Elon Musk Leadership Theory and Leadership Styles Analysis

Contemporary Business Leaders

Effective leadership is necessary for the success of any organization. The 21st century has seen many great organizational leaders. One such leader is Elon Musk who has consistently demonstrated his superior competence as an organizational leader as demonstrated by his achievements and ability to overcome challenges.

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Elon Musk as a Contemporary Business Leader

            One of the greatest corporate leaders of the 21st century is Elon Musk. Musk is a renowned American entrepreneur. Musk left a graduate degree program at Stanford to focus on being an entrepreneur whereby he sought to push the limits through his technical expertise and imagination. Musk became a successful entrepreneur early on whereby he sold some of his business ventures such as PayPal to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion and Zip2 to Compaq for $307 million. In 2002, he founded Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (Space X), a space travel company that seeks to revolutionize space travel. In 2004, he became a major investor in Tesla Inc., which is a manufacturer of electric vehicles (Truman, 2020).  Besides being the CEO of Tesla Inc. and Space X, Musk is also the CEO of SolarCity Corporation. He is also the founder of the Boring Company and the co-chairman of OpenAI. For all his companies, Musk’s mission is future sustainability as he seeks to address the problems that face humanity (Hamed, 2021). Musk’s exceptional drive and aggressive attitude towards innovation have contributed to his success as an entrepreneur and organizational leader.

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Elon Musk Leadership Theory

            The leadership theory that best describes Musk’s leadership style is transformational leadership. Transformational leadership theory elucidates that transformational leaders are leaders who are always challenging the status quo intending to promote improvements. According to UhlBien et al. (2020), transformational leaders possess vision and a strong personality that allows them to have an extraordinary impact. They have the ability to inspire others in exceptional ways. Other qualities associated with transformational leadership include charisma and enthusiasm. As a transformational leader, Musk is a visionary. He envisions things that other people would not dare to or are incapable of dreaming about, especially at the level of complexity that he does.

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Hamed (2021), elucidates that Musk has the ability to think at the system level of design to bring together design, technology, and business. He visualizes the most efficient and lasting solution to problems facing humanity and is bold enough to suggest solutions that other people may perceive as impossible. Musk is also a social architect. He inspires his employees in many ways. His charisma and enthusiasm influence employees to work for long hours to actualize his vision since he can inspire others to share his vision (Asher, 2016).

            Besides vision, charisma, and enthusiasm, transformational leaders also possess high emotional intelligence. The five emotional intelligence competencies according to UhlBien et al. (2020) include high self-awareness, good relationship management, good self-management, high social awareness, and persistence. Musk has demonstrated high self-awareness by knowing his strengths and weaknesses as well as those of the people he works with. This allows him to bring the best out of his employees. Good self-management allows Musk to have time for all his companies as well as find new ventures to solve other problems facing humanity such as traffic congestion, which inspired him to found the Boring Company. His high social awareness allows him to interact effectively with his employees as well as other stakeholders and partners that whom he works with. This is also complemented by his good relationship management. Lastly, Musk is one of the most persistent individuals in the world. Despite the challenges that he faces in his endeavors of innovating creative solutions, he remains persistent and motivated (Asher, 2016). Thus, the qualities that Musk has demonstrated over the last two decades as an organizational leader point out that he is a transformational leader.

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Musk’s Greatest Achievement – Space X

Musk has many great achievements but his greatest achievement is Space X. The company is headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It also has multiple locations in various states to house rocket development facilities, offices, and launch sites. Space X employs more than 5000 individuals and its mission is to manufacture and launch rockets and space crafts and enable humans to live on other planets. The company seeks to manufacture reusable rockets to facilitate affordable space travel. Compared to other private companies, Space X has accomplished several milestones in the space business. Some of these achievements include being the first privately funded company to return a rocket to earth from low-earth orbit, having the first orbital-class rocket, and transporting supplies to the International Space Station using its Dragon spacecraft. Other milestones include achieving a re-flight and launching the Falcon Heavy in 2018. The company has contracts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as well as other commercial satellite launch entities (Truman, 2020).

