No one can do it all, even the wealthiest man in the world.
Elon Musk seems like a very busy guy. He’s spent most of the last month trying to figure out what to do with his newest toy, Twitter. Musk has definitely been making a lot of changes, though it remains to be seen whether any of them are making Twitter any better.
First, he fired most of the executives who had been running the company. Then, he laid off half of its employees. He told the rest they had to agree to be “extremely hardcore,” and instead a bunch of them quit. Recently, Musk has been ordering engineers to email examples of their work and show up to “code reviews,” after which even more employees were fired. Finally, he picked a fight with Apple, which apparently ended after Musk visited Tim Cook in Cupertino.
On top of the drama at Twitter, Musk is CEO of three other companies, SpaceX, Tesla, and The Boring Company. Running any of those companies would be a full time job. Running all of them just seems like it would get overwhelming. It seems like it might increase the chances that you might make mistakes.
Obviously, Musk is responsible for making a lot of decisions. During his testimony in a lawsuit over his pay package as CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk made a startlingly self-aware admission about the way he runs his companies. “When I make decisions without consulting people,” he said, “the probability that those decisions will be wrong is higher.”
That seems like an understatement. In almost any given situation, there is a non-zero chance that there’s someone more qualified than you whose input would help you make a better decision.
The interesting thing about Musk’s statement is that, while he acknowledges that making unilateral decisions on a whim isn’t ideal, I can’t tell whether he understands it’s actually his biggest flaw. It’s not clear as to whether Musk thinks he’s actually ever wrong, or just that the odds increase when he acts without expert input.
The thing is, I think the evidence bears that he is often wrong to the detriment of his reputation and, more importantly, the reputation of the companies he leads. For example, every time he decides to sell a blue checkmark to anyone willing to pay $8–without considering the input of the people who warned him it would dramatically increase the amount of impersonation and chaos on Twitter, he makes the experience worse.
That makes people less likely to use Twitter, and it makes advertisers less willing to spend money. Both of those are very bad for Twitter, and for Musk, who needs to turn the company around quickly in order to repay the debt he incurred when he bought it.
Look, this isn’t that complicated. No one leader is capable of making every decision by themselves. Even in a very small company, there are what seems like an infinite number of things that are outside of your area of expertise. It’s why finding and hiring the most talented and experienced people is such an important job of a leader.
Just below that–in terms of importance–is building a process for consulting with them when it comes time to make decisions. Really, your job, if you’re doing it right, is to listen to the people you hired–presumably because they’re good at whatever they do–and filter their expertise to find the right decisions for your company. That’s true not just for billionaires, but for every leader.
You may be uniquely qualified to lead, and you may have lots of great ideas, but you don’t have all of the ideas. You’re not an expert on everything. Sometimes you can make things up as you go and get lucky. Thinking that luck is the same as success might be the biggest flaw of all. At a minimum, it’s a really poor way to run a company.