I started reading the book “Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance a week ago. The style of writing & storytelling is very good in fact it is so good that sometimes I am so excited to know what is going to happen next that I end up reading 50+ pages in one setting. Ashlee goes deep into the life of musk & his companies. It is unbelievable how much we think we know about him from media & even internet until we scratch the surface through the book.
I have so much admiration for Elon Musk to the point that he is one of my heroes. There is no denying that he is a genius who has been doing extraordinary things in multiple domains. I am going to criticize him though a bit in terms of his leadership. I allow myself to do so because I have been reading other books about other geniuses who were instrumental in the way the technology we use now was developed. “The hard thing about hard things” by Ben Horowitz is another chest of treasures that goes deep into his ventures in the early days of internet.
Musk & his team were under big pressure with schedules that were way passed 12 hours a day, 6 days a week & a lot more sacrifices from the individuals who worked for him. Both SpaceX & Tesla in the first few years were failing to deliver their products and were late by 4 or 5 years. The first 3 launches of SpaceX rockets failed as well as many early Tesla cars. Some of the mistakes in SpaceX were just carelessness of the individuals not big flaws in their engineering ideas or their innovations.
Musk became a dark person during these times & was extremely hard to work with. He was firing people left & right on a daily basis & demanding that they work & sacrifice even more. His communication style was full of profanity & aggression to say the least. To make it short, he was not a fun person to be around.
My main question is this, what would be the results if Musk were a better leader? It’s not difficult to understand that an engineer who is exhausted from working day & night plus being under stress is more likely to make mistakes that would cost the company millions. I mentioned Ben Horowitz’s book because he went through worse during the dot com crash. If Musk’s companies were about to go bankruptcy once, his were at the verge of it for a few years but he did not seem to lose it as Musk did. Both individuals succeeded & not only made huge profits & exits but, they shaped our lives through their influence directly or otherwise.
I have not yet finished these books yet & I am half way through them however, this is not a book review instead, I wanted to share a point. If by the end of the book my views are changed, I am going to reflect on them more here. There is just one more hypocrisy that Musk was a victim to. He set his goal to disrupt the current system which big corporations followed in terms of car productions & aerospace. He used new methods to cut down cost & increase efficiency so one could say he saw the problems & decided to have a different approach but when it came to leadership, he just fell in the same style as we have been hearing from dictators or arrogant heads of state or institutions.
Leadership is not a single skill but a multitude of them such as vision, communication, organization & many more that I am not aware of. When I criticize Musk, I am mostly focusing on the leading & communication aspects of it. This does not undermine his unprecedented achievements but simply ask the question, could it have been even better both for him & those around him?