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Space X is Musk’s greatest achievement as it seeks to revolutionize space travel with the hope that one day, humans will be able to live on other planets. The vision is inspired by the increasingly growing earth population and global warming. Musk envisions that in the future humans might need to live on other planets or even visit them for leisure (Truman, 2020). Musk understands that this may not happen in his lifetime but that is not a factor that stops him from laying the foundation that might provide a solution when that time comes. This shows that Musk is not only a great leader but also a humanitarian. He is willing to innovate solutions that he might not benefit from but understands that they will serve a greater good. Musk seems to be on the right path to achieving his vision as Space X is continually innovating its products.

Handling a Challenge

            Over his long career as a corporate leader, Musk has faced numerous challenges. For instance, Space X’s road to success was not smooth. In 2008, the Falcon 1 rocket failed on three successive launches. However, Musk did not give in as he believed in his dream and vision to make space travel affordable. Whereas the fourth launch was successful, Space X was running out of money but Musk was willing to take any measures necessary to ensure the success of the company. Musk described 2008 as one of the worst years in his life because it was the same year that he was going through a divorce (Truman, 2020).

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Notably, Musk handled the Falcon 1 challenge from a leadership role. The difference between a managerial role and a leadership role is that the former is about producing order and consistency while the latter involves producing change and movement. The management role is associated with planning and budgeting, organizing and staffing, controlling and problem-solving, and producing predictability and order. On the other hand, the leadership role involves establishing direction, aligning people, motivating and inspiring, and producing change (Bargau, 2015). From a management point, when Falcon 1 failed three times Musk could have given up and embarked on a different task. However, as a leader, he was adamant to produce the change needed to see Space X successful and he aligned people and inspired them leading to the fourth attempt, which was successful.

Power Base

            A leader’s success is dependent on the way they use power to influence others. In this context, power refers to an individual’s ability to get something done or make things happen the way he/she wants. There are two types of managerial power: the power of position and the power of person. The three bases of position power include rewards, legitimacy, and coercion. The three bases of personal power are relationships, expertise, and reference (UhlBien et al., 2020). Regarding the challenge described above, Musk used rewards, legitimacy, and reference bases. Regarding legitimate power, as the founder and CEO of Space X, Musk has the authority and right to ask his employees to make as many attempts as he wishes. Musk also rewards his employees based on their work achievements. Thus, the rewards also motivated the employees to keep trying. Musk was able to influence his employees to overcome the challenge because of their desire to personally identify with him. According to Asher (2016), Musk employees find him intriguing due to his limitless vision and ambition. They also like working in his companies because they get to be involved in creating interesting and innovative solutions. For these reasons, they do not mind working long hours to actualize Musk’s visions.

A Leadership Comparison of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos

A leader that can be compared to Musk is Jeff Bezos. Bezos has a space company, Blue Origin Corp. which has not been able to achieve the things that Space X has achieved. Notably, Bezos also has the financial muscle that Musk has. Arguably, the reason Bezos has not been able to achieve as much as Musk in the space travel realm is that he is more of a manager than a leader. When faced with such a challenge he would have focused on its financial viability since the managerial role is about producing order and consistency (UhlBien et al., 2020). Also unlike Musk, who is a transformational leader, Bezos is more of a transactional leader (Blount, 2021). Notably, a transactional leader is not as effective as a transformational leader in motivating and inspiring followers.

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Attributes Emulated By Musk

            Two attributes that leaders should emulate from Musk are vision and the ability to inspire and motivate. Vision refers to the ability to think futuristically to come up with innovative and creative solutions (Hargreaves & Boyle, 2015).  Leaders need to be visionaries to ensure the growth of the companies or teams they lead. Vision breeds proactive leadership. Leaders also need to possess the ability to inspire and motivate others. It is this quality that allows a leader to influence others to share their vision and work towards actualizing it (Hargreaves & Boyle, 2015).  


To sum up, Musk is one of the greatest organizational leaders of the 21st century. His leadership style is consistent with transformational leadership. Musk’s achievements and ability to overcome challenges demonstrate how transformational leadership can be a great asset for organizational leaders.

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