President Trump has failed the test of modern leadership

October 19, 2020, 10:35 AM UTC

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Good morning.

CEO Daily readers regularly remind me that this is a business newsletter, not a political one. But the line between the two has never been bright and has grown fuzzier in recent years. Business leaders feel compelled to take strong stands on issues once considered the realm of politics and government—climate change, inequality, racial injustice, and, most recently, public health. Meanwhile, President Trump feels free to personally intervene in individual business decisions with unprecedented abandon—his role in the TikTok deal being only the latest example.

So allow me a moment to reflect on the coming U.S. election. Some business leaders will be tempted to vote for the man who managed to achieve the unachievable by rewriting the corporate tax code, which previously penalized American-based businesses relative to overseas competitors; and who rolled back the regulatory tide of the Obama administration.

But as we have written here often, an ever-growing group of corporate leaders also recognizes that society is demanding a different kind of leadership. Today’s leaders increasingly embrace purpose beyond profit; provide their employees connection to a cause bigger than themselves; spend less time telling people what to do and more telling them how to do it; empathize, inspire, motivate, and urge their people to do, as my friend Dov Seidman puts it, not just the next thing right, but the next right thing.

Any way you measure it, Donald Trump has failed that test of leadership. Whether it’s his denial of science, his disregard for data and facts, his flirtations with dictators and violent extremists, his mismanagement of the pandemic, or his alienation of an amazingly broad array of talented people who worked for him, Trump is the antithesis of what CEOs tell me on a daily basis that they value in leaders.

If companies can do better, so can the country. The big problems mentioned above won’t be solved without a partnership between leaders in business and government. We don’t know yet if a President Biden can rise to that leadership challenge. But we do know President Trump can’t. Time to try something new.

And by the way, even if you disagree with the opinion expressed above, I hope you will all agree with this: Every business leader has a responsibility to both enable and encourage their colleagues and employees to do their civic duty and vote. Low participation rates in American elections have allowed the extremes to have outsized influence over both political parties. Higher participation rates would advance the common good.

For a deeper look at the state of American politics, read editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf’s essay for the November issue of the magazine, online here. Other news below. And check out our two new weekly podcasts: Brainstorm (Apple/Spotify), in which Fortune editors Brian O’Keefe and Michal Lev Ram look at how technology is tackling some society’s toughest problems—the latest episode focuses on fighting wildfires with technology—and Reinvent (Apple/Spotify), in which Adam Lashinsky and Beth Kowitt look at companies reinventing themselves, from Momofuku to BP.

Alan Murray


Most Powerful Women

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Chinese economy

China's National Bureau of Statistics says the country's GDP was up 4.9% from a year ago. Local economists expected 5.2% growth. Nonetheless, the pace of China's recovery is clearly picking up, and retail sales are doing well. Fortune

Big Tech

The U.K.'s competition regulator has threatened to lay into Google and Facebook if the government doesn't curb their powers quickly enough. Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) chief Andrea Coscelli: "Plan A is to have a regulatory framework. If [within a year] there is little action because of COVID-19 and Brexit then we would certainly do something ourselves directly—that is plan B." Financial Times

Instagram probe

And over in Ireland, there's yet another probe into Facebook's privacy practices—or more specifically, those of its Instagram unit, which is being probed over its handling of children's personal data. A U.S. data scientist complained to the Data Protection Commission about Instagram making public the email addresses and phone numbers of under-18 users. Irish Times


Credit scores

You'd think people's credit scores would be getting hammered during this recession, due to missed debt payments, but actually the average FICO credit score rose between April and July. For that, thank government and lender assistance during the pandemic. But there is one downside: lenders' underwriting models are being scrambled. Also, it goes without saying that credit scores could look a lot worse soon, if there isn't a new deal on aid for the unemployed. Wall Street Journal

Europe's CDC

The pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which has been powerless to take any coordinating role in the EU's response. Incredibly, that lack of power is by design, as this piece explains. Politico

Quarantine alternatives

The air travel industry is scrambling to come up with a viable alternative to mandatory quarantines for incoming travelers. Here's Conrad Clifford, Asia-Pacific chief for the International Air Transport Association: "What we've seen so far is if there's a 14-day quarantine, it's the same as closing your borders." IATA's preferred solution would involve testing before departure. Fortune

Stratospheric antennas

Deutsche Telekom has successfully tested a stratospheric base station for providing connectivity in hard-to-reach places back on the ground. The test used an adapted propeller plane, but Telekom's partner, a U.K. startup called Stratospheric Platforms, is developing its own pilotless craft that will use a hydrogen fuel-cell system. Reuters

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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