Who has the power to lead?

sebastian buck
Oct 2, 2018 · 8 min read

Launching the World Value Index 2018: The Leaders List

UUnderstanding culture, and how it’s changing, is important context for us when working towards creating positive impact at scale. We want to know who can lead culture, and who has a depth of resonance beyond peripheral fame, but based on shared values.

For the past three years, enso has studied Americans’ perceptions of brands. Rather than ranking based on shareholder value, the World Value Index measures people’s awareness of and alignment with brands’ purpose — and the extent to which that perception motivates public, active support. Our hypothesis is that great brands of the 21st century will have a clearly defined and widely understood mission, and will inspire and collaborate with people on the things that matter to them.

This year, we extended our research to study Americans’ perceptions of leading cultural figures, spanning the spheres of government, business, sports, music, religion, and entertainment. In an era of both division and mass transparency, we also believe that the great leaders of the future will inspire and connect with people through their values.

We studied 100 leaders from entertainment, politics, religion, business and sport, and asked a representative sample of Americans whether they can identify any mission beyond personal gain, whether that mission aligns with their own values, and whether it would motivate them to publicly, actively support the leader with time or money.

While in the past, power has been defined by fame, fortune and position; now, everyday people are looking towards leaders that share their values, that have emotional awareness, and represent a shared mission that people can get behind.

Today, Americans face the prevailing narrative of being more polarized than ever as a people. While we acknowledge the many levels of truth to this reality, the Top 10 leaders on our Leaders List have managed to transcend demographic divides, maintaining a consistently positive public perception across a variety of otherwise polarized audiences.

The Top 10 ranked leaders offer a comfort to Americans through humor, humility, and hope. Whether in business, entertainment, or politics, these individuals share a common trait: high emotional intelligence that transcends demographic division. They are able to create a personal, relatable, and emotional connection with people, perpetuating their popularity.

Our pursuit to understand how these cultural figures accomplish that level of connection sheds light on leadership qualities currently resonating with most of America, revealing common ground that feels important to dig into. This is where we can learn about some of the most powerful avenues for connection in the 21st Century.

Our World Value Index research shows a majority of Americans don’t trust business leaders to do what is right. Despite this delta in perception and trust, Bill Gates ranked #1 on our Leader’s List. Forty-three years after founding one of the biggest American corporations, he’s an example of how business leaders can reorient their wealth towards social impact. What can we learn about 21st Century leadership from his legacy?

Once pilloried as an out-of-touch corporate leader, Gates has created a model for how business leaders can reorient their lives towards positive impact — doing pioneering work through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, starting The Giving Pledge to inspire other billionaires to give, and representing a relentless optimism about the way the world could be.

In our current political context, Republicans unsurprisingly feel a higher level of all-around optimism than Democrats: they are more hopeful about their families’ financial prospects; more trusting in business and government leaders; and are less fearful about the way things are in this country than they were a year ago. So it makes sense that despite feeling equal to Democrats in their ability to change the world around them, Republicans express less of a desire to do so: creating change in the world is a personal goal that only 50% of Republicans actively pursue, vs. 63% of Democrats (and 57% of the general public).

In addition to differing personal goals, the two parties hold conflicting expectations of cultural figures: 71% of Democrats strongly feel celebrities have a leadership role to play in social issues, vs. 39% of Republicans. These perspectives connect to some of the most polarized rankings we see on our Leaders List: Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Colin Kaepernick — all openly involved in the issues of women’s equality, sexuality, and racial discrimination — are a few examples of celebrities who rank high with Democrats and low with Republicans. Meanwhile, celebrities like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Tom Brady — historically disengaged from polarizing issues — rank higher with Republicans than Democrats.

A few technology companies have risen to become the most valuable companies in the world. In our World Value Index brand ranking, Amazon is the highest-ranked for-profit brand — beloved for incredible convenience that makes people’s lives easier. But the technology leaders on our list fare less well, particularly with lower- income people; Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, ranks #26 with Elites, but only #78 with the Lower Income segment. Apple may now be the most valuable company in the world, but its products are only relevant to a wealthy audience. Facebook on the other hand is free to use, but still Sheryl Sandberg ranks #48 for Elites, and #88 for Lower Income; perhaps there’s a general perception that technology leaders are creating epic wealth, but not wealth that benefits everybody.

