“The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.” – Casey Stengel
Giving in to temptation is usually a bad idea. So here goes.
A couple of weeks ago I pointed out a few ways Elon Musk is proving himself to be a lousy leader.
In the interest of piling on, I figure a more balanced report card for scoring Musk’s leadership would be helpful. We’ll base it on, predictably enough, yours truly’s eight tasks of leadership: (1) setting direction, (2) delegating, (3) staffing, (4) decision-making, (5) motivating, (6) managing team dynamics, (7) engineering culture, and (8) communicating.
Musk invented two whole industries from scratch – electric vehicles and private-sector space exploration; three if you include PayPal. I admire these successes but know too little about the leadership skills he brought to them for a fair assessment. So I’m going to limit this report card to his performance taking over leadership of a going concern as Twitter’s new “Chief Twit.” With luck you’ll find useful principles you can apply in your own leadership situations. Here goes:
Setting direction: Grade = godawful. F. Couldn’t possible do worse. As pointed out last week, Musk’s decision to turn Twitter into an uncurated bastion of unfettered free speech ignored Twitter’s entire business model – selling access to its subscribers to advertisers. Advertisers, appalled by the noxious content hundreds of Twitter trolls cheerfully posted, figured there are plenty of other avenues for reaching their target markets.
This would have been an F-minus had Musk not just announced Twitter’s new “de-boost and de-monetize approach to hate speech. Who’s going to program it, though, is anyone’s guess. See “staffing,” below.
Delegating: Grade = F. Indicator: All on his own, Musk is turning off a bunch of microservices he’s decided are bloatware. It’s de-delegation by a manager less qualified than the delegatee, a classic mistake. The grade would be worse, except that he earned it in part with his staffing performance, by getting rid of everyone he should be delegating to.
Staffing: Grade = F-minus, and I’m tempted to extend the grading scale to the G range. Firing the entire executive suite plus half the workforce before figuring out what his dearly departed even did has left Twitter without the expertise needed to lead what remains of a workforce that no longer has, according to some reports, even the ability needed to restore failed servers.
Decision-making: Grade = F. Leaders have five basic ways to make decisions – authoritarianism, consultation, consensus, delegation, and voting. Which to use is situational; each has its own characteristics and trade-offs. Musk apparently relies exclusively on authoritarian decision-making – the best choice in a crisis, but in other situations risks creating more crises than it fixes.
Motivation: Grade = F-minus. As pointed out in this space (for example, here), the three most effective leadership demotivators are arrogance, disrespect, and unfairness. I doubt you need me to detail out specific examples of how Musk has practiced each of these.
Managing team dynamics: Grade = C. I really don’t know how to assess this one. I’m giving Musk a C on the grounds that he has, it appears, ignored team dynamics entirely, except for when he’s laid off entire teams.
Engineering culture: Grade = F. Oh, dear. I’d really like to give Musk credit for something, but given that he’s pretty much blown up the entire workforce along with so many of the inter-staff relationships on which culture depends, I’m not sure there’s a culture left to engineer, nor anyone who cares enough about the organization to start rebuilding one.
Communication: Grade = D. Leaders have to listen – one on one and organizational listening. And they need to inform, to persuade, and to facilitate communication among people who otherwise would ignore each other.
Musk did no organizational listening before starting to gut the organization. He has taken steps to inform everyone, whether or not what he was informing them of was at all wise. He’s relied on his authority to persuade, which never works. And I have no evidence to judge whether he’s engaged in any facilitation, but I doubt it.
Bob’s last word: Were Twitter still a publicly traded corporation my last word would be a recommendation that you short the stock.
But it isn’t, and while it might be ancient history, there are lessons to be learned from ancient history. Here? Once upon a time the dominant social network was MySpace. Rupert Murdoch bought it and destroyed it. Customers, unfazed, shrugged and moved to Facebook.
I trust I don’t need to explain the parallel.
Bob’s sales pitch: Speaking of things I probably don’t need to explain, if you’re looking for a deeper view of the eight tasks of leadership, that’s what I wrote Leading IT: <Still> the Toughest Job in the World to provide.
Elon Musk hasn’t read it and look what that did to him.
Now on CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide: “7 ways CIOs get themselves fired.” Keeping your job as CIO is tough, even when you do everything right. Here are seven ways unwary CIOs make their jobs even riskier.