Elon Musk’s Top Advice for Aspiring Business Leaders

Love him or hate him, Elon Musk is not only the richest man in the world, he’s also a leading innovator in technological development, including and perhaps especially within the electric vehicle industry.

He is a serial entrepreneur who has built many successful businesses. He is the type of leader who seeks to improve the world around him, mentor others, and build a culture of success wherever he goes.

He may be best known as the co-founder of Tesla, the electric car company, but he actually got his start with X.com, which eventually became PayPal. You didn’t know that, did you? Neither did I when I first started researching this topic.

He has also started SpaceX, building rockets that he has already successfully launched into space. His vision is that these rockets and the new technology developed through their innovation will help people reach other planets. Currently, he is also a co-founder of the nonprofit research company OpenAI and is chairman for SolarCity, a company that designs solar panels.

As of May 4, 2022, his net worth is $262.3 billion. It’s a staggering number and one that is often misunderstood. No, he doesn’t have $262.3 billion in cash, but with the value of his companies, stocks, shares, investments, and more, that’s his net worth.

Anyone who wants to become successful in a business venture would do well to heed the advice of people like Elon Musk. Millions of people listened carefully whenever Steve Jobs spoke, especially when he talked about innovation, entrepreneurship, and how to succeed in business.

You would do well to do the same when it comes to Elon Musk and others like him. These are the trailblazers, the innovators, the ones who have found success, not just once by chance, but time and time again.

Yahoo! Finance published this article here, which I’m going to summarize (at least a part of it) for you now. If you truly want to be successful, these pointers from Elon Musk through the years are incredibly valuable. Pay attention. Take notes. I know I have.

Seek feedback and accept criticism.

Now, I’m not one to say you need to accept all criticism. In fact, that would be detrimental to anyone’s long-term success.

The key here is to accept constructive criticism, but again, that doesn’t mean all good criticism is constructive or all constructive criticism is good for you at this stage in your life. You need to be discerning about what you listen to and what you hold off for another day.

Let me tell you a brief story. I have a friend who is a writer. Growing up in New York, he lived about 60 miles north of Manhattan. He wasn’t a “city” person (by any stretch of the imagination), but as an adult and when he left music behind (or was about to) to pursue his personal writing, he applied to and joined a couple of professional writer’s critique groups in Manhattan.

These are serious groups, ones that auditioned potential members. My friend had to pay monthly membership fees, carefully read and critique work presented every other week, and show up consistently.

He would take the train in, walk 10 or 15 blocks to get to the meeting place, offer his critique to different writers, and listen to the critique and feedback of others.

Over time, though, he began to feel lost. He was starting to receive five different opinions about the same aspects of his writing, and this was consistent through everything he was putting out there.

One person would say, “I really like this part, but this other part seemed to lack the right emotion.” The next person would say, “No, I didn’t like this part, but that other part was spot on.”

Imagine what would happen if you kept hearing opposing critiques and feedback about the same exact things. You end up trying to please everyone. My friend found himself doing that and what happened was he lost his writing voice.

Not only that, he lost his passion for it. He almost walked away from writing for good, and that would’ve been a tragedy because his stories are powerful, his books draw you in, and his skills are really top-notch.

As an entrepreneur, it is a great idea to go out and seek feedback, but make sure the people you want feedback from have something valuable to offer. They should have experience as entrepreneurs themselves. It’s best to rely on successful business leaders and not just mom and dad or your brother or sister who might work for a local college, for example.

When you start receiving constructive criticism, evaluate it from a distance. Don’t respond and don’t think on it right away. Let it sit for a while. A few days or maybe a week or two later, draw that constructive criticism out and evaluate it openly and honestly.

And remember, if you start to recognize a pattern of conflicting constructive criticism or feedback where one person thinks you’re doing a great job with this area and another thinks you’re missing the mark and another thinks you’re completely turned around, it may be best to simply set that aside and forget about it.

You’re probably doing just fine.

But, if the feedback and constructive criticism you receive is consistent, that’s a point worth listening to.

Be willing to get down in the trenches.

