Skip to Content

Why Leaders Should Resist Populist Impulses

Leaders face a particularly tough new challenge: Being a leader without being an authority.

That imperative arises from the mainstream trend of defying and scorning authority. The evidence is all around us here in America, and it’s much more than a U.S. phenomenon. Consider the disorienting speech that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May delivered Wednesday at the annual Conservative Party conference: “It wasn’t the wealthy” — i.e., people in positions of authority — “who made the biggest financial sacrifices after the financial crisis,” she said. “Too many people in positions of power” — authority — “behave as though they have more in common with international elites than the people down the road…. Just listen to the way a lot of politicians and commentators” — authorities — “talk about the public. They find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal, your attachment to your job security inconvenient.”

This is pure populism coming from the leader of the Conservative Party, for decades the natural home of the wealthy and the business leaders whom she now derogates so energetically. She opposed Brexit, but now she’s implementing it with gusto. Before the vote, a journalist challenged pro-Brexit Justice Minister Michael Gove to name an economist who supported Brexit. He famously replied, “People in this country have had enough of experts.” They’re some of our society’s most authoritative authorities.

The trend is just as striking and strange in the U.S. The Republican nominee, Donald Trump, sneers at Wall Street and many CEOs. Hillary Clinton, the ultimate insider authority figure, portrays herself instead as a grandmother who has fought for children since she was young; her only formidable challenger in the primaries, Bernie Sanders, is an anti-authority figure who belongs to neither major party. Both nominees reject free trade, a favorite policy objective of the “international elites.”

The message to leaders seems to be that to stay in power, they must renounce power, or at least seem to. They must abdicate the authority inherent in their role lest they become the enemy of their followers.

But no leader can walk that fine line for long. Populism always exhausts itself. An enduring truth of leadership is that people want to be led, and while they want someone who speaks for them, they also want, eventually, someone who can take command and carry a burden for them. One of the great challenges for leaders in today’s environment is to do their job without abandoning the traits and behaviors essential to leading. I suspect that today’s enthusiastic populists will someday regret the path they’ve chosen.

You can share Power Sheet with friends and followers here.

What We’re Reading Today

Hurricane Matthew scrapes Florida 
The hurricane has hit the Florida coast, with 100 mph winds immediately causing power outages even as the hurricane is downgraded to a category 3. Gov. Rick Scott yesterday ordered 1.5 million people to evacuate. Haiti is reeling from Matthew’s impact; the death toll has already passed 300.  BBC

Snapchat’s parent nears an IPO
As advertising revenue grows to $250 to $350 million this year, and an expected $1 billion next year, Evan Spiegel‘s Snap plans an IPO in next year’s first quarter. The company reportedly contemplates a $25-billion valuation, $5 billion more than in its most recent funding round.  Fortune

Verizon wants a $1-billion discount on Yahoo 
Lowell McAdam‘s $4.8-billion bid won the auction for Yahoo, but now he wants a price cut after revelations that hackers stole data on 500 million customer accounts. Yahoo reportedly isn’t budging on the price. New York Post

White House officials coordinated with the Clinton campaign on emails  
Newly released emails show some White House officials coordinating with Hillary Clinton‘s campaign as she began her presidential run. White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri emailed her counterpart in the State Department about Secretary of State John Kerry avoiding questions on Clinton emails during an appearance 10 days after the story broke. Palmieri had already planned on leaving the White House for Clinton’s campaign. The interaction doesn’t appear illegal, but it shows cooperation between the administration and the Clinton campaign. WSJ

Building a Better Leader

LinkedIn adds new job-search feature
The Open Candidates tool let you notify recruiters from other companies that you’re looking for your next opportunity, without tipping off your employer. Re/code

If you have to shut down the business for a hurricane…
…or other weather-related event, realize that employees will want to know if they’ll be paid. By law, some employees may have to be. Fortune

To develop a strong leadership pipeline…
…you’ll first want to have developed a strong culture. Believe in knowledge sharing, and don’t be afraid to let employees learn through hard experience. Harvard Business Review

Worth Considering

Mars buys out Warren Buffett
The candy maker will buy Buffett‘s shares of Wrigley in order to take full control of the company. Grant Reid‘s Mars will add Wrigley to its chocolate division, along with M&Ms, Snickers, Altoids, and other candy brands. Reuters

GM CEO Mary Barra says ride-sharing has forced the company…
…to change the way it thinks. While autonomous driving and all-electric power are significant changes to vehicles, they’re technology improvements of a type that Barra‘s employees are used to handling. But ride-sharing is different, she says, because it changes the relationship with the car.  Fortune

NFL ratings slip
Ratings for National Football League games have fallen over the first four weeks of the season, down nearly 10% from last season. For Commissioner Roger Goodell it’s a worrying sign; the NFL was long considered immune to ratings erosion. Increased viewing of election coverage, especially the first debate, may be a factor;  the public fight with Tom Brady and concern over concussions may also play a role. The NFL must assure advertisers this isn’t a sign of things to come. WSJ

Up or Out

The head of Merrill Lynch’s wealth management group, John Thiel, will step down at year-end, to be succeeded by Andy Sieg. Investment News

Advanced Auto Parts has named Thomas Okray CFO. WSJ

Fortune Reads and Videos

Pence walks back Trump’s Muslim ban
It’s one of Donald Trump‘s most incendiary proposals — at least temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country. Running mate Mike Pence says Trump has dumped that idea. Fortune

Facebook’s Oculus wants a new headset
It’s developing a model that doesn’t require connection to a computer. Facebook will provide $250 million of funding for companies that develop virtual reality games and movies. Fortune

Venture capitalists talk about their biggest regrets
They’re decisions such as passing on an opportunity to back a little-known company like The Facebook (as it was first known) or Airbnb. But such is life in the VC world. Fortune

Taco Bell lists on Airbnb
To promote its new Steak Doubledilla, Taco Bell has offered a “SteakCation” at a Chatham, Ontario, location. Fortune

Happy Birthday

Russian President  Vladimir Putin turns 64 today.  Biography

Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings turns 56 tomorrow.  Encyclopedia Brittanica

Foxconn founder Terry Gou turns 66 tomorrow.  The Richest

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan turns 57 on Sunday.  Popular CEOs

Share Today’s Power Sheet: 
http://fortune.com/newsletter/powersheet/

Produced by Ryan Derousseau
@ryanderous
powersheet@newsletters.fortune.com