CHANGEMAKERS // The Visionary Nano-Manager: Elon Musk

CHANGEMAKERS // The Visionary Nano-Manager: Elon Musk

CHANGEMAKERS is a weekly series where we explore the world of management and leadership. What is it that makes leaders succeed or fail, respected or hated? Our writers take a good look at the leaders who are making an impact today, whether it be good or bad.

“Working with him isn’t a comfortable experience; he is never satisfied with himself so he is never really satisfied with anyone around him. He pushes himself harder and harder and he pushes others around him the exact same way. The challenge is that he is a machine and the rest of us aren’t. So if you work for Elon you have to accept the discomfort. But in that discomfort is the kind of growth you can’t get anywhere else, and worth every ounce of blood and sweat.” – Dolly Singh


Elon Musk is often touted one of the greatest CEOs of this decade.  He has a portfolio that would make innovators, entrepreneurs and engineers alike fall to their knees in praise:

  • Co-founder of PayPal
  • Co-founder of Zip 2
  • Chief -designer turned CEO of SpaceX and most famously,
  • CEO of Tesla

…just to name a few. Even a quick search on Google scholar reveals pages and pages of peer-reviewed contributions.

But, all this being said, who wants an over-achiever as a boss? Not most of us. Most of us mere mortals would shudder at the prospect of working under someone who operates on 80-100 hour work weeks. Did the work-life balance HR revolution not happen?

And then there is his notorious perfectionism. Imagine having every detail of your work scrutinized to the most infinitesimal detail. Months of work tossed out the window because it’s not exactly what he wanted and it just doesn’t quite fit his vision.

Oh, and did I mention he is a self-proclaimed ‘nano-manager’? That’s right. Nano. That’s a thousand times more controlling than a micro-manager. I mean…he personally decided that a Tesla car’s volume control should go up to 11. Sorry chief engineer, you may be super-smart and possess an unparalleled physics prowess but that does not make you qualified to make that decision.

He is almost the complete antithesis of every “good manager” example in organizational psychology literature.


So why is he considered one of the greatest CEOs of the decade?

Is it the arrogant charm of a private boy’s school education? The sharp intellect and appreciation for the greater problems faced by humanity? Or the distinct weirdness that makes you wonder if he is entirely human? No. Although the culmination of these traits is a charisma that is rarely paralleled, it is his inspiring vision for his companies, his dedication to his cause and the ability to, despite all odds, triumph that is the essence of his success.

For 14 long years, Elon Musk has held to the belief that one day humans will move to Mars, and SpaceX is almost solely dedicated to that pursuit. Even when standing on the brink of failure, he has continued to invested more time and more money into his companies with the unquestionable belief that the realisation of his dream is absolutely necessary for the betterment of humanity. These demonstrations of his willpower and drive are the types of inspiration that turn defeated employees into hopeful followers. Adversity after adversity, he has been willing to give up his entire amassed fortune to keep on trying. This is what characterises him as a fearless leader and puts him in the books alongside Steve Jobs and other notable figures of our generation. His iron will empowers others to do better, be better.

The truth is, in this era of accelerated innovation, it is no longer enough for a manager to coordinate a team efficiently, or make the right decisions or nurture their staff. To be recognized as a great, a manager must inspire and like him or not, this grown up boy-genius/real life Tony Stark definitely done that; he has inspired people to work toward his dream and believe in his vision.

Image by Heisenberg Media

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