The Transformational Leadership Style of Elon Musk

Elon_MuskWould you work for a company whose former employees say both, “It was incredible!” and “I’d never work there again”?

If you want to work for a person who leads by example and who, through his own drive toward excellence, pushes you toward your fullest potential and perhaps beyond, you might. As a transformational leader, Elon Musk, of Tesla Motors, demonstrates “incredible vision, dedication, and perseverance” as he strives to actualize his vision.

Dolly Singh, former HR head at SpaceX, says about Elon Musk, “The thing that makes Elon Elon is his ability to make people believe in his vision.” Jim Cantrell, SpaceX’s first engineer, adds, “…Most of us can’t conceive these things working; he can’t conceive it failing.”

Yet the amazing vision and drive that make up the leadership style of Elon Musk sometimes mean that “an engineer might spend nine months working 100 hours a week on something because Musk has pushed him to, and then out of nowhere Musk will change his mind and scrap the project.”

Musk’s incredible journey began in South Africa, where he was severely bullied as a child, even ending up in a hospital when a group of boys threw him down a stairwell and beat him severely until he blacked out. From these inauspicious beginnings, he moved on to attend universities in Canada and the United States, including two days in a program toward a Ph.D. in Applied Physics at Stanford University. He left that program to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams in the worlds of the Internet, renewable energy, and outer space.

Today, at 39 years old, he is the founder, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors, chairman of SolarCity, co-chairman of OpenAI, co-founder of Zip2, and co-founder of PayPal. He is the 39th wealthiest person in the US.

In all his ventures, Musk sets the bar for the rest of the industry, whether on earth or in space. SolarCity, founded to help combat global warming, is the second largest solar provider in the U.S. With Tesla, he built affordable electric cars and moved on to triple the number of supercharger stations. To encourage auto manufacturers to expand the electric car industry, he allows use of Tesla’s technology patents. With SpaceX, already partnering with NASA, his goal is to make trips to Mars affordable for the average person. He wants to establish a space colony of 80,000 on Mars by 2040, envisioning it as an alternative to potential extinction on this planet.

Transformational leaders can come into conflict with leaders who resist change, as Musk did at PayPal. They are also particularly gifted at spotting what is not working more easily than other leaders, as Musk did with the approved California High-Speed Rail system. He went on to design and propose his own Hyperloop, using a dozen engineers from SpaceX and Tesla, a system which he says will take people 350 miles “from Sylmar (a northern district of Los Angeles) to Hayward (east of San Francisco) and would theoretically allow commuters to travel between the cities in 35 minutes or less, providing a shorter traveling time than even a commercial airplane can currently provide.”

Like Steve Jobs, Musk is a visionary and a genius, but perhaps his most outstanding qualities are his belief in his own vision, his drive and his persistence, refusing to accept obstacles in his path.

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