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What CEOs Are Most Scared Of in 2016

What scares leaders now? It’s the obvious Halloween question, so let’s take a look, focusing especially on business leaders. It’s a deep question, and the answer to it depends on how deeply you want to probe.

At the shallowest level, business leaders have no trouble speaking right up about fears for their businesses. We know they’re worried about the rapid pace of advancing technology and the fast-growing burden of regulation; that’s what Fortune 500 CEOs told us in a poll earlier this year. More specific fears vary with the leader’s industry; restaurant company CEOs are afraid of rising labor costs as cities and states decree higher minimum wages, for example. Answers like these are entirely valid, of course, but they’re easy for CEOs to give because they’re predictable and widely shared.

At a deeper level are fears about the presidential election. Business leaders are far more circumspect about those, for two reasons. First, stating a political preference is a guaranteed excellent way to lose customers. Second, stating and explaining one’s political leanings is personally revealing, and many leaders aren’t comfortable with that. In this election, my informal survey found more CEOs declaring a fear of Donald Trump than of Hillary Clinton. Retired Boeing CEO James McNerney has said that “The precipitousness of the political debate is a little scary right now,” adding specifically that Trump’s talk about trade is “a very dangerous discussion.” Boston software entrepreneur Philip Beauregard told the Boston Globe that for entrepreneurs, a Trump presidency would be “the eighth concentric circle of hell.” Hobby Lobby CEO David Green said earlier this year that Trump’s lack of humility “scares me to death,” but he later reversed himself because he feared Clinton’s effect on the Supreme Court.

Not many big-company CEOs have expressed fear of Clinton, maybe in part because they figure she’ll win. But a few famous names have publicly endorsed Trump, declaring their fear of a Clinton presidency, and some of the announcements have indeed been revealing. Who would have guessed, for example, that PayPal co-founder and Palantir chairman Peter Thiel, almost alone among Silicon Valley celebrities, was a Trump supporter?

And then there’s the deepest level of what scares CEO, and it has nothing to do with elections or the economy. Consultant and organizational psychologist Roger Jones surveyed 116 CEOs and other executives about what they fear most. Their No. 1 fear is “being found to be incompetent, also known as the ‘imposter’ syndrome,” he reported in the Harvard Business Review. After that, in descending order: underachieving, appearing too vulnerable, being politically attacked by colleagues, and appearing foolish.

In short, the strongest motivations of top business leaders, the deepest fears they carry with them, are exactly what we’d expect in a group of super-achievers who have been elevated to an exalted status that they know is far greater than the mere humans they are. For CEOs, the true scariest costume this (or any) Halloween may be nothing more than what they wear to work every day.

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What We’re Reading Today

GE builds new oil & gas company with Baker Hughes
GE will contribute its oil and gas business plus $7.4 billion of cash, to be combined with Martin Craighead‘s Baker Hughes. The combined entity will be a publicly traded company, with Jeff Immelt‘s firm owning 62.5% and Baker Hughes owning the rest. GE oil & gas CEO Lorenzo Simonelli will run the combined firm. WSJ

Elon Musk unveils new solar roof design
Tesla CEO and Solar City Chairman Musk unveiled plans to replace solar panels on roofs with roofing tiles that generate electricity, which can be used immediately or stored in a Tesla battery. The announcement is also a tactic by Musk to sell Tesla’s merger with SolarCity, which critics have questioned. Los Angeles Times

Elizabeth Warren attacks the AT&T-Time Warner merger…
…over the role of Christine Varney, a partner at the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, who is working on getting the deal approved by regulators. Varney was previously the Obama administration’s top antitrust lawyer. “The revolving door is out of control,” says Warren. Fortune

Building a Better Leader

Using drones as a recruitment tool
On online travel agency in the Czech Republic heard about tech developer layoffs at other local businesses. sent drones to hover over those companies, bearing banners saying “Smart People Wanted” and giving Kiwi’s website. HRE Daily

Want to get more done by noon? 
Wake up earlier than you want to, work out first thing, and don’t check email. Your willpower is greatest in the morning. Fortune

The positive side of being nosy
When networking, a little bit of questioning helps gain insight. Like, how did your friend’s friend get a job at your dream company? It’s okay to take advantage of what you learn.  The Muse

The Email Chronicles

FBI gains warrant to search Clinton campaign staff’s emails
The FBI will begin reviewing emails from Huma Abedin, a Hillary Clinton aide who is the estranged wife of Anthony Weiner. While investigating Weiner in an unrelated sexual misconduct case, the FBI discovered emails pertaining to the previously closed investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server. It’s unclear how long the FBI will take to review the emails. Fortune

Emails were discovered weeks ago
Investigators in the Weiner case found the emails a number of weeks ago, raising the question of why FBI director James Comey made his announcement only last week, 11 days before election day.  CNN

Harry Reid to Comey: “You may have broken the law”
Senate minority leader Reid wrote to Comey saying he believes the FBI director used a double standard in investigating Clinton‘s emails but not Donald Trump‘s ties to Russia. Reid said Comey may have violated the Hatch Act, which forbids FBI officials to influence the election.  USA Today



Fortune Reads and Videos

Space X nears solution to exploding rocket mystery
Mishandling of pressurized helium as it was loaded onto the Falcon 9 may have caused the September 1 explosion. Fortune

Peter Thiel defends his support for Donald Trump
He says he’s surprised by the backlash from the tech community but adds that “we’re at such a crucial point that you have to overlook personal characteristics.” Fortune

Melania Trump will deliver a speech on Thursday
It will be her first speech since the Republican National Convention. Fortune

And the five hot Halloween costumes for grownups…
…this year include Prince and Hillary Clinton in an orange prison uniform. Fortune

Quote of the Day

“Your actions in recent months have demonstrated a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information, with what appears to be a clear intent to aid one political party over another…I am writing to inform you that my office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act, which bars FBI officials from using their official authority to influence an election. Through your partisan actions, you may have broken the law.” — Sen. Harry Reid to FBI Director James Comey on Comey’s announcement Friday that more emails possibly relevant to the Clinton email investigation had been discovered.  Washington Post

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Produced by Ryan Derousseau