Elon Musk is one of the most talked about entrepreneurs of the moment. He is the CEO of SpaceX, which built Falcon Heavy, a high capacity rocket launched into space in February 2018 carrying an unlikely passenger: a Tesla Motors car, company that he also runs. Musk’s trademark is innovation, hence the reason why many experts of the industry believe he might be the next Steve Jobs of the entrepreneurial world.
Behind his fame, of course, there are hard work and a unique way of leadership. One of Tesla’s goals, for instance, is to become the world’s safest car factory. Between 2014 and 2015, however, reports showed that the number of accidents involving employees was high. It was of central importance for Musk to make an announcement in such a decisive moment. At the time, one of his emails concerning the statistics leaked out. His message still reverberates as a lesson on how to manage a crisis.
EMPATHY IS THE KEY
‘No words can express how much I care about your safety and well-being. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful. Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet with every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform. This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we manage from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own.’
The email’s great achievement is empathy. Musk expresses himself respectfully and analyzes the matter from someone else’s perspective, not only from his own’s. He puts himself in the position of those who suffered the accident, and, at the same time, he communicates with other employees who are afraid of being in one. Here at SOAP we believe this is the great lesson Musk teaches us regarding that situation.
We have decided to make a deep analysis of his email, so you too may be more empathetic in strategic and decisive situations such as that one:
– The first part sounds like “we are all human beings, and we respect each other”. He is a leader driven by emotions, and not only by the reasoning of a company owner, who positions himself above others.
– After expressing his feelings, he takes action. He makes decisions, begins to take preventive measures, and not just corrective ones. Musk literally gets down to work, he wants to understand the process to prevent new problems from happening again.
– Lastly, he makes it clear he is facing the problem and truly wants to know every detail of the situation. He emphasizes it is indeed part of the company’s culture: not to lead from a distance, sitting on a chair, watching from above.
– By using the pronoun “we” at the end of the email, Musk arouses emotional connection. He proves no to be either above or below anyone, but on the same level.
When the CEO’s words reached employees’ inbox, they triggered a positive feeling. First, they meant he was making a stand. It is not rare to see leaders who exempt themselves from problems they are facing. Lack of communication. They seem to believe people will stop talking about it if they just quieten declarations. What really happens, nevertheless, is that the lack of accurate information only increases gossips and the feeling of insecurity. Moreover, it encourages lack of accountability. People feel neither accountable for nor committed to anything. After all, it is all kept in a safe box by the one person who can solve everything alone.
Musk’s attitude has no degree of paternalism either. It is very common, during a crisis, for some leaders to say everything is fine in the intention of calming everyone down; they just say it is going to be fine and there is no need for panic, but they explain nothing and take no action.
Companies that open their numbers, information and strategies are transparent. In addition, Musk revealed his human side as a leader, which inspired trustworthiness and admiration. You encourage people, instead of demotivating or frightening them. What remains is the feeling everyone may and should act the same way. During a period of crisis, a leader must, above all, evoke the team’s desire to overcome a bad situation.
It is most likely that Musk’s choices are on the right track, since Tesla’s total recordable incident rate (TRIR) at the Fremont California factory improved 25% in 2017 in comparison with 2016, as shown on this blog posted by the company – https://www.tesla.com/blog/becoming-safest-car-factory-world .
Well done, Musk!