I highly recommend Charles Duhigg's excellent, in-depth article about Elon Musk in Wired. It's worth reading carefully and I urge you to share it with your colleagues and peers.
A lot has been written about Musk and his efforts at Tesla to create a genuinely superior automobile. Duhigg, who was part of a team at The New York Times that won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting, describes Musk as an incredibly complex individual with the strengths and flaws of a mythological hero.
In Greek tragedy, the hero pays a heavy price for his brief moments of triumph. It remains to be seen whether Musk achieves truly heroic status or lapses into irrelevance as he struggles to accomplish his self-appointed mission.
On some days, Musk seems like a man possessed by a noble vision to save the planet. On other days, he acts more like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills and raging at the world he wants to preserve.
The stakes are high. Musk isn't merely a popular icon - he's the CEO and Co-Founder of Tesla and SpaceX, two major companies that are striving to alter the course of humanity. If Tesla fulfills its long-term potential, our dependence on fossil fuels may be greatly reduced. If SpaceX succeeds, our grandchildren might be living on Mars. Those are not trivial outcomes - they are game changers of epic scale.
But can Musk succeed? Duhigg's article raises some serious questions. In addition to working insanely long hours, delivering wild tirades and summarily terminating employees, Musk has developed a fanatical obsession with detail that puts him in the league of Steve Jobs.
At a startup, those kinds of behaviors would be unpleasant, but within acceptable parameters. When you're the CEO of a publicly traded enterprise, however, sustained erratic behavior is simply unacceptable.
From my perspective, Musk needs time to grow up. If he's not mature enough to lead a major corporation, he should hire a team experienced senior leaders and step aside for a while. Frankly, that would be the right step. He can still play a significant role at both Tesla and SpaceX, and his rightful place in history will be assured.
Musk has already proven to the world that he is a genius. Now he needs to prove that he is also a leader.
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