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June 21, 2021 Monday 12:22:12 PM IST

Muskism in Leadership

Leadership Instincts

As controversial as he is successful, Elon Musk who is dubbed as the world’s most remarkable living entrepreneur comfortably joins the ranks of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos for many when considering the 21st century’s most influential CEOs. The CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla Motors, and Chairman of SolarCity, the early investor in SpaceX, PayPal, Inc, Tesla Motors and Zip2 and many more under his belt, musk owes his success mainly to his unique approach to leadership. After all, one can’t make a large fortune without a devoted team - and Musk has demonstrated that he knows how to build one. In this article, we are trying to decipher five of the most significant components of the Elon Musk leadership style.

Stretch Goals

Whether it’s making brain chips to disrupt neuroscience or discovering a way to colonize Mars, those wildly ambitious, and thus ever-motivating objectives are all a part of Musk’s ‘stretch goal’ strategy. A stretch goal is a goal that is deliberately designed to be challenging to achieve. Previously, Tesla has failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year. But stretch goals are very important sources of individual and organizational motivation and achievement. When Musk introduces stretch goals, employees know that they need to pause and not blurt out saying it is impossible. They zip it, think about it and find ways to get it done. They always feel that it is their job to take these ideas and turn them into what is achievable.

Adaptable to Change

Musk is not afraid to change his mind (and plan) when something has changed in the fundamentals and is always willing to adapt to change. He has demonstrated this many times. For instance, musk dropped out from Stanford after just two days, realizing the fact that his chances of making an impact on the world were much higher by leveraging on the booming Internet. And he has done so with SpaceX. His initial plan was to send two rockets to Mars to establish a little plan, which he thought would capture the imagination about space exploration so others (governments) would start working on interplanetary projects again. As he was exploring this option, he recognized the real problem was not a lack of will, but a matter of cost: putting someone on Mars was simply too costly. Since he narrowed down a way to cut the cost considerably, he launched SpaceX. SpaceX’s first major objective was to do commercial space cargo deliveries for NASA and other organizations. This tactic is profitable and permits them to do research while making money.

Simple Communication

When you listen to Musk explaining how SpaceX will colonize Mars, it sounds achievable. When he explains his idea for revolutionizing the entire car industry, you could clearly comprehend what he wants to do. He can explain to them so that even a teenager understands what’s going to happen.  This was very explicit when an interviewer darted a question that was seemingly impossible to answer. For instance, when a nebulous question like “According to you, when will the first human set foot on Mars?” is shot at him, nobody expects Musk to give a serious answer. But he thought for a few seconds, gave a razor edge answer which was 2025. The same happened when he was asked when electric cars will make up half of all vehicles for which he replied 2025.

In a Ted Interview, Chris Anderson asked how many giga-factories will be needed to replace fossil fuels completely and musk replied 100 without skipping a beat.

Smart Strategies

Musk always made it a point to build his plans around real business strategies. Even though the plans are daring and risky, he always made it a point to integrate a well-thought-out mechanism to make the venture profitable. Consider the example of Tesla. Musk and his team were well aware of the fact that creating their first electronic vehicle would be exorbitantly expensive. Keeping this in mind, they started with Roadster which is the high-end car for the ultra-wealthy. Grounded on the principles of lean management, Roadster was built only after receiving a pre-order. They received roughly 600 pre-orders that helped launch the company. Later, they launched Model S and X, both focused on the luxury segment which was still expensive, but less so than the Roadster. Later, Tesla introduced the Model 3, a much cheaper car for an even broader audience. Had they started immediately with a mass-market vehicle, Tesla would have failed.

Continuous Learning

During his childhood, Musk used to read two books a day, and his success can in many ways be credited to his insatiable appetite for learning. To garner knowledge on rocket science which was a prerequisite for starting SpaceX, Musk read all the relevant books on the topic. He also was pioneered the philosophy of first principles. When deal with each topic, he gets to the foundational concepts and then builds his understanding upwards from there instead of blindly relying on conclusions from others. Musk has even been known to interview his engineers for hours on end just to soak up their knowledge. His leadership style is about continuously learning, breaking barriers, and finding out new ways to solve problems.

If it’s at all possible to abridge Musk’s leadership into a sentence, it will be a statement given by him which says that Life has to be more than problem-solving. Life should be full of things that inspire you- that makes you a proud member of humanity.



Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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