In Just 2 Sentences, Elon Musk Taught a Great Leadership Lesson to Every Employee


Tesla CEO Elon Musk may not be a poster child for work/life balance, but he clearly understands the consequences of poor communication and bad management. An email that Musk sent to his employees a few years back, which was later leaked to the public, included this quick lesson:

Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the chain of command.

The message was clearly a warning to his managers because Musk knows that communicating through hierarchies and multiple channels can slow things down and kill innovation. No employee doing the actual work should ever have to go to his manager, who then goes to his director, who then goes to his VP, who then returns serve to his director, who then circles back to his manager, who then finally allows the worker to get something done. This is insanity.

Information must travel the shortest distance

Musk understands that information must travel in any direction, between all levels, regardless of rank or position. This decentralized, bottoms-up management approach is the future of leadership. If something needs to get communicated in a way that will increase efficiency and productivity, to Musk’s point, it has to travel the shortest distance.

Easier said than done if you currently find yourself in a top-down, command-and-control environment. What’s the necessary shift needed?

Give employees the freedom and opportunity to decide, participate in, and determine how work is best accomplished. Employees thrive in entrepreneurial settings, which make them feel like they’re invested in the company. This means giving them ownership of their work and the license to make decisions on their own, especially if they have the right competence and skills to know the best course of action. When you allow that freedom, they’re likely to perform at a higher level.

The leader’s goal is and always will be to empower team members to make the right call. It’s helping them be proactive about solving problems they’re faced with and take full responsibility for the outcomes. 

A good starting point

Fear of reprimand for acting on your good instincts crushes the human spirit. Managers must pump the fear from the atmosphere by offering employees autonomy, a voice to express their ideas, and allowing for risks to be taken and mistakes to be made as part of their learning process. Start by developing a feeling of acceptance and an atmosphere of encouragement. Then watch your employees do things that will blow you away.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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