For the last decade, Elon Musk, the Tesla Motors CEO and founder of SpaceX has proven to be one of the greatest entrepreneurs. This is true not just in the US, but across the globe. As a result, he has built an enormous following on various social media platforms. On Twitter, for example, his following is many times the population of New York.
But what is it about Musk’s leadership that draws the attention of millions of people?
Well, the answer is straightforward. Elon Musk targets the impossible. Just look at some of his innovations and investments and you will get a clear picture. For example, the Mars colonization and the development of an underground hyperloop that covers over 600mph. His ambitions and leadership question the extent of our capabilities as humans. Watching nearly impossible innovations come to life courtesy of Musk is both motivational and inspirational. It makes everyone want to strive for more and achieve the impossible with the same tenacity. When it comes to the management of a company, there’s a lot to learn for executives and startup owners. That being said, let’s look at Elon Musk’s leadership style and how you can emulate it in your business:
What style of leadership does Elon Musk use?
The leadership style of a person is determined by how they lead their teams.We know about 8 common leadership styles. These include:
- Democratic leadership
- Servant leadership
- Charismatic leadership
- Laissez-faire leadership
- Transactional leadership
- Transformational leadership
- Autocratic leadership
- Democratic leadership
While we can all exhibit elements of all these types of leadership, there’s always one that’s more prominent than the rest. For example, Musk exhibits the transformational leadership style. He ranks among change-makers like Brian Chesky, Heff Bezos, Reed Hastings, and Steve Jobs.
Leaders who use transformational leadership display certain traits. These include clear communication, a unique vision, and a goal for a brighter future. They leverage their vision to gain support from people who trust in their cause. What’s more, they play a critical role in the development and communication of strategies their team implements. They also play a part in creating a solution for various challenges in the company. As a result, their companies can take on any challenge the world is facing. Above all, they help the company and organizations attain positive outcomes.
Elements of transactional and autocratic leadership
Elon Musk’s leadership style is awe-inspiring – most of the time. There are occasions when Musk’s employees or those working with him find him hard to work with. While he has garnered enormous respect due to his transformational leadership, he still exhibits autocratic leadership traits.
Autocratic leaders want the utmost authority when it comes to the management of a company. They’re known for ruling with an iron fist. On the other hand, transactional leaders are very daunting and cold in their leadership. That’s because they view the company as a transaction. When such leaders go unchecked, the company will end up with massive problems.
For example, the 2018 expose by “Wired” revealed the cutthroat work environment in one of Musk’s companies. In Tesla to be exact, the employees cited their abusive work relationships with Musk as a common problem. One of the people interviewed for this piece was Charles Duhigg, a former CEO at Tesla. Musk implied as much during an interview with The Wallstreet Journal. Musk claimed to have OCD when it comes to issues related to the company product. As a result, he will always find fault, something he didn’t want in end products. In an interview, he described himself as a nano-manager. One of his former staff agreed with this sentiment in an article from Business Insider. According to the staff, Musk exhibited a control freak type of leadership. He made it clear to everyone that he was the only decision-maker.
The good news is that as hard as it is to work with Musk, no one has described him as ruthless. He is simply obsessed with attaining perfect results. At the same time, in a Business Insider article, another employee said that Musk wasn’t good at handling disagreements because he believed he was right almost all the time. As a result, working with him was challenging. While this kind of work environment is challenging for many people, it also pushes employees to develop their conflict resolution skills. The transactional, transformational, and autocratic leadership style of Musk reveals that he’s doing business to get results. Since he is not there to create friendship, he demands perfection. After all, that’s what fosters transformation.
How to apply the same leadership style
1. Let failure drive you
According to one of Musk’s quotes, failure is optional, and when you’re not failing, you’re not being innovative. Elon Musk is no stranger to failure. In fact, in 2008, he was on the verge of losing both SpaceX and Tesla simultaneously. Even during these trying times, he still maintained impeccable leadership traits. That was enough motivation for his team to press forward and generate results.
According to Dolly Singh’s post on Quora, the Falcon One explosion in 2008 was enough to destroy everyone. And not just externally through the press, but internally as individuals. This is one of the instances where Musk’s powerful leadership drove the team to greater heights. Instead of letting that failure get him down, he used it to motivate the staff at the company. After his motivational speech, the state of despair that was reigning in the company transformed into determination.
It took less than five seconds to feel that energy reigning all over the company, Dolly explained. It was clear from then on that Musk walks the talk. Failure is indeed motivation to him. What’s more, he always leverages it during trying times to motivate his workforce as well as himself.
What startup founders can learn
- Avoid dwelling on the negative aspects of your failure and focus on the positive side of it.
- Always reevaluate your strategies when it’s necessary if you want to attain your vision.
- Before implementing a change in the company, communicate with your team or task force first.
