What Leaders Could Learn From How Elon Musk Communicates

Recently, an email went public that entrepreneur Elon Musk sent to Tesla employees. Although it was originally sent a few years ago, it reveals a lot about how communication is handled at Tesla, and the implications for other organizations – including churches, ministries, and nonprofits. Take a look and then think about how Musk’s philosophy could impact your organization. Here’s the email (which Tesla has verified was sent to all employees):

Subject: Communication Within Tesla

There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company.

Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one department talks to a person in another department and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other department who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding.

Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another department, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well. We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size, so we must do so with intelligence and agility.

One final point is that managers should work hard to ensure that they are not creating silos within the company that create an us vs. them mentality or impede communication in any way. This is unfortunately a natural tendency and needs to be actively fought. How can it possibly help Tesla for departments to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collective? We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your department.

Thanks,
Elon

I don’t really have to add anything, accept for the fact that Amazon’s Jeff Be­zos still encourages em­ploy­ees to email him di­rectly for his guid­ance – even with 450,000 glob­al employees. So these extraordinary leaders must be on to something.

Have you ever worked in an organization that had hard and fast rules for communication between departments or employees? (And worse – silos.)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • BabaSege

    Sadly, yes I have.

    Not just in the workplace, but in churches too. The example this sets for leadership development isn’t very good at all.

    One outcome is that there are lots of little bottlenecks here and there that would quite easily resolved be addressed if the flow of information and communication was much more … FREE.

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  • Nathan Jones

    And undermine the empire of the middle manager? No way! Musk is so way ahead of the curve in so many areas. Thank you for sharing!