Archives for posts with tag: elon musk

The following is a short talk I delivered at the Uncharted Veterinary Conference in April 2018 as part of their Mic Drop Series.

How valuable is experience when it comes to leadership?

Should we value experience?

Is it a benefit or a hindrance?

So let’s define some terminology…

A leader is someone who is followed.

A visionary is someone with an idea or ideas.

And a manager is someone who makes things happen.

All of these can be combined, or not, depending on a persons personality, experience, or skill set.

Some examples of Visionary leaders…

Steve Job of Apple,

Elon Musk of Tesla and Space X,

Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Visionaries who have, literally, changed the world.

they are all looked up to and considered gods of technology. People regularly compete to work for these people and to work on those products.

They also all have the reputation for being awful managers of people to the point of cruelty.

If Visionary leaders are horrible managers then what about managers who have vision?

Tony Blair – former British Prime Minister,

Michael Eisner – Former CEO and President of the Walt Disney “Company,

George Lucas – Film Director and former owner of Lucasfilm.

Tony Blair was elected in 1997 on a wave of hope and goodwill, he transformed his labor party in “New Labor” which had been out of power for 18 years. Despite some major successes, Blair resigned in 2007 and labor lost the next election and has not been in power since. New Labor is in ashes and Blair is widely reviled in the UK, and even by those in his own party, for his tone deaf approach to the Iraq war and for his corporate connections.

Michael Eisner led the Walt Disney Company from 1984 and 2005. He revitalized the company in the eighties and nineties with “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Little Mermaid, “The Lion King,” the expansion of the theme park business, cruise ships, and the creation of stage shows. He ultimately split with his long time collaborator Jeffery Katzenberg and Roy Disney and saw an unprecedented shareholder revolt in 2004 that lead to his resignation in 2005.

George Lucas – transformed the movie industry with the original Star Wars trilogy. Arguably then did more than anyone else to sink it with his widely panned prequel trilogy. He is criticized for having a singular vision and for not listening to the feedback of others.

If visionary leaders are horrible managers and managers with vision ultimately self destruct,what about managers who just manage?

Bob Iger – Current President and CEO of the Walt Disney Company,

Bill Gates – Former CEO and President of Microsoft,

Tim Cook – Current CEO of Apple.

When was the last great breakout product from any of these companies, who are led by these managers, that was not bought it?

These companies are profitable, they make good products, just not great ones.

Why do some mangers, particularly those with vision fail, when managers without vision can succeed?

How come some visionary leaders can break all the rules and still win?

This is my story.

The period of time I’m taking about I’d been in my job for about 4 years.

I knew the answers to all the questions I was asked.

I’d tried most of what is suggested by others and had strong opinions about those suggestions.

The ghosts of what had happened in the past in the workplace haunted my current interactions.

I anticipated the responses of others and therefore do not even try to have new interactions.

I overvalued my own experience.

I believed my own story, my own press.

The things that made me a good manager – a manger with vision, a leader, I now actively rejected since I had the experience to no longer need them.

And the staff, and the people I worked with, pushed back.

I became the bad guy.
I became the roadblock.
I became the one who would not listen.
I became less and less effective.
I became the manger who kept his own counsel on everything.
I was the most capable – but I was he least able.

Some call this burnout.

I call it not learning from the experience of others.

The first step in recovery is to acknowledge that there is a problem.

Interestingly during this time I, the experienced world traveler, for the first time in my life, missed four flights because I knew, knew, when my flights were and that I didn’t need to double check.

Solving this problem is not hard, you’ve, I’ve already been that person. You just need to find them again and be aware of the trap that you are currently trying to climbing out of.

The tools that made you a good manager, a great leader, when you started are the same tools that allow you to continue being so. You just have to remember that the process can be as important as result.

Capability only has value if you have the ability to use it.

Capability only has value if you have the ability to use it.

And it is those around you, those that you lead, that give you that ability. You undervalue it at your peril.

Thank you.

Advertisements


Any book about Elon Musk stands the chance of being wildly out of date before it hits book store shelves. 

This biography of Musk, by Ashlee Vance, originally published in 2015, already feels a little dated, but it does give a good profile of the man, his companies, and his roots. It is unfortunate then, that while acknowledging Musk’s propensity to be difficult, if not impossible, to work for it does nothing to mitigate the awe that the writer obviously feels for his subject. 

There is good reason for this. 

Musk is a larger than life character who if at a press conference announced; “l’m Ironman,” nobody would bat an eye lid. In fact it is hard to know whether the movie version of Tony Stark is based on Elon Musk or if it is the other way round. 
There is a lack of focus in this book on how appallingly Musk can treat other people. For example, he has been married 3 times, twice to the same woman, and he famously fired his long time assistant, and gate keeper, because she asked to be paid like an executive.  

What shines through, however, is vision. And that leads to an interesting question for Musk and for businesses in general: Can a dramatic and outsized vision, if you are good enough at selling it, make up for short comings in other areas such as management of people, sound business planning, and realistic expectations? 

For the moment, Musk seems to be on a roll; however, there are plenty that feel he has built a house of cards and from the stories told of the early days of Tesla are anything to go by, and the economists and manufacturers in Detroit are correct, it certainly could all come tumbling down any day. 

I also wonder how sustainable a company is when it relies on these most grandiose of goals? What happens when the company cannot achieve these goals? 

Elon Musk is undoubtably a unique individual, who has remarkable ambitions and achievements; but companies are built on a scalabile culture – not just vision. Mr. Vance’s book does a good job of profiling the vision, but not so much on the foundations and structures for sustainable businesses.   

%d bloggers like this: