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The Dwindling Popularity of President Macron

The popularity of President Macron is dwindling. That’s not unusual after elections. Many other (French) presidents have seen their popularity go down in the first months in office. But with president Macron there is something peculiar going on. We all remember his spectacular victory. Europe was excited. Macron had stopped populism in its worst form. For sure Macron was the better outcome compared to the dark alternative. As a political outsider he had left the traditional parties behind with his movement En Marche. He seemed to be the voice of reason in a time that reason had lost ground.
But then he did something peculiar. In his search for budgetary cuts, he reduced the defence budget. In itself that is not something strange. But what is peculiar is how he dealt with dissenting voices, or notably one dissenting voice. General Pierre De Villiers was against this budget cut and had voiced this. This was not to the liking of President Macron, who used the power argument. He said that he was the boss and if someone did not agree with the boss, the this person should go.

A matter of Trust

This is an issue because it is contradictory to the style Macron had promised, one of dialogue. With this argument he has killed dialogue and he has won on power. But power is very erosive. To maintain power you need to use it. And using power is not very sustainable. Because people get numb. Or they will find a way to evade. And if the latter happens the only thing a leader can do, is install more control. If there’s more control, there is less trust. If there’s less trust, people will adapt their behaviour to that.
The question is if president Macron is trustworthy. Trustworthiness is a matter of competence (can he do the job), loyalty (does he act on our behalf) and integrity (does he walk the talk).


The natural weakness of president Macron lies in the first element, competence. He has hardly any experience. People voted for him in spite of the lack of competence, and probably because of the integrity he has shown. Other candidates were burdoned with scandals or cumbersome proposals. In the first weeks after the elections he has shown competence.  The way he has handled Trump instills trust. But the way he has handled the military does not.


In terms of loyalty president Macron will face other issues. The reform of the French labour market comes up and many employed and unemployed citizens will see this is an attack on their interests, therefore they will see it as disloyal. This is always tricky in politics. you can never satisfy everybody, but you need to satisfy enough people. In these VUCA-times politicians need to take decisions not on behalf of the people of. today, but on behalf of the people of the generations to come. The tension between short and long term thinking is difficult to handle. We will see how he will handle this.


And in terms of integrity, the first cracks in the mirror are visible. President Macron has handled the defence crisis in an authoritarian way, in contrast with his promise. And he has also summoned both houses of parliament together in Versailles. This is only done in times of crisis (the Paris Attacks, the economic crisis, …). But he just presented his policies. Doing this he has put his prime minister, the head of the government, in his shadow. The way he solemnly strode through the corridors of Versailles and inspected the guards, has  given the impression of some vanity. Maybe the situation was overwhelming, but it was his decision to organise this gathering in a place that resonates monarchy, enlightened despotism and suppression of the masses. It was very un-republican. People called him le roi soleil afterwards. Not good. So he needs to restore this.

Protect and Build Leadership through Character

So Macron has to protect and build his leadership and he has to descend from his virtual throne to create trust. That’s his only capital. This means he needs to let go of the power arguments. Actually, if he does well people will give him the authority automatically. Now he seems to take the power. So dialogue, narratives, openness, humility, kindness, empathy, fairness and reciprocity are the answers to the question how he can protect and build his leadership and make it more sustainable. He has to use his character as basis for his political leadership.
So everybody knows that the mission ahead is difficult. But he must make clear that his mission is in the interest of everyone (or at least most of the nation). Leadership is about creating motion towards value. The fuel of that motion is trust. And there will be trust if people realise the president is at the service of all citizens and of a greater task.
Telling someone they have to do it because you’re the boss is never a good idea. Macron is teaching us that power, position or popularity are not the foundations for sustainable leadership. Character is.

In my book “Sustainable Leadership. How to Lead in A Vuca World, I describe how leaders can make sure their leadership can be sustainable. It can only be sustainable when it is based on character. The book describes how leaders can build and protect character from what I call erosive forces. It also explains how leaders can use character to build a context of trust, meaningfulness, development and engagement. You can find more info about the book here.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.


  • Interesting column, David Ducheyne!
    I admit, I was surprised when I read about President Macron and General Pierre De Villiers. A lot of interpretations raised in my head. My mindset was triggered, my consciousness wanted to jump to conclusions and then my Creative Interchange reflex set in. I used what I call the ‘reason-test’ to evaluate the correctness of my interpretations and observed the reality, the facts at my disposal.
    Was I present during the conversations between the President and the General before the General uttered his famous words in parliament and the President replied the way he did? No I was not, I can’t even say if those conversations were discussions or ‘crucial’ dialogues. All I know comes from third sources and I really do not know the validity of those sources.
    Since my Awareness could not confirm my Consciousness I postponed my conclusions and thought: “Wait and See!” Observing is what is needed and the Future will (perhaps) tell me more. (I had then even the idea that the directness of Mr. Macron was a signal to those who reserve him a hot September and… I set my interpretations once again ‘on hold’, which is a sound dialogue technique).
    Conclusion: An interesting column with lots of Consciousness and a lack of Awareness (caused by the lack of real Facts).
    PS It would be interesting to have a Dialogue with Mr. Macron based on your column, David. And please be sure that you use then the tool ‘Confirmed Paraphrasing’.

