5 Leadership Lessons from Elon Musk

“Elon Musk is an inventor and builder wrapped into one, kind of like a combination of Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs, on steroids,” Randy Ottinger, Executive Vice President at Kotter International, once said. And it’s often been said the biggest rewards come when you take the biggest risks, likewise the biggest opportunities that come from overcoming big problems. These are things Elon Musk knows intimately because he tackles the world’s biggest problems. There are five lessons on leadership that you can learn from this trailblazer.


  1. Articulate a powerful vision: The most effective leaders have a powerful vision, which they share, and lay the path to achieve the vision. They are able to influence others to see their view. On top of that, ordinary people have a vision that is evolutionary, while the greatest and most effective leaders like Elon Musk have a vision that is revolutionary – they know how to leap forward, changing the game. For example, the state of California is investing in a $68 billion high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco that will take three hours traveling 200 miles per hour. The project is already behind schedule. Elon Musk’s response to the traffic problem is a high-speed railway known as Hyperloop, which would transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes, that is 800 miles per hour. His plan will take eight years to build at a cost of about $10 billion. As a professional, what is your vision for your career? Is it powerful enough, and can you clearly articulate it to others?
  2. Have confidence: The greatest leaders have unshakeable self-confidence and believe in self. If you pay attention to success literature, one of the first thing that the reader notices is that many successful people believe in leveraging other people’s money to finance their projects, that way if they fail, they do not lose their personal wealth. On the other hand, Elon Musk has such unshakeable confidence in himself and his capabilities that he uses his own money to finance his projects. He invested over $100 million of his own money into SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp), $10 million into SolarCity, and at least $55 million into Tesla Motors. Inc. Do you believe in yourself enough that you would invest in you?
  3. Know how to persevere: Elon Musk and other great leaders know that failure is feedback. Musk believes that he can cut the cost of space travel and set out to make it a reality. Along the journey, he faced delays in design and testing, which pushed him a few years behind schedule. His original scheduled launch was a failure because the engine caught fire. The second test did not go as far into orbit as he expected. But he didn’t abandon his project, instead he learned lessons from his failures and made corrections along the way, until his Falcon rocket had its first successful launch in June 2010. Do you give up too soon on your dreams?
  4. Operate with integrity: The most effective leaders operate with integrity, taking the high road. Although Elon Musk invested at least $55 million of his own money when he founded Tesla Motors to produce electric cars, he needed more money, so he borrowed over $400 million from the government. He repaid the loan, thanked the Department of Energy, members of Congress and others who helped to make his dream a reality. Make it a habit to take the high road.
  5. Continuous learning is a priority: Effective leaders like Elon Musk are constantly generating ideas. As a serial entrepreneur, he has created several billion dollar companies based on his ideas, how does he do it? Musk is a serious reader, who is able to see the interconnection of two things that others cannot see. This allows him to make big leaps forward. Is continuous learning a priority for you? When you have to learn something new, do you read a book on the topic?


Further Reading

9 Books That Inspired Elon Musk


Elon Musk is always blazing trails, and is one of the greatest innovators today, so whether you are leading others, or just leading yourself, there is much that you can learn from this serial entrepreneur.


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