Elon Musk’s leadership advice for young people
For young entrepreneurs, Elon Musk is nothing short of a defining character in the current business landscape. Polarizing as he might be, Musk has forged his legacy in stone as one of today’s most prominent leaders, and his advice for young people is worth giving more than a second thought.
Above: A painted portrait of Elon Musk. Image: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Creative Commons
Last December on the Lex Fridman Podcast, Musk talked about how he would advise young people looking to lead, as detailed by CNBC. Musk advised young people to avoid being a leader “for the sake of being a leader,” in addition to talking about how people should choose a career and more.
″[Don’t] try to be a leader for the sake of being a leader,” Musk said on the podcast with Fridman, an MIT computer scientist. “A lot of times ... the people you want as leaders are the people who don’t want to be leaders.”
In other words, leaders who are self-centered or narcissistic won’t make as good of leaders as those who aren’t in it simply to lead. Leadership should instead encompass humility and empathy, Musk says. He also added that it’s good for young people to focus on the job ahead of them — trusting that good performance can lead to continued climbing of the career ladder.
These ideas have even been backed by research. A study from the Technical University of Münich last year noted that “highly narcissistic leaders can derail teams independent of context.” A 2015 study published in the Academy of Management Journal had similar results, showing that humble and empathetic leaders often have a positive impact on their team.
Above: Skip straight to Elon Musk's advice for young people on the full episode of the Lex Fridman Podcast. Video: Lex Fridman / YouTube
Musk also says it’s not worth choosing a career to achieve fame. Instead, he advises young people to choose something that’s a good fit for their skillset.
“Try to find something where there’s an overlap of your talents and what you’re interested in,” added Musk.
To be sure, Tesla’s products and companies have matched his background and skillset, but those aren’t Musk’s only focal points. Just as Tesla’s electric cars are set to reduce emissions for the world and make it a better place, Musk suggests maintaining a focus on benefitting society with your skills.
“I have a lot of respect for someone who puts in an honest day’s work to do useful things,” Musk said. “It’s very hard [to contribute] more than you consume. To try to have a positive net contribution to society, I think that’s the thing to aim for.”