Elon Musk is a 21st-century trailblazer whose leadership style has earned him a reputation for being unconventional and forward-thinking. He founded his Tesla electric vehicle and clean energy company on the cusp of the sustainability revolution, filling a need for more efficient cars with a smaller carbon footprint.
And he’s perhaps equally famous for SpaceX, the first private company to send spacecraft into orbit and commercialize travel to Mars. Musk was also a major innovator behind PayPal’s payment transfer service.
Musk is one of the key corporate leaders and billionaires of the 21st century. What lessons can we learn from Elon Musk’s leadership style?
Musk is known to be extremely intelligent and a workaholic, and inspires his employees with cutting-edge ideas. These traits help define his leadership style, which has been called transformational. The philosophy behind this approach is to constantly push and guide your teams into challenging and new projects.
Musk gives intellectual stimulation to his workers and inspires them to also think outside the box. This combination of hard work and psychological motivation pushes all his teams to constantly think of new ways of doing things. Building respect and a corporate work ethic is another necessary foundation of this approach.
Some leadership traits can be developed, and others are innate in the personalities of successful executives like Musk. There’s no doubt that Musk is at heart an inventor and trendsetter. He is extremely creative and continually aims to transform and disrupt industries. Few people would have thought colonizing Mars would be possible, but for Musk, it was just another challenge to solve.
Teams and businesses can learn from this mindset and apply it to their own work by encouraging themselves and each other to question and change established processes and policies.
Musk is known for moving very fast and launching several major projects at once. While it’s important in business to carefully plan strategies and next steps, staying well ahead of competitors is also important when developing disruptive technologies.
Surely other leaders have generated ideas that were similar to Musk’s, but his active work ethic and drive to quickly transform the world has helped him move to the front of the pack.
This speed to market propels Musk’s business growth in multiple directions. In a fast-paced startup environment, it’s also important for businesses to take heed that teams may feel frustrated if direction from the top keeps changing, as some Musk employees have expressed.
While few companies would officially instill or encourage an 80-90 hour a week policy for their employees, Musk’s obsessive approach and long hours have definitely been a major factor in his own achievements. He allegedly sleeps at the office and works the entire day and evening, and he has called himself a micromanager. Apparently his brain never turns off as he constantly problem-solves and looks for solutions.
Teams can draw inspiration from this underlying intensity, even if they work normal hours. In Musk’s case, his obsession with detail and ongoing churn of ideas keeps all his products and inventions moving forward as they keep changing the tech landscape.
Musk’s attitude has always been that it’s better to try something new and fail than never try at all. His companies and teams have attempted some projects that never got off the ground. When his ideas fall flat, he simply pivots and moves on to other possibilities.
Musk has his hand in many industries–solar, aerospace, financial services, artificial intelligence, neurotechnology, public transportation, and even tunnel construction. Jumping into new sectors with limited specialization, as Musk does constantly, requires a mindset that failure is an important part of innovation.
His infinite curiosity and belief that nothing is impossible removes the usual psychological obstacles that slow down many leaders and teams. Musk is always looking to develop the next new product and make the world run more efficiently.
Musk’s belief that it’s OK to stumble allows him to make strides that other businesses might not achieve. That said, more and more companies are now adopting this startup mentality and giving their teams freedom to experiment and fail occasionally. Musk’s leadership skills have opened up new horizons in many sectors, and also hold some important lessons for teams and organizations across the spectrum.
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