WHAT LEADERS CAN LEARN FROM ELON MUSK AND THE $44 BILLION DOLLAR TWITTER TAKEOVER
- by V. Jesse Smith
If there ever was a question of whether leadership is necessary for an organization or business to rise, we need not look any further than what is happening with Elon Musk and his takeover of Twitter. The words of Dr. John Maxwell have never become more truer when he said “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Twitter’s success or failure will not be because stocks have fallen or investors have pulled away, or even that employees have been discharged. Instead, the success or failure of Twitter will rest on the leadership of Elon Musk. In assessing the Elon Musk Twitter Takeover, leaders should examine three things about their own leadership and business: 1) Leadership Style, 2) Collective Vision and 3) Effective Communication.
To be an effective leader, it is essential that we understand what our leadership style is so that others can adjust accordingly. There is no question that Elon Musk is a leader. A list of his accomplishments as a leader are the innovative companies he founded such as X. Com (which later became known as Paypal), Space X, and Telsa Motors. Musk is a leader among the great ones such as Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates. His leadership style has led to much success, but also to much controversy. While there are many leadership styles that define Musk such as Transformational, Charismatic and Situational, I think the one that stands out most with respect to the Twitter takeover is the Autocratic Leadership Style. The Autocratic Leader is one who makes the decision in the organization or business without input or advice from others, and often makes the decision from instinct and gut motivation. The Autocratic Leader is the one who says “it’s my way or the highway.” There is no room for discussion or debate. It’s a take it or leave it style of leadership. And, while this kind of leadership is effective in some ways, it can be detrimental in many other ways.
When Musk made the deal with Twitter leadership to takeover Twitter, and then tried to back out of it at the last minute, this was an indication of his Autocratic Leadership style. While autocratic leadership looks strong and decisive, it could lead to disaster when operating off instinct and gut. Musk tried to get out of the deal with Twitter leadership by contending that there were too many accounts that seemed to be fake, yet, he was never able to prove such an action. Musk leadership style caused him to make the deal without ascertaining all the facts and then realizing later he may have made a mistake and subsequently tried to get out of the deal. The attitude that Musk demonstrated that he would pull out the deal whether Twitter’s leadership liked it or not represented an autocratic leader that proved to be damaging to his leadership style. At the end of the day, Musk had to follow through with the deal and this kind of autocratic leadership did not prove to be the best leadership style to elevate his business. Another example of Elon Musk Autocratic Leadership was exhibited when he told thousands of Twitter employees that if they did not like the way he was running Twitter now or in the future, they should leave the company immediately. Musk’s take it or leave it autocratic leadership style neither motivated employees or created an environment for employees to prevail or succeed. As leaders, we must ask ourselves, what is our leadership style, and whether this leadership style will elevate our business to the apex of success, or will it result in a disaster minimized to ashes. What is your leadership style?
There is no question that Elon Musk is an innovator. His ability to see things that be not as though they are is unprecedented. Musk has a vision of the future that far surpasses other leaders in his field of entrepreneurship. Jim Contrell, the first engineer at Space X, stated of Musk “Most of us can’t conceive these things working; he can’t conceive it failing. Period.” This is visionary leadership at its best and it can inspire others to greatness. Musk is right along the thinking with Robert F. Kennedy when he said “Some men see things as they are and ask why, but I see things that never were and ask why not?”
Musk is a visionary and sees things that others cannot perceive at the time. However, visionary leaders must be able to build a Collective Vision for all persons to see as a collective group to advance the business or organization for greater revenue and/or recruitments. Unless the entire organization can share in the vision of the leader, the business will not rise to the level for which the visionary envisioned the business to elevate.
Musk’s Twitter Takeover was without question a bold, ambitious, and audacious move. His vision for Twitter was to make it better than what it was under its previous leaders, and to make it more profitable. However, whether that vision included Twitter employees and their valuable contribution to the company could not be ascertained or perceived from the Takeover. Telling Twitter employees that if sales were not up in Twitter, many employees would be fired neither inspired or empowered Twitter employees to want to stay at Twitter. Twitter employees could not see themselves in the vision of building a greater company under Musk. Where there is no Collective Vision in the business, there can be no great profit in the business. Musk’s visionary leadership must be commended without question, however, his failure to create a Collective Vision of Twitter that Twitter employees could buy into the vision has placed his bold move on Shakey grounds.
Leaders must be able to share their vision collectively with those who are helping to realize the vision. As leaders, we must realize that no matter how powerful or zeal-oriented we are with our vision for our business, unless that vision is shared collectively and is accepted by the entire organization, it will never become a reality. When Musk took over Twitter, he immediately started laying off people. Employees did not know what his vision was for Twitter or why he was laying off staff. For those who employment was not terminated, many of them submitted their resignation because Musk failed to share the collective vision with Twitter employees. Upon realizing this mass exodus of resignations Musk received, he later met with many of Twitter employees whom he deemed to be “critical” to the organization and shared his vision of Twitter and received their buy-in according to The New York Times (N.Y. Times, Nov. 17, 2022). Such a move on Musk’s part reinforces the principle that when you have buy-in from employees or staff about the future of a business and you allow them to share in the Collective Vision, you create a harmony in the business that can lead to prosperity. As a leader, make sure your vision is clear and is collectively shared with others.
The key to any successful business or organization is communication. Look at any company or organization that is not functioning properly and you will see that the main reason for them not functioning correctly or meeting their potential is because of a lack of communication or not being able to communicate their story correctly or effectively. Knowing how to communicate a story about your business or company is essential because it can advance your brand or hurt it.
While Elon Musk is a major innovator and leader, the Twitter Takeover revealed a flaw that most leaders encounter when they are not in control of their communication or narration of their story—somebody else told their story. When the Twitter story broke about Elon Musk trying to back out of the $44 billion dollar takeover deal with Twitter management, the media took control of the story. The press gave their own narration of the Twitter takeover and made it appear that Elon Musk was being a bully or dictator. Musk was placed in a situation where he had to defend himself and explain his position rather than present his argument and maintain his position. When someone else communicates and narrates your story as a leader, you will always find yourself on the defense and in a catch-up position. The media caught hold of Musk’s position not wanting to pursue the Twitter agreement because of potential false accounts and narrated his story as him wanting to back out and renege on the Twitter deal. Had Musk come out early and stated that he was reluctant to move forward with the Twitter deal because of the potential false accounts that appear to be present, then the media would have led with his story as narrated rather than leading with the story that Musk was trying to breach a contract with Twitter at the last minute.
As leaders, it is critical that we understand the importance of communication and knowing how to tell or narrate our story before a third party does it for us. That third party could be employees, volunteers, staff, or the media. Leaders must not be placed in a position where they are in a catch-up pace, rather than in a leading pace. When you tell or narrate your story, you protect your brand and the integrity of your organization. When you fail to communicate and narrate your story, you allow others to paint you and your organization with a brush of incompetence, disorganization, confusion and/or grandiose disillusion. Although Musk is known as a leader, motivator and innovator, the Twitter debacle or takeover, and the way he communicated with Twitter employees and the media will make him appear to be a leader without passion, concern or kindness. When you fail to narrate your story, you allow others to dictate the trajectory of your journey.
The great takeaway we learn as leaders from the Elon Musk Twitter Takeover is that defining our leadership style is a key thing, making sure we have a collective vision in our business is a critical thing, and narrating our story before someone else does is everything.