In analyzing the leadership communication of Elon Musk, the Chief Executive Officer of Tesla, it is helpful to remember that successful communication by leaders is dependent on the roles that they can fulfill in their messages. Often these roles are seemingly in conflict- giving constructive criticism while building social trust, for example (Mai & Akerson, 3-5). Musk is adept at such communication roles particularly that of the navigator, proving time and time again that his radical ideas are not only possible, they pose a simpler solution than that which they are replacing. Musk is able to sell such ideas in a way that gets consumers and analysts excited.
Elon Musk is a South African entrepreneur who has envisioned and started many radically new services and companies, from PayPal to SpaceX and SolarCity, all of which provided new alternatives to traditional banking, transportation and energy needs (Russell, n.p.). He coded his first videogame at the age of twelve (12) which he sold for five hundred dollars ($500) and made his first millions when he sold Zip2, designed with his brother, for twenty two millions ($22M) in 1999 (Russell, n.p.).
Analysis of communication style
As with all communications, even the forward thinking Elon Musk can be analyzed in terms of what he has been doing right in his communications, and why it is that his techniques allow him to fulfill communication roles so well. Specific aspects of his style can be further aligned with the roles that Musk plays as a communicator.
One feature that has been noticed by analysts is the greater average number of times that Musk speaks in the present tense, and this may be a surprise to anyone who knows the content of such communications, which is usually the future. As Schwartz (n.p.) explains, the net effect is to portray the future as something happening today, and that tends to get people excited about the new technologies. Clearly Musk is a great fit given Tesla’s objectives with regard to developing the future today, and the role that he is playing is communicating this aspect of Tesla to the potential consumer.
Bomey (n.p.) describes five reasons why Musk’s style is so engaging and intriguing: that he ensures that his fans in the audience, that it isn’t perfectly rehearsed or polished, straightforward language, empowering inspiration and revealing actual information. These attributes are contrasted with the typical communications of auto company executives, where a message with little information is delivered to a room full of journalists in a manner that could be described as canned. Bomey’s description of Musk’s communication style is very much in keeping with the role of visionary leader, fulfilling the roles of navigator and renewal champion that are described by Mai and Akerson (5-6)..
Real world examples
In a recent and much talked about communication by Elon Musk, he informed the world that Tesla was ready to install self-driving software in its cars by this summer (Kessler, n.d.). He displayed the communication habit of speaking in the present tense in this surprise announcement, which proposed that the technology of the future is nearly ready for Tesla drivers today. Musk used simple analogies to effectively get across more complex engineering feats, while also getting the audience for his announcement extremely excited about this unexpected news.
Elon Musk is not only a great communicator, the roles that he fulfills as Tesla’s CEO have an excellent fit which aligns well with the objectives of this futuristic company. In particular, he is able to bring the future to his audience today, fulfilling multiple roles of leadership. His ability to communicate his vision of the way the world could be is one that entices people to follow him, and contributes greatly to his success as a leader.
- Bomey, Nathan. “5 secrets behind Elon Musk’s style”. USA Today. Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2015/05/06/tesla-elon-musk-five-things-to-learn/70887866/
- Kessler, Aaron M. “Elon Musk Says Self-Driving Tesla Cars Will Be in the US by Summer.” The New York Times. (2015). Retrieved from: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/03/20/business/elon-musk-says-selfdriving-tesla-cars-will-be-in-the-us-by-summer.html
- Mai, Robert P., and Alan Akerson. The leader as communicator: Strategies and tactics to build loyalty, focus effort, and spark creativity. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn,(2003).
- Russell, Kyle. “The Fabulous Life of Elon Musk“. Business Insider. (2013). Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-fabulous-life-of-elon-musk-2013-10?op=1
- Schwartz, Ariel. “There’s one simple reason why Elon Musk is so convincing.” Tech Insider. (2016). Retrieved from: http://www.techinsider.io/why-elon-musk-is-such-a-great-communicator-2016-2