick skin is to not be embarrassed to go against the flow or make mistakes (Krawcheck, 2006). I believe another very important message that Krawcheck understands about herself and which upcoming leaders could learn is that leadership is very lonely and uncomfortable (Krawcheck, 2006). Part of the discomfort and loneliness can occur when, as a leader, you need to make an ethically correct decision without support from your followers or from your supervisors (Krawcheck, 2006). These personal observations by Krawcheck are noted as one of the main strengths of the psychodynamic approach (Northouse, 2016, p. 306). From a personal level, I think it is quite easy for people to get behind the idea that professional help or coaching is a way to find more satisfaction in life. What is so obvious on a personal level, however, may not translate as easily when considering our corporate ‘self’.
The second part of the psychodynamic approach is the idea of understanding those whom you are leading. One of the first items Krawcheck covers is that sometimes people will be mad at you (Krawcheck, 2006). I believe this to be an extremely important message to leaders that may typically lead with a more servant leadership approach since they may consistently want to put their followers first and therefore, may avoid conflict. Aside from being mad at their leader, followers may also talk about them behind their back or argue directly to their face. When followers are asked to make a change, they will typically feel apprehension and that can come out as an argument. Other times, when followers are asked to make a change which they do not agree with they will be silently obstinate. The leader has to understand that many times their job is to take people to a place that they really may not want to go to (Krawcheck, 2006). By understanding these intricacies of the leader-follower relationship, the leader can be more effective in moving an organization forward. This understanding is a strength of the psychodynamic approach to leadership and, in my opinion, can be pivotal to leader success (Northouse, 2016, p. 306).
In summary, we understand the psychodynamic approach to leadership to be a 360 view of the psychological understanding of leaders and followers. This view needs to include both an introspective look at the leader as well as gaining an understanding of followers. I believe Krawcheck’s success as a leader is due to the insight she has into her own personality and leadership traits, including how she reacts and responds to situations. In addition, her understanding of how followers may react to different situations and decisions can help her to anticipate and plan an appropriate response.
Krawcheck, S. (November 1, 2006). Citigroup’s Sallie Krawcheck Talks About Leadership, Ethics, And How To Survive On Walstreet. Retrieved from https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/citigroups-sallie-krawcheck-talks-about-leadership-ethics-and-how-to-survive-on-wall-street/.
Krawcheck, S. (January 18, 2017). When To Risk Your Career For Ethical Reasons. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3067239/when-to-risk-your-career-for-ethical-reasons.
Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership Theory and Practice (7th ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.