There are a lot of ordinary companies run by average leaders. And then there are rare breeds, extraordinary visionaries like Elon Musk, who set revolutionary ideas into motion and convince people to believe in big, important visions. Musk’s otherworldly ambition, divine purpose, defiance of the status quo and fierce commitment to his work is sacred and deeply personal. While we don't all have the means to launch groundbreaking moonshots like Musk, he offers important principles that entrepreneurs can learn from.
The five leadership traits outlined below will help you hone your leadership chops and be the force behind an extraordinary company.
1. Be obsessed and obsessive.
Many leaders share the mindset to “just get it done” or accept it’s good enough even when it’s not. This kind of thinking makes many companies mediocre. Musk is the opposite. He isn’t just passionate about what he does, he’s obsessed with it. His work is his oxygen. The hustle is real. He’s admitted to devoting nearly every waking hour to shaping his ideas and executing them. He’s obsessed with the tiniest of details and sets extremely high expectations for himself, his products and his team. He’s been accused of being uncompromising and unreasonable, of tearing things apart and starting over, of criticizing the poor performers around him and of pushing beyond limits. By having a relentless work ethic, striving for excellence and not settling on mediocrity, you’ll set yourself apart from everyone else who’s willing to play safe and accept good enough.
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2. Love the brand like a religion.
From his inspirational TED talks to his veracious vision for a sustainable future, Musk’s personal love of Tesla and his other companies is undeniably contagious. His work is highly personal to him. It’s born from the heart, nurtured into existence, fiercely guarded and passionately loved. This conviction fuels trust, adoration and even worship. As a leader, you teach others how to treat your brand by how you treat your brand. If you want others to love it, you have to love it. If you want the brand to run through their veins, it has to run through yours first. A consumer generated video called “Fireflies” proves how passionate Tesla’s fans are. The video depicts a future devoid of fossil fuels with Tesla at the forefront of a clean energy revolution. More effective than any paid campaign, user-generated content is a symbol of love and loyalty. By pouring your heart into your work and inviting people to participate in your vision, you can attract swarms of dazzled fans willing to show you their love and respect.
3. Transform your industry by doing the impossible.
In the words of Muhammad Ali, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.” Musk’s enormous ambition to do what everyone says can’t be done far exceeds everyone around him. Doing the impossible starts with having a grand, albeit crazy, vision. Most organizations have vision statements, but few are truly visionary. Leaders who lack vision cannot inspire teams, motivate performance or create anything of real value. Poor vision, narrow vision or non-existent vision causes leaders and companies to fail. By having an inspiring vision and communicating the value of the vision, you show the way forward for your team and audience.
4. Ignore the vision stealers and dream crushers.
Musk has spent his entire life proving people wrong. He has effectively built an army of people that believe in his mission and support his every move. Musk isn’t swayed by those who doubt him. Despite considerable amounts of skepticism, he continues to fight for his beliefs and challenge the naysayers. Take Elon Musk’s response to the Tesla Model S erupting in fire. This self-authored post on the Tesla blog explains the technical crash details and discusses the car’s safety measures, ending with “For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid.” By approaching all crises and doubts head on and using true facts to defend your position and company, you’ll tell a story that’s much more effective than any marketing claim could ever be.
5. Be a rare breed in your industry.
Just like the world doesn’t need another restaurant that serves frozen fried chicken fingers, it doesn’t need more “me-too” companies and brands. Don’t be just another company -- be a rare breed. Tesla is anti-ordinary. Its online marketplace is a destination for potential buyers with interactive product specs and video testimonials that far outshine in an industry known for being aggressively "salesy." A recent study conducted by consultant and market research firm Pied Piper named Tesla as having the worst car salesmen among all leading brands. And that’s exactly what Musk intended. He said of his salespeople, “Their goal and the sole metric of their success is to have you enjoy the experience of visiting so much that you look forward to returning again.” By leading a company that doesn’t look, feel and sound like the rest of the market, you’ll set your brand up for success.
There is no denying that businesses with magnetic leaders can ignite change, impact customer perceptions and drastically affect the success of their businesses. You don’t have to be Elon Musk to make extraordinary things happen, but it does require ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking ideas that aim for breakthroughs instead of incremental improvements.