#42 My Man Crush: Elon Musk's Authentic Culture

I have a man crush.

His name is Elon. Elon Musk. And he’s on a mission to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. 

His strategy is multi-pronged, but today I'm going to focus on just one of his businesses - Tesla. The world leader in electric automobiles. So I'll be ignoring these other pieces of his empire...

elon muskArtboard 1@300x.png

SolarCity. Musk is Chairman of this leader in solar energy. He's also currently in process of merging this operation into Tesla. 

SpaceX. This is his backup plan in case we screw up earth. The company’s stated goal is to colonize Mars. And don't laugh at the Mars thing. He's kicking serious butt in the rocket ship business and leapfrogging his competitors. It’s still a private company, but best guess is it carries a valuation near $12B.

These are all neat businesses, but I’m not a tree hugger or a space cadet, so why the man crush?

Because I love the authentic way Musk pursues what matters to him. His companies ooze his dreams, his personal values, his DNA. It feels like there's a real live heartbeat behind these massive companies. 


So let’s look at how this “leading from an authentic place” impacts decision making and culture at Tesla.

We'll start with a critical choice the company made several years ago. The decision to go 100% electric.

Most competitors started with hybrids. Including a gasoline engine with their electric car to overcome "range anxiety". In these hybrids you always had that reliable gasoline engine to fall back on if you ran out of electric. 

Musk and company surveyed the situation way back in 2006 and made a different decision. Remember, their mantra is “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” So they bet the farm on 100% electric, and that conviction paid off.

Today, after only four years of production, Tesla holds a 34% market share in the segment of similarly priced sedans.

It's amazing what can happen when your personal values/beliefs/mission/vision/WHY are in alignment with your business.


Today Tesla sells an electric car that sprints from 0 to 60 in a neck-snapping 2.5 seconds, and can travel 300 plus miles on a single charge. That’s nice, but three hundred miles won’t get you from Ohio to Florida. You can’t speed the transition to electric cars if your product can’t handle a road trip.

So, why not build a superfast recharging network along the major highways of the entire world?


Sounds crazy, especially for a startup company. But they did it. Today Tesla offers a worldwide network of superchagers that make road trips a breeze. And they're continuing to open new stations at a fast pace.

It's amazing what can happen when your personal values/beliefs/mission/vision/WHY are in alignment with your business.

(If you want to see video of the neck-snapping acceleration you can click here - beware of bad language. Also note that this video is of an older slower model than their current product.)


Tesla will have to sell lots of electric cars to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. Which means they’ll need a ton of batteries. In fact, Tesla figured they’d need the combined output of every lithium-ion battery factory in the world to hit their goals. That's a serious roadblock.

Unless you're willing to build a single factory that doubles the worlds lithium-ion battery capacity.


Sounds crazy, especially for a startup company. But that’s the decision they made. Today that factory is partially operational. It’s called the Gigafactory and they built it from scratch in Nevada. And they're already planning to build a few more like it to keep up with their 400,000 vehicle backlog.

It's amazing what can happen when your personal values/beliefs/mission/vision/WHY are in alignment with your business.


There’s no way a single start up car company can force the world to move to electric vehicles fast enough. That’s a huge problem if your mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”.

So why not help your competitors build better cars sooner? Why not give them access to your valuable patents at no charge? Zero strings attached.

Now that would be ludicrous. No CEO could ever find a way to pull that off. The shareholders would revolt.

Or maybe not. Tesla did it. Their patents are available online and you can use them any way you want. Musk wants more and better competition, not less. And if you’re worried about this move destroying the company’s value, don’t. Tesla’s current market capitalization is around thirty billion dollars.

It's amazing what can happen when your personal values/beliefs/mission/vision/WHY are in alignment with your business.


I could also tell you stories about amazing breakthroughs Musk has led at SpaceX (bad words at this link but it's a very informative article). But you get the point. These folks set the bar amazingly high, and then they deliver. Usually a little late, but they eventually hit their mark.

The question is how? How does he drive his companies to consistent breakthrough performance?

For answers I turned to a book titled Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Musk cooperated with author Ashley Vance, but did not have editing rights. So I believe it offers a pretty balanced picture of him and his companies.

The first point that jumps out is that Musk is wicked smart. And he demands the same from his employees. As Vance says in the book, “He doesn’t suffer fools well.” So there are no participation awards at Tesla. He’s not going to throw a party every time you do something extraordinary. Extraordinary is expected. 

However, if you do something stupid, he is willing to berate you. And he might fire you. Employment is contingent on sustained brilliance.

The second point that jumps out is that Musk is driven. Working six or seven days a week. Ridiculous hours. Occasionally sleeping in a sleeping bag at the end of one of the production lines. 

He’s willing to upend his own personal life - three divorces from two women - to hit his mark. And he expects similar behavior from employees. He supposedly wrote a memo faulting someone for missing work during the birth of their child. Musk denies this, but there are many other accounts that point to his driven nature.

So his companies aren't going to win awards for snuggling up to employees. You're there to get shit done, not be coddled. And if you don't eat, sleep, and breathe the mission, you better get the hell out or you'll be trampled.

So that's how Musk drives the consistent breakthrough performance. If you want to see crazy success like him, all you have to do is copy his style.

Obviously not true. His style is all his and I bet it won’t work for you. And your style won’t work for him.

His special sauce isn’t the specifics of how he manages his companies culture. It’s that he simply leads from an authentic place. That he deeply believes in his mission and that the culture he’s created comes from his heart and soul. It’s a personal alignment thing. He doesn’t manage his business, he lives it.


(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)

My man crush is 100% about Musk’s ability to create cultures that are authentic extensions of who he is as a person.

His SELF map and his WORK map(s) seem to be super-aligned. Which means he’s nailed the concept of BE YOURSELF that we discussed in post #37 - Be Yourself.  And that I reinforced in post #39 - Your Trust Problem. And that I symbolized on the map with the foundational cinder blocks you see below. 


Bottom line, Musk gets authenticity and alignment. He isn’t just trying to make a buck. He’s trying to make a difference AND a buck. And people can feel that difference in their chest. That’s the special sauce you need to mimic.

That’s how you create a business where…

Tough decisions, like the ones Tesla made, don’t linger. You replace the endless debates and second guessing with time spent on task.

Culture building isn’t a hassle. You ignore all the best practices from the gurus and just be authentic, consistent you.

Finding great people isn’t so hard. You attract, and retain, employees that are with you for the right reasons, not just a paycheck.

And yes, your business will still be frustrating and risky and competitive. But you’ll be doing more of what you love, and you’ll be doing it from an authentic place. 

A recipe for business and personal growth.

***Note: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE to get started.