There are so many people — young and old alike — who reach a point in their life or were raised a certain way where they don’t want to get their hands dirty. They simply see certain jobs is “beneath them” and won’t bother.

When you’re starting a business, it’s important that you not see yourself as the CEO only, but as a member of your new team.

If the garbage is piling up and everyone is rushing around getting other projects done, take the garbage out. If the floor needs vacuuming, vacuum it. If the break room is congested with dirty dishes, crumbs all over the counter, condiment stains on the table, take some time to clean it up.

You don’t have to scold your team for being slobs. You don’t need to berate anyone and you certainly don’t need to take one of your valuable employees and set them on kitchen duty when you have some time available yourself.

As Elon Musk said during a Google Hangout session in 2013, “You’ve got to do all sorts of jobs and tasks that you might not wish to do, that are not intrinsically interesting to you. You’ve got to be prepared to do whatever it takes, work whatever hours. No task is too menial. I think that’s the right attitude for the CEO of a startup.”

Notice that he said ‘of a startup.’ He didn’t say that’s right attitude for a CEO of a multi-million dollar successful business, but a startup.

In the beginning, be willing to get down in the trenches and do whatever job is to be done. Let your team focus on what they do best, what you hired them to do.

When your team sees you willing to roll up your sleeves and clean the toilets, clean the kitchen area, the break room, vacuum, take out the garbage, clean the windows, or whatever else needs to be done, pitch in if you can.

More importantly, they will see you as one of them and that is truly how a leader leads.

When hiring, ask the right questions.

Far too often entrepreneurs who were never hiring managers don’t have a clue how to conduct quality interviews. You could go online and look for a few pointed questions to ask applicants, but Elon Musk advises us to ask the really tough questions, the ones with a lot of meat on the bones.

In 2017, at the World Government Summit in Dubai, he gave an example of a meaty interview question he likes to ask prospective employees.

“Tell me the story of your life and the decisions that you made along the way and why you made them. And also tell me about some of the problems you worked on and how you solved them.” He added, “People that really solved the problem, they know exactly how they solved it — they know the little details.”

When you want to hire the right person, you have to dig deep. Plus, when you dig deep for these personal details, if someone hasn’t thought much about it, didn’t really solve a problem they might admit they had, they’ll contradict themselves.

It’s like investigators talking to a suspect in an interrogation room. You don’t want to think of your applicants as suspects, but the same concept is there: wanting to get to the truth, the real person.

Companies spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to hire just one new employee, when you take into account advertising, time to review resumes, conduct countless interviews, then training and giving them time to settle into the routine.

You don’t have thousands upon thousands of dollars to spend to hire the wrong person. So, make sure you ask the right questions.

Don’t let the critics and naysayers hold you back.

I’ve mentioned before that you may find family and friends, the people closest to you, are sometimes the ones trying to cut the legs out from under your entrepreneurial feet.

They don’t do it maliciously (most don’t, anyway); they probably don’t understand and worry you could be making a costly mistake.

However, you’ll also face plenty of critics and naysayers who actually do want to cut you down, especially as you begin to find success.

Creative people understand this intimately. You get rejection after rejection for your work, then, after years of effort, tweaking, revising, and polishing, you might finally get to see your work in a gallery, on a bookshelf, or on the big screen.

People may love it and people may hate it. Either way, it’s a learning opportunity. If you let the critics and naysayers get the best of you, they win. Not you.

Accept this reality right now: you will face criticism. You will face naysayers. You will face people who have nothing positive to say about anything you do. You will face insults.

Understand that going in. As long as you understand that and are prepared for it, you need to find a way to let all of that slide right off your shoulders and down your back.

If you let it in, if you begin thinking about some of the nasty comments, the reviewer who left a scathing review online about your business or you personally, if you think, even for a passing moment, that anything they said was true, you begin losing your footing.

When you lose your footing as a business leader, those who follow you notice. Then, the challenge to right yourself and instill confidence once again becomes more challenging. These simple pointers from Elon Musk are powerful. Take them to heart. Embrace them. And that can be the foundation upon which you build your successful business.

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