By most accounts, young Elon Musk had a difficult time connecting to his peers in South Africa. Even his siblings would exclude him from play because he would get so lost in thought that he didn’t seem fun. His behavior doesn’t sound that different from that of Albert Einstein, who didn’t start speaking until he was three years old.
Musk may have been an outsider as a child, but his inventive mind and intense focus helped him found X.com, a company that would eventually become PayPal. The money he earned from X.com helped fund Tesla and SpaceX, the two companies that helped make him a famous entrepreneur.
Today, people all over the world know Elon Musk as a unique individual with outrageous ideas and the drive to make those ideas come to life.
Of course, Musk didn’t find success on his own. He relies on teams of engineers, designers, and marketers. All of those people need leadership. What leadership style does Elon Musk use to get results from his team members?
How Did Elon Musk Become a Leader?
It doesn’t seem that Elon Musk was born a natural leader. He had to learn leadership skills through trial and error, although he may have learned some crucial lessons from teachers at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania while earning a degree in economics.
For the most part, Musk’s early success came from solo endeavors. He had been fascinated with computers since he was a young child, so he learned to code and build products that appealed to larger companies.
Is Elon Musk a Transformational Leader?
Elon Musk believes that feedback helps a company succeed. If there’s a problem, he wants to know about it. He doesn’t always have an “open door” policy, but he makes time for team leaders to give him updates. His willingness to accept feedback means that he has some attributes of a transformational leader.
Musk also has strong ideals. When you hear him talk about traveling to the moon and beyond, you can’t help but feel inspired to follow his lead. During the process, employees can transform from workers into contributors willing to put in extra effort to achieve a greater goal.
While Musk has lofty ideals, he makes sure that his companies take small steps toward reaching goals. For example, SpaceX does numerous trials before it launched its first rocket. It performed even more tests before sending an astronaut outside of the planet’s atmosphere.
Taking small steps helps keep people inspired. If Musk demanded too much at once, people would give up and lose patience. Breaking down the larger goal into smaller tasks means that employees feel rewarded.
Characteristics of Elon Musk’s Leadership Style?
Elon Musk doesn’t always follow one leadership style. Some characteristics, however, seem more consistent than others.
Musk continually encourages people to strive for better results. He believes in personal transformation and hard work. His emphasis on honest feedback helps reveal areas where he and others need to improve.
Musk also accepts failures as opportunities to learn. Developing new technology means that failure will happen. Failures, however, create the best opportunities to learn new things. There’s a lot of risk involved in pushing technology forward.
Musk demands a lot from his employees, but he also wants them to take time to learn new things. During his youth, he regularly read two books a day. He encourages his employees to keep learning new things so they can bring new knowledge and skills to their projects.
Is Elon Musk a Servant Leader?
Elon Musk works very hard. He claims that he often sleeps at his Tesla manufacturing plant because he doesn’t have time to go home.
Musk’s drive to work long hours often means that he expects his employees to work very hard. Few people would describe him as a servant leader.
For those who do not know, a servant leader is someone who shares power with employees. They get other people involved in solving problems and making important decisions. Instead of acting like an autocratic authority, servant leaders take a collaborative approach to work.
Elon Musk does not have those qualities. He often gets frustrated when employees cannot follow his instructions. He’s quite possibly a genius.
Managing other people probably puts a lot of strain on him. In an ideal world, he could do all of the work himself. It takes more than one man to reach the moon, though, so Musk has to spend time assigning tasks to his teams.
He seems to dislike handing any authority over to managers or employees. He tolerates it because it’s the only way to reach his goals.
Not many people work as hard as Musk. He has exceptionally high expectations. When people fail to meet those expectations, he often feels disappointed and angry.
Elon Musk Cybertruck Fail
Of course, that isn’t always the case. Everyone has good and bad days. For example, think about the time that he tried to demonstrate the strength of the Tesla Cybertruck’s windows.
He claimed that the glass could withstand the blow from a metal ball. When his colleague hurled the ball at the truck, the glass broke in a spider web pattern.
It wasn’t a complete failure. Most glass would have shattered under the impact. Still, it didn’t meet Musk’s expectations.
Impressively, Musk didn’t get angry. In fact, he laughed off the mistake and said, “Well, it didn’t go through! Not bad.” This shows a softer side to Musk’s leadership style. In that public moment, he displayed a sense of humor and a willingness to accept failure as progress toward a goal.
Is Musk a Visionary Leader?
Musk may fall into the “visionary leader” role more comfortably than other leadership styles.
He has a bold, persistent personality that will not let him accept failure. He’s also an extremely organized person with inspirational ideas and an intense focus on his work.
Visionary leaders can demand a lot from their employees. That definitely sounds like Musk! Some people say that he gets angry quickly, but those reports could come from employees who simply lack the skills needed to keep up with his energy and intelligence.
Also, visionary leaders need to put pressure on people. Musk knows that people will not reach their full potential unless someone pushes their boundaries.
Elon Musk Leadership Quotes
Elon Musk has countless quotes about leadership. Here are some that can help other entrepreneurs and managers become more effective leaders.
“I always have optimism, but I’m realistic. It was not with the expectation of great success that I started Tesla or SpaceX… It’s just that I thought they were important enough to do anyway.”
“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”
“A company is a group organized to create a product or service, and it is only as good as its people and how excited they are about creating. I do want to recognize a ton of super-talented people. I just happen to be the face of the companies.”
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
“Talent is extremely important. It’s like a sports team, the team that has the best individual player will often win, but then there’s a multiplier from how those players work together and the strategy they employ.”
“Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80-to 100-hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40-hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100-hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.
“Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.”
Elon Musk Leadership Style: Conclusion
Elon Musk doesn’t shy away from controversy, so people say a lot of wild things about him. Whether he’s giving his child a wild name or using Twitter to discuss Tesla’s stock value, he constantly pushes boundaries and tries new things.
His success, however, shows that he has a positive influence as a leader. When you need an eager, inventive thinker to take the wheel, you won’t find anyone better than Elon Musk.
The author has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Financhill has a disclosure policy. This post may contain affiliate links or links from our sponsors.