I have huge admiration for anyone that can lift the trophy that says “World’s Richest Person” and I respect the way that Elon Musk earned it – through hard work, intelligence and ground-breaking innovation. Yet despite his achievements there are several leadership lessons from Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.
1) What got you here, won’t get you there
The skills which ensure success in one arena (say, starting a car company) rarely translate to another (managing a social media business). Musk’s successes have several things in common (breath-taking audacity, leading-edge technology) yet none seem relevant for Twitter.
2) Be self-aware: understand the shadow cast by your leadership
Either Musk does not understand how he comes across, or does not care, or both. All would be mistakes. Effective leaders understand that how they act and what they say, prioritise and measure all matter. Crucially, great leaders are open, aware of their failings and keen to learn.
3) Manage your reputation
Failing to care what people think will repel many that you need to keep onside. Regulators, influencers, employees, individuals, communities and societies all need to respect businesses and CEOs (just ask P&O). Twitter is no exception.
4) Think long-term and provide a compelling guiding vision
To have a sustainable future, Twitter’s users, customers and employees all need to buy-in to a shared vision, and the CEO needs to provide it. What is Twitter’s?
5) Encourage diversity, inclusion and teamwork
Not just because it’s the right, decent thing to do but because that will make your decisions better.
6) Don’t pretend to be an expert: learn
Just because you have a large number of followers on Twitter does not make you an expert on the business. Again, openness, curiosity and self-awareness go a long way.
7) Avoid overplaying strengths so they become a weakness
Elon Musk’s strengths include a singular start-up vision, and an ability to push away doubters. Is that really what’s needed at Twitter now? Is wise counsel not a better course? The tortuous history of the Twitter acquisition suggests Musk wasn’t listening to those around him, then he was, then he wasn’t – and now?
8) Treat customers and communities with respect
There is little evidence that customers are a priority for Musk. For example, how will he ensure free speech without pandering to demagogues? How will he build a sustainable business when he is prepared to let over so much of the workforce leave? And how will he reassure people that he has the answers to these questions?
9) Communicate and connect
People like to be heard (one of the benefits of Twitter), they expect to be informed and they value emotional connection. Yet Musk seems to be doing very little asking, listening, explaining or bonding.
10) Delegate and empower
There is little evidence that Musk genuinely values people. I can’t believe this needs saying but leaders need to value machines for the things machines do best, and people for the things that people do best. And valuing people means engaging and empowering them. Not necessary for machines. Vital for people.
There is much that needs challenging, changing and discarding in our world, but leadership is not one of them. I just hope that the world’s richest man is also one of the world’s most skilful at this – he will need to be.