Elon Musk Sent an Extraordinary Email to Employees–and Taught a Major Lesson in Leadership
When the going gets tough, true leaders take action.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Tesla, the electric automobile manufacturer led by famed CEO Elon Musk, has struggled mightily with safety over the past few years. California nonprofit Worksafe, a worker safety advocacy group, recently made headlines when it reported that injury rates at Tesla's Freemont, California plant were over 30% higher than the industry average in 2014 and 2015.
Musk insists, however, that safety is the number one priority at Tesla. He claims that recent actions, like the company's hiring thousands of employees to create a third shift and reduce excess overtime, have made a major impact in lowering current injury rates.
But a recent email Musk sent to employees indicates just how seriously he's taking the issue. Here's part of the email, as reported by news site Electrek:
"No words can express how much I care about your safety and wellbeing. 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 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 lead from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team's safety above their own."
If Musk proves true to his word, it would be a remarkable example of a company leader who's willing to do what it takes to affect change--and show that he isn't afraid to get down in the trenches.
What You Can Learn From Musk's Email
Emotional intelligence, the ability to make emotions work for your instead of against you, is an essential quality of effective leaders.
While Musk's opening words will prove touching to some, it's his promise to take action that proves the most powerful. To personally meet every injured employee and actually learn how to perform the task that caused their injury is remarkable for the CEO of any company.
Truly effective leaders know that to inspire their followers, they must practice what they preach and set the example. They aren't afraid to delegate, but they also know when they need to take matters into their own hands. When a serious problem lingers, they increase their involvement and work tirelessly to make things better.
Your people also need to know that you've got their back. Are you all talk? Or are you willing to put yourself out there for them?
Musk's offer is one of the best ways to do this. When a manager takes the time to work alongside a frustrated team member, with a goal of better understanding that person's perspective, good things happen. This exercise, although time-consuming, builds empathy and rapport, and can prove extremely motivating.
Unfortunately, few managers are willing to make that type of investment.
So, ask yourself today:
- What is my team's biggest challenge or pain point?
- What can I do to make things better?
If you can answer those two questions--and follow through--it won't matter what your job title is.
Your colleagues will be ready to follow.