Loose Cannons and Rule Breakers, or Enterprising Leaders? Some Evidence About Innovative Public Managers

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Abstract

One element of the debate over New Public Management concerns public-sector entrepreneurship. Critics see entrepreneurs as people prone to rule breaking, self-promotion, and unwarranted risk taking, while proponents view them as exercising leadership and taking astute initiatives. This article examines two samples of the best applications to the Ford Foundation—Kennedy School of Government innovation awards, one between 1990 and 1994 and the other between 1995 and 1998, to see whether they are more consistent with the critics' or proponents' views. The second sample closely replicates the first, and the evidence from both strongly supports the proponents' views. Innovators are creatively solving public-sector problems and are usually proactive in that they deal with problems before they escalate to crises. They use appropriate organizational channels to build support for their ideas. They take their opponents seriously and attempt to win support for their ideas through persuasion or accommodation.

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