    • dducheyne says:

      Thanks for your reply. Of course there are only the facts that were presented in the media.
      1. He promised to go into dialogue.
      2. The general was not satisfied and talked about it in parliament, using a vulgar expression.
      3. The president reacted saying “I’m the boss. He does what I say or he should go”. He said this on television.
      I’m afraid there was not much of a dialogue between the president and the general.
      And yes, I was not present in the non-dialogue.
      As to the intentions of why Mr Macron did this, I have no awareness or consciousness. But I could imagine something, which I will not do.
      Your suggestion is an interesting hypothesis.

  • Thanks for your reply on my reply, David!
    Indeed we do not know much about what has been going on between the President and the General BEFORE the latter talked in his military jargon to the parliament.
    And since we both have no awareness nor consciousness of what really happened it is wise to keep our interpretations to ourselves and withhold any speculations.
    So we are two now to find my suggestion interesting.
    Have a nice weekend,

    • dducheyne says:

      As you can see I talk about the use of power by a leader. It is clear from the words of the president that he has used that power for whatever reason. This is no speculation because he has announced this in the media, something that is also unusual. What the general has said in parliament is also known. You can find an account in French here:
      So I cannot say that I have speculated on the process so far. I don’t know what Macron has said exactly during their conversation, but the result is that the general resigned.
      I have no idea about the intentions of Macron.
      I think we can learn a lot from the behaviour of political leaders. We are all observers and we have our interpretations. What I have done is nothing more than applying a framework on those observations. If you wish, you can see it as a hypothesis, too.
      But what I do know is that – in spite of the intentions of Macron – the action does not inspire trust. Whatever the reason, there is some damage. And maybe he can balance that with possible gains afterwards. But that remains to be seen.
      Leaders should cherish their trustworthiness above all.

      • “We are all observers and we have our interpretations.” Amen, David! and we should be very careful not to present ‘our interpretations’ as ‘the truth’.
        Let’s take your paragraph ‘Integrity’ as an example. Your interpretation: “The way he solemnly strode through the corridors of Versailles and inspected the guards, has given the impression of some vanity.” I compared this act with the solemnly stroding of Mr. Mitterand with three roses in his hand in 1981 in an empty Panthéon and smiled. Those French presidents and their symbolic acts.
        You qualify: “His decision to organise this gathering in a place that resonates monarchy, enlightened despotism and suppression of the masses.” as “very un-republican” and “Not good.” and conclude “So he needs to restore this.” I smile again, broader this time, since I see a perfect application of a “jumping to conclusion” use of my Crucial Dialogue Model. I explain: you observe and interprete the act as “very un-republican” get a feeling “Not good” and jump to a conclusion “So he needs to restore this”.
        Your write “he (Mr. Macron) has announced that he would use his power in the media, something that is also unusual”. Indeed this is unusual and a sign of transparency and clarity. I inteprete this as an act of Integrity. He walked his talk!
        So you see, dear David, ‘nothing’ is real, ‘everything’ is interpretation and ‘nobody’ is right… That’s right, that’s right, said the Sufi Judge.

        • dducheyne says:

          Blogging is about sharing ideas. It’s about dialogue. It’s not about being right. There is no absolute truths and yes there are interpretations. What is transparency to one, is a transgression to others. But announcing in the press that you will discipline someone might be transparent, it’s above all not necessary, not kind and not polite. And it’s a display of force and power. Dominant leadership seems to be “en vogue”.

          • I guess, interpreting your comment, that you are not familiar with the Zen story: “That’s right, that’s right, said the Sufi Judge”.
            And indeed: Blogging is about sharing ideas and the comments that are made on those ideas form a dialogue and, as you and I know, a dialogue is not about being right, it’s about learning through the changing one’s mindset.
            I read your latest comment (August, 16) as a “Yeah, but”. You agree that Mr. Marcron has been transparant (if I understand the use of your ‘might’ correctly) and you esteem that his statement was ‘above all’ not necessary, not kind and not polite. I appreciatively understand that you use these labels. On the other hand, one should evaluate his statements in the context they are uttered. They were President Macron’s reaction to what General de Villiers had said in the parliament. And those statements of de Villiers could also be qualified as not necessary, not kind, not polite and … even vulgar.
            Of course it’s a display of power and, I guess, the President thought he had little choice since de Villiers brought their discussion it the open. And understanding the French politics a little bit, if he had not reacted the way he did, his popularity would have dwindled even more (and that’s in interpretation of mine of course). IMHO Mr. Macron thought he had to choose between the cholera and the pest, a ‘Sophie’s choice so to speak. I guess he has not read my book ‘Crucial Dialogues’ yet.
            Good news for Mr. Macron, the translation in French is ready and perhaps I will put the whole French Version ‘Les Dialogues Cruciaux’ on Slideshare at the end of this month. Should I write him a personal note, David?

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