Elon Musk is quickly garnering a reputation for being more petulant and irritating than inspirational and worthy of praise. Stung by criticism that his mini-submarine designed to rescue the team of boys trapped in a cave in Thailand wouldn’t work, Musk sent out a Tweet that not only labeled him a whiner, the Tweet drove down Tesla’s stock price by nearly 4% in just a few hours.
In the now deleted Tweet, Musk referred to British rescue diver, Vern Unsworth, universally recognized as being one of the key participants and experts responsible for the successful rescue of all trapped kids and their coach, as a ‘pedo’ short for pedophile. Screen shots of the Tweets can be found here.
Condemnation of Musk’s comments poured into social media but in typical Musk fashion, he doubled-down on his original comment by making a bet that Unsworth was indeed a pedophile.
emper and inability to filter the words coming out of his mouth. Within a few sentences of each other, Hughes could articulate his vision for a grand rocket ship to transport man to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, while also trashing the reputation of someone, male or female, for no apparent reason. Remind you of anyone?
I have researched Howard Hughes far more than most. In the case of Hughes, one of his biggest mistakes was not establishing a relationship with someone to provide what the Japanese refer to as Hoshin Kanri or “compass management”. The ability to find ones “true north” as a person or a company.
Bill George, Senior Fellow Harvard Business School, defines True North as your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps a person stay on track as a leader. It is derived from a persons most deeply held beliefs, values, and the principles they lead by. It is an internal compass, unique to each person, representing who they are at their deepest level.
Hughes never found his True North and it ruined his life and business empire. Musk has yet to find his True North, either.
Will The Real Elon Musk Please Stand Up
If Musk is going to insert himself so frequently in our lives through his words, actions and deeds, we as individuals and as a society have every right to agree or disagree with Musk. Publicly labeling someone as a ‘pedo’ because they had the audacity to state a miniature submarine proposed by Musk as a rescue vehicle wouldn’t work, is not OK. In fact, it’s embarrassing that someone of Musk’s accomplishment would be so foolish to make such a comment.
After offering to help the trapped Thai soccer team, Musk offered to help Flint, Michigan residents with contaminated water, tweeting:
Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels. No kidding.
Musk’s offer to find a solution to contaminated water putting the lives of men, women and children at risk is more in tune with what we expect from someone of Musk’s intellect and willingness to help.
Giving Tesla factory workers Red Bull to stay awake to meet aggressive Model 3 production goals (and told to walk through a raw sewage spill to keep the line moving) is another example of how Musk makes us pause in our respect and admiration.
Tesla has racked up $5 billion in operating losses under Musk and the company is likely going to need to raise somewhere between $5-$10 billion in the next couple of years to stay afloat. More automotive industry analysts and hedge fund managers that follow Tesla are raising the alarm that Tesla may go bankrupt.
Note to Musk and Tesla: If you want Tesla to succeed, hire Annette Clayton, President & CEO of Schneider Electric; former VP, Global Operations and Supply Chain, Dell; and former President of the Saturn Car Company. Elon needs someone he can trust and learn from. Tesla needs an expert in supply chain management and manufacturing. Annette Clayton can save Tesla. Annette Clayton found her True North years ago and she is a person and an executive we can all admire and respect.
To state that Musk is under pressure to live up to the lofty expectations of Tesla is an understatement. To state that Musk has created a persona that is becoming harder and harder to live up to, is also an understatement.
The bright and brash South African with the big ideas and a personality larger than life has morphed into a person far less deserving of respect than the Musk of just a few months ago. Superman’s weakness was Kryponite. The weakness of Elon Musk is Elon Musk.
Musk needs to step back and reevaluate who he is, who he wants to be, and what he wants to accomplish. Musk can either inspire or irritate. The choice is his and his alone to make.
What is your True North, Elon? Please let us know when you find it.
Brittain Ladd is a globally recognized thought leader on strategy, M&A, and business.