As a child in South Africa, Elon Musk was always known as intelligent and clever, yet highly choosy about how he chose to engage and utilize his gifted efforts. For a class or topic he was interested in, Musk dove in head first and excelled. For topics less interesting to him, well, Musk could not be bothered to participate[i]. However, computers did interest him, and by the age of 12, Musk had already taught himself computer programming and created a video game called Blastar[ii], which he later sold (and you can still play online!). He went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in both physics and economics. He lasted a mere two days at Stanford University as a Ph.D. student in applied physics and material sciences before dropping out for entrepreneurial pursuits. The rest of course, as they say, is history.
A leader of noted innovative companies such as the commercial spaceflight company SpaceX, electric car manufacturer Tesla, and Los-Angeles’-Traffic-Is-Awful-Let’s-Fix-It-Industrial-Company, The Boring Company, there are mixed attributions to Musk’s leadership success. Some point to his clear, remarkable intelligence; however, modern leadership studies indicate that though high intelligence contributes to better job performance, its relationship to good leadership isn’t as strong[iii]. Have you ever seen Musk reach out to and interact with his fans and consumers on Twitter? That conscientiousness or emotional intelligence, coupled with extraverted tendencies, are more likely the keys to his leadership success.
So, how do you become a leader? While intelligence helps, it is not the only indicator; there are also learned skills that researchers have determined contribute to leadership success. If you are a good problem solver with excellent social judgment and a deep knowledge of your product, you may make an excellent leader as well. And who knows? Maybe you will be the one to solve Los Angeles’ gridlock before Musk does.
[i] Vance, A. (2012, September 13). Elon Musk, the 21st Century Industrialist. Retrieved May 30, 2018, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-09-13/elon-musk-the-21st-century-industrialist
[ii] O’Kane, S. (2015, June 09). Play the PC game Elon Musk wrote as a pre-teen. Retrieved June 2, 2018, from https://www.theverge.com/2015/6/9/8752333/elon-musk-blastar-pc-game
[iii] Judge, T.A., Colbert, A.E., & Ilies, R. (2004). Intelligence and leadership: A quantitative review and test of theoretical propositions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(3), 542-552.