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Why Elon Musk is Off My List

Rhonda Clark, Chief Empowerment Officer

Many years ago, Elon Musk’s leadership style seemed legendary. I personally praised his pathway leadership style in my business management college courses, including

sharing with my students a short video clip of Musk talking to his Tesla employees in a meeting to reinforce my examples. Musk seemed to have all the right leadership style characteristics: passionate,

charismatic, visionary, as well as being a good communicator. In this meeting, he took the time to communicate to Tesla

employees his vision, purpose, goals, and the pathway to achieve these goals. His employees showed excitement, whistling and cheering him on – everything a great leader expects when communicating and having a reciprocal relationship with employees, right?

Fast forward 10 years or so later and Elon Musk is now 51 years old. This is not Musk’s first acquisition of a company by any means. Most recently, Musk acquired Twitter. This has been a trending topic since he became the company’s largest shareholder in April 2022 with a 9.1% ownership stake. On October 27, 2022, he became the new owner and CEO of Twitter. So, what’s all the hype about this recent acquisition? One of the main differences is Musk’s net worth, now over $191.2 billion, making him the richest person in the world according to Forbes (2022). Could having an endless amount of money create a difference in his leadership style and his behavior in how he now treats his employees?

Culture Change

Twitter used to be known for its amazing company culture of collaboration, treating its employees well, and having a high degree of employee job satisfaction.

Acquiring a company in general is a major disruptor, creating change for any company. It’s especially stressful for employees. It’s not unusual to fire top level executives during an acquisition. It’s also not unusual to let employees go, which Musk did promptly without hesitation. So, what’s the issue that everyone’s talking about? Perhaps it’s the way Musk is going about it. Musk laid off half of the company’s workforce of approximately 3,700 employees on November 5th. Letting go half of Twitter’s workforce means the other half picks up the work. This, in turn, creates an even more stressful environment for employees.

Business Insider and CNBC reported that Musk gave the rest of the remaining employees an ultimatum, demanding that they commit to “extremely hardcore” work. He also canceled remote work and insisted on 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, adding more tasks to already tight deadlines. Hundreds of employees promptly resigned. It’s basically Musk’s way or the highway! This does not seem to fit the same leadership style, behavior, or approach from years’ past. This was not the way Musk would communicate to his employees in the past when sharing his strategic vision and goals. Gone was the rational style of decision making for long-term decisions. This was not the best way to start off new relationships with his newly acquired employees, especially at a time when uncertainty is high and trust is low. Most leaders would try to feel and understand a newly acquired company before making such major disruptive decisions that impact thousands of employees. Explaining and sharing the ‘purpose’ and the ‘why’ to get Twitter employees onboard would have been more helpful. Instead, he employed the fearful tactics of ‘it’s my way or the highway’ ultimatum.

I can no longer brag about his kind of leadership style to my students. I can’t, and I won’t.

The Fallout

Although it’s only been a month since Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, things are still uncertain. Everyone seems to be on pins-and-needles to see how it’s going to play out. Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen many celebrities deleting their accounts. Many advertisers have also dropped Twitter. Employees are in chaos. Some believe that Twitter can survive Musk’s heavy-handed leadership tactics. For me – the jury is out. More to come.


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