5 of Elon Musk’s top lessons in leadership
Elon Musk’s leadership has brought him to top positions at innovative companies SpaceX and Tesla, among others. It takes more than just basic leadership principles to rise to those kinds of highs, and Musk’s advice for leaders bears a few important lessons for both personal and professional life.
Above: Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Photo: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr
Musk’s leadership style is unique, to be sure, but he’s also offered a handful of simple tips for budding leaders over the past several years. No matter how onlookers feel about Musk, we can probably all afford to take a note from his playbook. In July’s entrepreneur column, Forbes shared five of Elon Musk’s top lessons in leadership, each of which is worth noting for leaders at a variety of levels.
Be open to new ideas, but avoid following trends.
First and foremost, Musk has recommended being constantly open to new ideas. The status quo is not always the best it could be, and thinking beyond this framework is crucial. However, equally important to openness, Musk says, is building a strong framework of understanding before diving into a subject.
When asked for advice, Musk once said, “...advice I would give is to not blindly follow trends. Question and challenge the status quo. Make sure you understand the fundamental principles of what you’re trying to do before you get into the details, otherwise you could be building on faulty ground.”
Embrace failure — it could inform your next success.
Musk’s hardships and failures defined his successes, and he has recommended embracing failure — especially if it’s for a product you believe in. Tesla wasn’t as successful in the early days as it is now, and neither was SpaceX. In fact, Musk himself has said making rockets isn’t a great way to make money, highlighting the fact that he did it because of its value for the world.
“Creating a rocket company has to be one of the dumbest and hardest ways to ‘make money,’” Musk tweeted in 2018.
Lori, this is ridiculous. Creating a rocket company has to be one of the dumbest and hardest ways to “make money”. If it was about money, I’d just do another Internet company.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 21, 2018
Still, it’s tough to deny the money Musk has made from building rockets and electric cars. But it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t always that way, and that Musk lived on the brink of bankruptcy at many points throughout his career.
Find a mentor to look up to, whether through reading or in-person.
Musk recommends looking up to mentors, and he does so through his reading. Musk has noted biographies from incredible leaders such as Ben Franklin, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and, unsurprisingly, Nikolas Tesla.
Don’t be afraid to say no.
Any leader can tell you how essential saying no is, but Musk himself resigned from the White House Advisory Council in 2017 over the U.S. leaving the Paris agreement. Putting your foot down is necessary when it comes to your values, and for Musk, something like climate change was certainly worth saying no over.
Never stop learning or being curious.
Just like being open, Musk recommends leaders never stop learning or being curious. And as far as the best ways to keep learning, Musk once again recommends reading and discussion — which he suggests can take leaders nearly anywhere they want to go.
In a statement, Musk said, “If you read a lot of books and talk to a lot of people, you can learn almost anything.”