Boris Johnson’s 7 anti-leadership lessons

July 7, 2022, 10:39 AM UTC
Boris Johnson
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares for a meeting with other G7 leaders at Elmau Castle on June 28, 2022, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Clemens Bilan—Pool/Getty Images

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

Lessons in true leadership can be found everywhere these days, so thank goodness for Boris Johnson. The soon-to-be-former British prime minister generously leaves us with years of instruction in the art of anti-leadership—here are some key takeaways.

First, lead from behind. You may have grown up wanting to be “world king,” but these days you have to get people to actually support your ascent. Sure, you could develop a vision for the future and bring others on board, but that’s quite a lot of work. Instead, why not latch onto an existing cause, like Brexit, and bombastically assume the role of figurehead? If you’re not sure whether the cause is worth supporting or not, just prepare arguments for and against, and deploy whichever feels most advantageous to you on the day.

Always tell everyone what they want to hear, regardless of the facts. “Get Brexit done.” “Levelling up.” These sound great, and it doesn’t matter that they either mask fatal complexity or lack any real meaning. Who doesn’t want to get things done? Who would rather level down? Your detail-obsessed opposition, that’s who—and they’re not the ones getting cheered now, are they?

Speaking of which, be sure to thrive on adulation. Your raging narcissism will help you and your minions get through the tough times. I mean, what else are they going to do—find another leader? That’s absurd, and make sure to remind everyone of this fact when the chips are down. You are Big Dog, and it’s your team’s job to keep you in power. Why else would you have ensured that your deputies are sufficiently talentless to avoid being viable alternatives?

And if pesky journalists or other stakeholders keep harping on about boring stuff like facts and details, or anything else that might make you look bad, don’t play their game! Somewhere nearby, there’s always a fridge to hide in.

Remember, rules do not apply to you, especially when you made them. Been caught partying when you told everyone else not to? Pretend it wasn’t a party! And when pictures emerge of you and your glass of bubbly, claim you were just doing what leaders do.

Next, when dealing with the sexual misconduct of your underlings…eh, who cares, right? You might even find a good joke in the material, which is important because morale. Later, when it emerges that you hired a miscreant despite knowing about his predatory behavior, get everyone around you to lie on your behalf, because again, you’re Big Dog. Don’t worry, even when the truth comes out, they’ll understand.

And if they selfishly have a problem with their reputations going down the toilet, and tell you it’s time to pack your bags, and start quitting in droves, fight until the bitter end. Dignity is so overrated these days, and it really doesn’t matter if your refusal to leave brings your entire organization crashing down around you. You are a special flower. If the others won’t keep watering you, they really deserve a desert instead.

More news below—and here’s a non-satirical report on Boris Johnson’s political demise.

David Meyer


Chinese espionage

Intelligence chiefs in the U.S. and U.K. have warned of Chinese spies scoping out (in FBI Director Christopher Wray’s words) “companies everywhere, from big cities to small towns—from Fortune 100s to startups, folks that focus on everything from aviation to A.I. to pharma.” Fortune

Musk relationship

Elon Musk has reportedly fathered twins with a subordinate: Shivon Zilis, the operations and special projects chief at Neuralink (and a board member at OpenAI, though he stepped away from that operation several years ago). The news comes weeks after a report that Musk allegedly exposed his genitalia to a SpaceX employee and offered to buy her a horse if she would “do more” than massage him. Fortune

Microsoft antitrust

Microsoft’s proposed $68.7 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard has hit problems in the U.K., where antitrust regulators have launched an inquiry, over concerns of potentially higher prices or reduced quality. The companies will find out at the start of September whether the probe will move to the next phase. Fortune

Merck M&A

Merck is reportedly in advanced talks regarding a takeover of cancer biotech Seagen. The deal could be worth $40 billion or more. Wall Street Journal


Facebook data

A former Facebook content screener claims the company accesses data that Messenger users thought they had deleted. Brennan Lawson says he was sacked for questioning the legality of a new protocol that allows staffers to do this, and has sued for $3 million in compensation and damages. Bloomberg

Gazprom death

Executives associated with Russia’s Gazprom keep turning up dead. The latest (and sixth in recent months) was Yuri Voronov, who ran a transport and logistics company that served Gazprom in the Arctic. He was found dead in a swimming pool, with a gunshot wound to the head. Fortune

Another subvariant

Are you over being scared by the BA.5 coronavirus flavor yet? Good. Now meet BA.2.75, another Omicron subvariant that experts warn could be even better at evading the immune system’s defenses. First detected in India, it’s started sweeping the globe. One to keep an eye on; for now, there’s no data on whether its more transmissible or severe. Fortune

“Hybrid” babysitters

Working parents in the U.S. are increasingly turning to “hybrid” babysitters who can handle their kids according to flexible schedules. As Chloe Berger reports: “The newfound demand for hybrid babysitters to accommodate such schedules has made even part-time care more expensive, although still more affordable than full-time care.” Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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