After the third rocket by Tesla failed, Musk had given his team barely six weeks to get a new rocket ready.
He would often give tight deadlines to his employees.
This tactic worked in his favour many times.
A lot has been written about Elon Musk, the billionaire who grew up in South Africa and made it big in the tech world. Musk, over the past couple of years, has made several headlines for his management style. Be it engaging in public spats with employees or making them commit to difficult working conditions in order to build his version of Twitter, the tech mogul isn’t exactly known for kindness and compassion towards others. But that also, at times, proves to be something that enables him to do the impossible when it comes to work.
American journalist and author Walter Isaacson, who had penned the biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, recently released his new book—the biography of Elon Musk. In the book, Isaacson elaborates on Musk’s childhood, personal life, professional life, and a lot more. And when we talk about his leadership style, there is one tactic prevalent throughout the book- give people a seemingly impossible deadline and make them chase it. And this tactic, in most scenarios, seemed to work for Musk as well as his various companies.
Elon Musk and his impossible deadlines
Isaacson outlines SpaceX’s historical win when it successfully launched a rocket in to the orbit. But this happened after three huge failures.
After the third rocket by Tesla failed, Musk had given his team barely six weeks to get a new rocket ready. This deadline seemed nearly impossible as the team took about 12 months to prepare the second rocket for launch after the first one exploded, and 17 months to prepare the third one when the 2nd rocket failed.
The six weeks deadline, therefore, intimidated those as SpaceX. Tim Buzza, the company’s launch director, told Musk that they would need an Air Force plane to meet the deadline and the billionaire had replied with, “Well, then, just do it.”
When the SpaceX team was on the charter plane, carrying the rocket, it suffered some damage as the plane descended rapidly. The team, with the damaged rocket, reached their destination, which was Kwaj, and started fixing it there on Musk’s orders. Also, the rocket had to be repaired in five days.
Isaacson also writes that as the engineers began working on repairing the rocket, they spotted a large coconut crab that was about 3 feet long. Jokingly, the engineers named this rocket as Musk and under its watch, carried on with their work.
Talking about the experience, Buzza told Isaacson, “It was unlike anything that the bloated companies in the aerospace industry could possibly have imagined. Sometimes his insane deadlines make sense.”
Musk’s meetings with Tesla employees
In the book, Isaacson also talked about how Musk’s meetings with Tesla employees would turn into ‘shouting matches’.
Describing a particular incident, Isaacson quotes Tesla employee Drew Baglino saying that he never wanted to be in a meeting with Musk again after meeting him for the first time.
“He was really harsh. He likes to challenge the messenger, which isn’t always the best approach. He began attacking me,” he told Isaacson.
Tesla co-founder, JB Straubel, also said that Musk used to “get personal” with the engineers during meetings and they would “freak out.”
“Elon is a hypercompetitive guy and challenging him means that a meeting can go to hell,” he said.