Sourcing vs leadership: Elon Musk, the powerful source of Tesla

Elon Musk is the powerful source at the innovative motor company Tesla. Check out this book extract to see how Musk senses the very high level next steps for the initiative as whole. Focussing on what matters most: ‘whatever your job is now, your new job is delivering cars’; hiring and firing executives to save it from catastrophe; and even selling the company outright (of course with a deal that he remains in charge of the company).

You can also see here a risk of isolation. So obsessed and demanding about delivering on his vision that he’s created a climate of fear. Executives hid the truth from him when things were going badly. That’s a huge problem which could have destroyed the company. A source needs reliable information to be able to make decisions.

There are two jobs for founder to do well: Sourcing, which is sensing and executing the next creative/strategic steps for the initiative as a whole; and leadership, which is all about how you engage the people you have recruited to help you realise the vision. They are distinct activities. Sometimes what you need to do as source is not in the individual best interests of everyone. Decisions can be unpopular and may appear irrational. But to realise a vision, you have to take the next steps as soon as they become clear, otherwise the vision will not materialise, and the passion will drain from the initiative.

It sounds like Musk is a natural source, but perhaps more of an Industrial Age one, leading through fear and command and control. It can certainly be an effective way to realise a vision, but the lack of progressive leadership could become his downfall if he cannot keep the thousands of people working there, helping him to realise his vision, engaged.

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