Elon Musk: a series of successful failures

“I could either watch it happen or be a part of it.”

This statement by Elon Musk sums up the true essence of his leadership.

Born in South Africa in 1971, he is an American Entrepreneur and Businessman. Elon founded X.com in 1999(now known as PayPal), SpaceX in 2002, and Tesla Motors in 2003.

As of December 2017, his net worth is $20.2 billion, according to Forbes. And he continuously acts towards creating sustainable technology, by investing in projects such as SolarCity.

Very spirited and a self-made billionaire, Elon Musk stirs the melting pot with controversial tweets and mind-boggling innovations. He is an example of a leader that proves that failure is both inevitable and imperative.

“How?”, you may ask.

All it takes is a look at his story, to see how he turned his failures into successes.

elon musk timeline 2

Elon Musk’s journey proves that instead of waiting for a utopian setup, it is better to work with what you have.

Look around, gather ideas and act after making calculated decisions. As a leader, he has led all of his ventures with the spirit of innovation, while not drifting too far from the goal he set for himself: saving humankind.

He also connects with his employees at a grassroots level and never lets failure stop him from trying something bold and new.

His views are best summed up in his signature quote:

“The first step is to establish that something is possible; then probability will occur.”

If you liked this, you may also be interested in “How self-aware are you?”.

Traits of a Successful Leader


Garrison W., best-selling author of “Speaking of Success” and owner of Wynn Solutions, notes that the average IQ of top performing leaders is 104. This is a remarkably low IQ point and makes when question the misconstrued notion that leadership is all about intelligence and charisma. However, if intelligence doesn’t make a good leader then what does? Here is what the top management leaders have to say on the subject –

  • Good leaders understand the importance of ideas and are driven by novelty. They are inventive and are also open to new ideas which come from their team. As an extention, they have a vision for their team or organization which underlines all team efforts, decisions and policies. “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion” notes Jack Welch, former GE CEO.
  • Successful leaders lay emphasis on people, since their team is the key force of execution of these their ideas. Harvey Mackay, who wrote Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive (Ivy Books, 1995) says “A colossal business idea simply isn’t enough. You have to be able to identify, attract and retain talent who can turn your concept into a register-ringing success”.  As an extension, it is as important to understand what drives your team to be able to get the best results.
  • The Transactional v/s transformational leadership theory developed by Burns (1978) still holds true.This makes leadership less about ‘getting work done’ and more about ensuring that one’s team develops the ability and desire to ensure that the work is done. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves”
  • “Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.” — Gilbert Amelio, President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp. It is also absolutely vital to establish effective communication channels within the team to foster accountability and transparency.
  • Egocentricity is the possibly the worst trait that can be commonly found in people in managerial roles. It is important to give credit or simply show gratitude when it is due. Humility and good humor go a long way in retaining the right talent. “Exemplary leaders reward dissent. They encourage it. They understand that, whatever momentary discomfort they experience as a result of being told they might be wrong, it is more than offset by the fact that the information will help them make better decisions.” — Warren Bennis New York Times, 2/17/02
  • Having a good judgment is importance and must go hand in hand with ensuring that one is not judgmental. It is important to be open and inclusive. However it is also important to understand when to take in new ideas and when to apply one’s own experience. This demarcation can be made only when can do a swift and accurate risk-analysis, which is the hallmark of good judgment. Good judgment also includes foresight and the ability to make fast decisions.
  • Consistency of character and of communication is underestimated. Charisma only attracts talent; it is consistency that retains it. “Highly charismatic people with emotional instability that keep their people wondering ‘What kind of mood is the boss in today’ are simply the worst leaders”- Garrison W, best-selling author
  • “Men in general judge more by the sense of sight than by the sense of touch, because everyone can see but few can test by feeling. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few know what you really are; and those few do not dare take a stand against the general opinion.”― Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince. Leaders portray themselves well and understand the importance of presentation. They not only, lead by example, but to do it in a visible manner.
  • “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” is one of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (a book with 25 million copies sold) by Stephen R. Covey. A good leader is always a great listener and also understands the current industry dynamics in great depth
  • As an extension, a great leader would never cling to the past.He/she would be dynamic and learning oriented. Industries evolve at a fast pace and one must be acquainted with the changing realities of one’s field.”Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”— Niccolo Machiavelli

What do YOU think makes a good leader? Feel free to share your opinions here!