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How Elon Musk embodies the principles of Cool, Calm, and Respected Leadership

wish I could say that Elon Musk read my book, Cool, Calm, and Respected: 8 Leadership Concepts for Work and Home, and it prompted his decision to work side-by-side with his employees on the Tesla factory floor, doing the same work that they do.

I’m pretty sure he hasn’t (read my book, that is), but I was thrilled to see that an email Musk sent to all employees contained many aspects from the first chapter, “Helicopters and Humvees®”.

report by Electrek notes that the email was prompted by Musk’s determination to reduce a higher than average injury rate at Tesla’s Fremont factory.

“No words can express how much I care about your safety and wellbeing. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful.

Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.

This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower.Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own.”

“Towers and Teslas” = “Helicopters and Humvees”

Based on what Musk is doing, the “Helicopters and Humvees” chapter could aptly be renamed “Towers and Teslas”.

The idea is that Helicopters and Humvees provide distinct yet complementary views of the same environment.

The view from the helicopter is that of upper management or ANYONE WHO MANAGES OTHERS. We expect executives and senior managers to have a vision, provide direction, and develop the broader strategies for their organizations based on this perspective. They’re also there to provide resources and remove roadblocks for their teams to accomplish the desired goal.

The view from the Humvee is that of MIDDLE MANAGEMENT and INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTORS. They are intimately acquainted with the inner workings of an organization and have a far better sense of the day-to-day challenges and opportunities.

RECOMMENDATIONS that relate directly to Musk’s actions in his helicopter role:

  • Take a Humvee ride: He is getting a firsthand view of the issues faced
  • Extend an invitation for a helicopter ride: He is engaging them to help him understand what they need
  • Leverage your helicopters unique abilities: He is using his position as CEO to drive the necessary changes
  • Drop ship supplies: He intends to give them what they need and to make the necessary changes to reduce injuries

RECOMMENDATIONS that relate to those on the factory floor include:

  • Tour the tough roads: Expose him to the dirty details, rather than shield him from the most challenging or seemingly insignificant aspects of the role
  • Give them something to take back up: Fully leverage this opportunity to educate and inform him

KEY PRINCIPLE of “Helicopters and Humvees”

The key principle of the “Helicopters and Humvees” concept is that the most effective visions, strategies, decisions, plans, and outcomes are usually attained when BOTH the helicopter and the Humvee perspective are taken into account and integrated.

Frequently interacting in deliberate and positive ways helps to build mutual respect and trust. The idea is to not only see it, but to also EXPERIENCE it, from the other side.

Whether you’re in a helicopter or Humvee role (or perhaps even both), when was the last time YOU experienced it from the other side?

A SYSTEM of EQUALITY = “The Key to the Tree”

Another leadership principle Musk embodies is a System of Equality

The same Elektra report makes reference to another email in which Musk shares his philosophy on creating a working environment “based on a SYSTEM of EQUALITY, without artificial barriers”.

“Everyone will have equal access to parking, eating the same tables, and there will be no management offices. I am convinced that managers should work at the forefront, in the same work environment as the entire team. Even though I run the company myself, I still do not have my own office and often moved my workplace to the most challenging area in the factory and slept on the factory floor when there was a real crisis. Managers should always take care of their team before they take care of themselves — the supervisor is there to serve his team — not the other way round.”

The “Key to the Tree”

I was excited to see that the sentiment of equality at work relates to “The Key to the Tree” concept in the book. “The Key to the Tree” is you and how you choose to behave in it.

Whether we like it or not, family trees and organization charts are HIERARCHICAL in nature, ranking one person or group above another according to status, seniority, and authority.

Even organizations that adopt a more flat structure have reporting levels. Having a chain of command is usually effective and necessary, but, by its very nature, it can lead to ATTITUDES OF ENTITLEMENT and SUPERIORITY, and even to UNHEALTHY COMPETITION as people scramble over each other to get to the top.

The levels of power, and the importance of these tree structures are, ironically, not mimicked in natural trees. The quality of the fruit at the bottom is just as good as the fruit at the top.

While hierarchical structures exist in society, you do not need to have a HIERARCHICAL MINDSET that leads to feelings of entitlement, superiority, or inferiority. The key is to acknowledge the tiers and find ways to navigate your way through them.

How you see yourself and how you treat others is a FAR GREATER DISTINGUISHER OF CHARACTER and personal progress, than your rank in a hierarchy.

Shared Leadership Philosophies

Beyond Wishful Thinking

Beyond wishful thinking, I’d like to think that besides the common roots we share as individuals who were both born in South Africa and are now living in the United States, we also share some LEADERSHIP PHILOSOPHIES as it relates to how we lead others and ourselves.

There is no doubt that Elon Musk’s leadership principles have contributed to his phenomenal success and impact on the world. He instinctively cultivates principles identified in Cool, Calm, and Respected: 8 Leadership Concepts for Work and Home as indispensable for leaders both in corporate and in family environments.

My personal wish is that if you and I can make a positive impact to corporate culture by virtue of the way we show up as leaders, we can stand as proud as Elon Musk, one of the most transformational leaders of our time!

If you’d like more “Helicopters and Humvees” recommendations, feel free to click here for a COMPLIMENTARY copy of the chapter!

Diane Chang was born in South Africa and now lives in the United States. She and her husband raised their two children on a drama-free foundation of trust and mutual respect and she carried this nurturing style from home to work, allowing her to build happy and engaged teams. With over 25 years of both hands-on and senior management experience in Information Technology, Diane is now focused on what has always been the most rewarding part of her career — mentoring and coaching others, and ultimately fostering positive work environments. Diane is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Forbes Coaches Council.

If you need a speaker or want to learn how to lead others and yourself more effectively, call Diane at (949) 422–6220 or email

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