Why do actors and entertainers become leaders more than the other way around and what can we learn from the pattern?

May 29, 2015 by Joshua
in Art, Education, Leadership

The other day I saw an ad for a TV show where 50 Cent was the executive producer. I don’t know what role he had—maybe they’re just using a star’s name to get viewers—but at least the title suggests he has some leadership role.

It made me think. A lot of actors, entertainers, and other performers move into leadership roles, but I rarely see it go the other way. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Same with athletes, come to think of it.

People on the right wing get mad at celebrities who take up a cause, but I mean full-on leadership, not just some support. Most don’t change roles, but when they do it seems to go in one direction more than the other.

Ronald Reagan: actor became President

Arnold Schwarzenegger: athlete became actor and then became Governor

Oprah Winfrey: talk show host / actress became businesswoman, influential in politics, called “arguably the world’s most powerful woman”

Al Franken: actor / comedian become Senator

Clint Eastwood: actor became Mayor

Muhammad Ali: athlete became influential leader against Vietnam war

Jesse Ventura: athlete? / entertainer became Governor

Kevin Johnson: athlete became Mayor

Bill Bradley: athlete turned Senator

Charles Barkley: athlete considered running for Governor

You might say Barkley didn’t end up running and shouldn’t count him. Even if you didn’t take him seriously, I bet you take him a lot more seriously than if any current Governor announced trying out for the NBA. One way works much more than the other. In any case, Barkley speaks openly about many race, class, and other issues and he has influence. He has a leadership role as a media figure.

Shirley Temple: actress / dancer became Ambassador and diplomat, also ran for several offices

Louis Armstrong: musician / singer became major force for desegregation

Sonny Bono: actor / singer turned Congressman

Jackie Robinson: athlete became statesman, businessman, and major American influence

Jesse Owens: athlete became statesman and major American influence

Here is an article with twelve athletes who got elected to political roles.

Another article with more examples.

Just found a Wikipedia article: List of actor-politicians. I haven’t reviewed it exhaustively, but they seem to start as actors and then move to politics.

More examples.

More examples.

More examples.


Jerry Springer: politician became entertainer

Richard Branson: entrepreneur and business leader became competitor in sailing

I think Jerry Springer illustrates that successful performers move into leadership. Springer apparently left politics unsuccessfully. Richard Branson’s competitions cost a lot of money that blocks almost everyone in the world from competing.

What can we learn from this pattern

Jaded people might say actors, athletes, entertainers, and other performers just get celebrity and that people vote by name recognition. I’m not so jaded, nor do I agree with that view. Many of the people above get re-elected. Some become enduring icons whose influence endures for generations.

I think people who train and get experience expressing themselves and allowing themselves to be vulnerable in public develop skills to seem genuine and authentic, which people find attractive. The skills of performing seem fundamental to leading.

I draw from how we train actors, athletes, and performers in how I teach leadership and entrepreneurship and see success in the results. I don’t teach acting, singing, or entertaining to people who want to lead, but I use similar structure and techniques.

If you want to lead, better learn skills important for performance.

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