Studying Elon Musk’s Leadership through Communication

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Updated: Feb 08, 2019
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In 2017 Glassdoor, one of the leading job and recruiting sites published their annual list of the best CEOs in the United States where Elon Musk placed 8th for his space exploration company, SpaceX, reaching a 98% employee approval rating. The importance of this ranking regarding leadership communication is that the rank is based on employee approval where it can be argued that this is as a result of Elon Musk’s interpersonal skills and intellect as a leader. Therefore through studying Elon Musk, it is possible to observe if interpersonal skills can improve employee performance and contrast how a lack of business skills may degrade performance. In addition, with the use of psychology, it is more clear to see how Elon Musk’s leadership style and communication affects his employees psychologically. Before making any observations, it is crucial to understand leadership, communication and leadership communication. Although there are endless definitions of leadership, a foundational definition would be,

“…’the process of influencing the activities of an organized group in its efforts toward goal setting and goal achievement.’ There are three key components of this definition that are worth emphasizing: it is an interpersonal process between one person and a group; you cannot have ‘leaders’ without ‘followers, and the criterion for effective leadership is goal achievement” (Jackson 12).

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Page #2

Leadership is essential for human lives as it provides direction and helps understand right from wrong but is not something that is actively recognized in everyday life. Along the same line, communication is something often less thought about but also a natural everyday process. Consequently, communication is the process of sending and receiving information between persons where “its goal is to create a shared reality between message sources and receivers” in other words it is two-way traffic between those communicating (Hackman 6). Communication is an extremely complex process that involves a source sending a message that a receiver receives and provides feedback back to the source and a crucial aspect of communication involves the fact that the perspective of everyone and one’self is created through communication. Leadership communication is the mix of both leadership and communication where, “Leadership is human (symbolic) communication, which modifies attitudes and behaviors of others in order to meet shared group goals and needs” (Hackman 12). Leadership communication conveys the fact that a leader utilizes communication to its followers in order to achieve shared desired objectives. While these definitions may serve a theoretical purpose, using Elon Musk as a subject in the study provides an experiential purpose that can be easily replicated. In the perspective of communication, using Elon Musk to study leadership communication helps pass on the knowledge from writer to reader, teaching what an effective leader is in comparison to what an ineffective leader is. In passing on this information, it will be evident how psychology plays into the communication process and understand what followers look for, psychologically and characteristically, in a leader. Based on this understanding, Elon Musk’s leadership style can be dissected to highlight where he draws his employees in and to identify weaknesses in his leadership style. Ideally, studying Elon Musk through leadership communication will add an understanding of whether or not interpersonal skills, business skills, and cognitive skills correlate to an effective leader.

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Characterizing a leader as either a good or bad is dependent on many factors, but the first confirmation point is the way they communicate. A leader cannot be said to be good when they cannot communicate effectively to their followers to mobilize them to do that which they want him to do. Research conducted on leaders reveal that a good leader must be in a position to communicate and delegate duties. It implies that the two are connected since it is through the ability of a leader to communicate effectively that they can mobilize or delegate duties to the followers. It is also said that they must be honest, confident, be creative in their management and aim to have a positive attitude all the time. It therefore automatically implies that a poor leader is a poor communicator, one who cannot delegate duties, lack confidence, dishonest, unconfident and lacks creativity.

It is also advised that a good leader should not be too bossy to be delegating all the chores. A leader has to delegate duties but must also be a servant to lead by example. Being bossy is considered over-leading which can be a menace at some point and even degrade performance. It is something that can even be seen in those who were voted by the workers to be great leaders like Elon, he is never bossy and allows all the workers feel that they are valued. He asks them to at times walk out of meetings if they feel that they are not adding anything to the meeting something that very few leaders can do. A bad leader, on the contrary, can degrade performance by failing in communicating effectively. If a leader fails to let the workers know what is required of them, they tend to do what they please which in most cases does not go in line with the company’s goals, missions, and objectives thus automatically leading to a decline in performance.

Elon Reeves Musk is a considered a good leader because of the success that has followed him wherever he goes. He is an educated man with a degree in physics, economics, and entrepreneurship. He first came to leadership in 1995 when he co-founded the Zip2 Company that dealt with software material which was eventually acquired by Compaq Company in four years later. Being a co-founder, he began expressing great leadership skills that made him move to found the then SpaceX which lead to the invention of Tesla Inc. that has made him famous. Through all these years he has been expressing extraordinary leadership traits and skills that have helped his followers to vote him as one of the best leaders.

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Leadership in tech, however, has been different and complicated compared to others which are purely human managerial oriented. In the sphere of technology, leadership portrayed has to be completely different and those in a leadership position must be completely careful to ensure that they remain in their lines of duty. It, therefore, requires the leaders to provide a listening ear to their workers at the time as each of them have a say. In the field of technology, once a person is hired, they have an impact that they can cause in their place of work as they are engineers. It is for this reason that Elon feels that in his company there is no need for a chain of communication. He wants all the workers to be free without having a complicated chain of command when they have a new idea or innovation that they want to communicate with the leader.

In technology, developing the right workforce is vital and giving them the right and privilege to be free and comfortable in the company made them devoted and committed to attaining the set goals. Moreover, it is the only way that would make the workers work wholeheartedly with their leader. Again, being that there is a lot of competition and transformation in the area, creativity is needed in leadership to make the workers work towards the goal of attaining the set goals and objectives. In technology, therefore, attaining the set goals requires motivation of the workers and encouraging them to prevent them from being discouraged when thing do not work out for them.

Furthermore, the field of technology is very diverse and competitive hence would require constant works and innovations. It is for this reason that the companies in it must come up with a unique and diverse model that others do not have to remain in business or even maximize profit. In other words leadership in tech requires a lot of devotion and creativity that would not be found in other companies since people love what is trending and sound, will only go for that which is the best. Otherwise being so competitive one can end up being on the top today and wakes up tomorrow and only realize that another more unique and innovative company has overtaken them. Being in the technology industry, therefore, needs constant working and innovation that would need an individual not to be bossy in their leadership.

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Studying Elon Musk's Leadership Through Communication. (2019, Feb 08). Retrieved from