- Train your employees on how to deal with crises and failure beforehand. To achieve this optimally, you can create a manual that your employees can use as a guide. Also, when you lead by example during such circumstances, your staff will pick up the skill instantly. Demonstrate how to own personal failures and, most importantly, how to recover from them.
- You should create an environment where failure doesn’t lead to stigmatization. Instead, it should be an inspiration to do better next time. To achieve this, you can discuss the role of failure with your staff. Enlighten them on how to turn it into a source of innovation, growth, and progress.
- Create a channel of communication to allow people to talk about mistakes and discuss how to resolve them. Furthermore, you can initiate these discussions by sharing your previous ordeals and how you resolved them. Hearing how their leader overcome failure in the past can be both educational and motivational to your staff.
2. Master problem solving
Break things down to reveal their basic truth and then start from there. From a transformative point of view, Musk would identify the current major problem in the world. Thereafter, he would focus on creating a solution. This is a good demonstration of his unique approach to solving problems.
According to Chris Anderson during TED conversations, Musk leverages multiple perspectives to deconstruct and solve a problem. Many people would turn to references when handling a problem. However, his first step is always to unravel the mystery behind the problem first. He doesn’t like assumptions. As such, he would rather inquire about an issue until the root cause of it emerges. This approach is what helps him to get innovative and create a potent solution.
What startup founders can learn
- List down all the details you know about a particular issue you are facing. Once you’ve done that, you can decide if your statement is a universal truth or simply an assumption. If it’s a universal truth, then you need to come up with a robust solution. However, if it’s a presumption, then you should find out the reason behind it. What made you arrive at this assumption?
- To identify the root cause of the issue, you can leverage the “Why” technique. It involves questioning the conclusion multiple times until you obtain the right answer.
- Research the issue and, if possible, reach out for expert opinions or consultations. They will help you come up with a conclusive solution to implement.
- Reverse engineer the possible solutions you have at hand, and from that, you can pick what works best.
- Lastly, decide on an action plan and closely track the progress of your resolution.
3. Foster a thirst for knowledge
When talking about his childhood, Musk claims he was raised by books. That’s what he told Rolling Stone during an interview. In an interview at Bloomberg, his brother Kimbal Musk stated that Musk would consume two books daily. He would read content on various disciplines during his teenage years. We’ve heard from many successful people – including Bill Gates., Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban, and Warren Buffet – that investing time in reading was formative to their success. As a case in point, Musk credits reading as the source of the knowledge and discipline that have helped him succeed in life.
What startup founders can learn
- Read books that enlighten you on the fundamentals of a certain subject.
- After completing that book, you should expand your knowledge on various topics. You’ll especially need more books that help you build up your knowledge. For example, if you’re reading about leadership, you should start with an introductory book. Thereafter, you can venture into more specialized books on Transactional Leadership, among others.
- To garner more knowledge, you must maintain curiosity throughout. Ask questions and get answers.
- You should create a communication system that includes all the staff in the company. They can leverage it to get feedback from each other.
4. Use an aggressive approach to attain your objectives
Musk once said that he launches companies to achieve something, not just for the sake of launching a company. As you can see from his transformational leadership style, his objective is to transform the world positively. As such, he also exhibits action-oriented leadership. Instead of creating a philosophical concept and relaxing, he designs and executes strategies that turn the concept into a reality. For example, the management of Tesla Motors is based on attaining a specific set of objectives.
The leaders at various levels in the company emphasize delivery to keep the business going. This is also a means to keep Musk’s vision alive, and all it takes is sticking to the company’s goals. The same concept can be seen in his other companies and organizations. Hard work and determination to attain a meaningful purpose drive all of his businesses.
What startup founders can learn
- Set challenging goals that push your team or workforce boundaries when it comes to what they can achieve.
- Spare time during the week to evaluate your business strategies.
- Focus on work that brings your company closer to attaining its objectives.
- Create more time to focus on your business by focusing on critical issues that need your attention. You can delegate other tasks to your workforce.
- Set completion dates for various tasks and meet their deadline.
- You should have a project manager to help you track the progress of each task. They will ensure every task is completed before the deadline.
Employing Elon Musk’s leadership style can help your business grow. Even so, there are traits you may want to avoid for the benefit of your business. Therefore, read the text once more, identify those traits and ensure you leave them out. Your leadership will be better without traits that stress those around you. A good example of a trait that you should avoid is micromanaging. This habit only creates anxiety in the company. In some cases, it can even lead to lower staff retention rates, poor budgeting, and productivity.
How Pressfarm can help your business to succeed
Let’s face it – we can’t all be Musk. If you’re lucky, you can replicate his exact leadership style and build a massively successful business, but even Musk needed help with marketing and PR from time to time.
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