We see a mirroring effect in the way men and women rank cultural leaders: the individuals that women most align with and support rank low with men, and vice versa. Where women are drawn to vocal female representation, men favor prominent athletes and male economic titans.

Under the Spell of Emma Watson

Emma Watson’s overall resonance with Americans is striking, ranking #15 overall, and #4 with Millennials — surpassing entertainers Oprah, Dwayne Johnson, Tom Hanks, and Angelina Jolie. How did this young British actress rank quite so high with American audiences? It helps that Watson stars in one of the most successful entertainment franchises of all time, allowing us to witness 17 years of her personal evolution and growth. It also helps that she’s not just an entertainer; she graduated from Brown and Oxford Universities, and leads with values, not just talent: she’s a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, and a leading advocate of the gender equality movement, HeForShe.

We’re asking: Talented, educated, evolving, values-led, working for others — is Emma Watson’s incredible resonance with young people the archetype for emerging leaders to follow?


It’s no surprise Donald Trump is polarizing. Not just polarizing by political affiliation (Republicans rank: #1; Democrats rank: #98), but polarizing by gender (Male rank: #23; Female rank: #78), and income level (Lower Income rank: #68; Elite rank: #56), and by age group (Boomer rank: #12; Millennial rank: #91). In our general population index, he is far below his predecessors, Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He’s also significantly below Hillary Clinton. What’s most striking to us about this is the age polarization: for Millennials, he ranks just a few places above Kim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin. Trump’s leadership style — egotistic boasts about wealth, talent, success, and perceived patriarchal, misogynistic and racist values — turns off Millennials, America’s most diverse generation.

We’re asking: Contrasting Trump and Emma Watson’s leadership styles, does one represent the past, and the other the future?

Leaders Fading Out

Support for some of America’s most visible leaders is polarized by generation: strong alignment with Boomers, and weak alignment with Millennials. No more so than Donald Trump, but also others like Ivanka Trump, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Warren Buffett, Joel Osteen and Sean Hannity, all supported primarily by the oldest Americans.

We’re asking: As Boomers start to fade out of boardroom and ballot box influence, how fast and how radical may the reshaping of America be? Will this shift be more extreme than previous generational transitions?

Sports and Social Progress

Traditionally sports resonates most strongly with younger people, so it’s striking to see two of America’s most iconic sports stars, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods, ranked much higher by Boomers than Millennials. By contrast, those supporting Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and Steph Curry skew younger. Echoing the socio-political active youth of the ’60s, young people today are demanding more from celebrities — 64% Millennials believe celebrities have a leadership role to play in social issues, vs. 45% of Boomers. Outside of their sports achievements, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods may be best known for highly publicized indiscretions, while Kaepernick, James and Curry are known for their stands on social justice issues.

We’re asking: If Millennials demand higher ethical standards of leadership than Boomers, how should athletes, teams and leagues respond? And does this compel greater engagement in social justice issues by leaders in all walks of life?

We do this research to move our thinking forward, and to contribute to the broader social impact arena we’re a part of. We hope you enjoy the read, and share your reflections with us.

Download the full report at enso.co/worldvalue

enso is a creative impact agency.
We work with innovative companies and organizations to create positive impact at scale through shared missions. Learn more at enso.co.


Culture, brands, and people at the intersection of…

sebastian buck

Written by

co-founder, enso » creative impact agency » enso.co —sebastianbuck.com



Culture, brands, and people at the intersection of creativity x impact. Made by enso, a creative impact agency.

sebastian buck

Written by

co-founder, enso » creative impact agency » enso.co —sebastianbuck.com



Culture, brands, and people at the intersection of creativity x impact. Made by enso, a creative impact agency.

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