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Don't Lead Like Elon Musk

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By Steve Moran

For two weeks the world was captivated by the Thailand soccer team's dramatic and difficult rescue from deep inside a cave. The story was big enough that the never-shy, never-humble Elon Musk was intrigued and “offered to help,” providing a single person submarine to assist with the rescue. He was so sure he had the solution that he even showed up at the rescue site in person with his submarine.

The divers took a look and quickly figured out that a 10 ft long, rigid submarine -- no matter how cool, no matter that it was designed by the most brilliant creative genius alive (at least in his own mind) -- was actually not that helpful after all.

This, of course, infuriated Musk and led to him accusing the real hero . . . Australian diver, Vern Unsworth, of being a pedophile in a series of tweets -- which have since been deleted. This was in response to Unsworth suggesting that Musk's whole mini-sub thing was simply a publicity stunt (an opinion shared by many).

Even if you assume Musk was pure of heart . . . his response to criticism was alarming! I found myself thinking, “I would hate working for that guy” and “How can a guy that smart be so so DUMB?”

How You View Being a Thought Leader

There are two kinds of thought leaders -- the first applies to many, if not most, of the readers of Senior Housing Forum. You are the people who are leading organizations or parts of organizations where people are looking at you constantly for guidance, direction, and inspiration. Each of you is sending a constant stream of messages: positive, negative, or confusing.

Beyond that, some of you are thought leaders beyond your own organization. This is where Elon Musk fits in. It is an awesome, powerful, wonderful privilege and opportunity.

The ultimate question is this:  

How do I view this privilege?

Musk seems to believe that he is so smart that everyone needs to listen to him and react positively to any suggestion and/or pronouncement he makes. Underlying this thinking is that -- because of his position as a thought leader -- he always has a better solution than anyone else about EVERYTHING.

This is great for the ego, but it is not ultimately a good way to lead. The data is clear that a servant leader mentality always yields better results. How I wish Musk had shown up or called and said, “Hey Elon Musk here. We have some stuff that might help. But you are the experts . . . here is where we think we might be able to help . . . but you tell us what you want.”

He would have honored the folks who are the experts and, curiously, might have been able to contribute something. He would have still achieved positive publicity, possibly even been included as one of the heroes-of-the-hour . . . instead of a goat.

How Can I Help?

The right way, the best way, to lead is to say . . .

  • “Tell me what I don’t know, but need to know . . .”
  • “How can I help?”
  • “I have this idea . . . what do you think?”

This is not to say that occasionally a leader will need to say, "We are going to do this thing" or "Do it my way." However, if the general leadership approach is to be collaborative with the team -- listening to their views -- instead of going your own way will be supported.

Don’t be Elon Musk when you lead.

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