What's the worst thing about Elon Musk?
Answer by Nishanth Salinamakki:
It’s true that Elon Musk is seen as nearly perfect (especially in the Quora community). It’s because a very few percentage of people can start one successful company, and he’s founded three (Zip2, SpaceX, PayPal) and been involved in others (Tesla, SolarCity, OpenAI). He’s now leading two companies in two completely different industries that have long-term goals that resemble science fiction. His companies are striving to change the way we live, not consume goods. That kind of success and drive is unprecedented; that’s why Musk is hailed as one of the greatest entrepreneurs and the reason why everyone is obsessed with him. Everyone wants to be like him.
However, no one is perfect, and everyone has a dark side, especially insanely successful men like Elon Musk (often because of the traits that make them successful). Musk’s flaws are highlighted in Ashlee Vance’s comprehensive biography on Musk:.
Elon Musk is not the best with relationships. He even whispered to his first wife during the wedding, “I am the alpha in this relationship”.
He never took no for an answer, and he rode his employees hard, right out of their minds, and sometimes right out of the company. Mary Beth Brown was a devoted assistant to Musk, who was there from the beginning of SpaceX (when it was viewed as a joke) and worked the same hours he did. However, when she asked for a raise, Musk still questioned her value to the company and after telling her to take two weeks off, decided that SpaceX could operate fine without her.
He is uncompromising and demanding, forcing employees to work long hours (if any other CEO did this, no one would work for him/her but since Musk’s companies’ goals are so exciting and meaningful, everyone agrees to pour their heart and soul into the company’s mission).
He had laser-like focus; if there was something he wanted, he would stop at nothing to get it, often sacrificing other personal aspects of his life and leaving behind casualties.
Although he’s extremely humble in interviews, he doesn’t truly see anyone else on the same level as him, and will assert his superiority to remind others of that. His second wife explained to Ashlee Vance that “Elon doesn't have to listen to anyone in life. No one. He doesn't have to listen to anything that doesn't fit into his worldview. But he proved he would take s**t from me.” That makes it difficult for him to relate to others and develop meaningful relationships. But his immense confidence and inability to conceive of himself failing allowed him to establish three successful companies in the first place.
As you start to realize, many successful people have flaws that are not independent. That is, they aren’t separate from all their good traits (work ethic, focus, confidence). In fact, the flaws originate from the very traits that make them successful. Michael Jordan was a ruthless competitor, which made him so great in high-pressure situations and in the game of basketball. However, his gambling problem and intense leadership style stemmed from this incessant competitiveness. Steve Jobs could be vicious to his employees not because he was simply a mean guy, but because of his immense passion for the company, and he demanded utmost perfection from his employees. Nikola Tesla made outlandish claims that he could never live up to. It wasn’t that he was simply a liar and wanted the publicity; he was an engineering visionary and because of this, his mind constantly wandered to these incredible possibilities and visions he dreamt up and as a result, he never focused on one invention.
The point is, even people who are worshipped and idolized are not perfect and can sometime have even more glaring flaws than ordinary people. Many incredibly successful people have an extremity (whether it be immense confidence or insane work ethic or incessant drive), and often, these extremities cause them other problems in life. But these extremities are what ultimately help them attain that level of success.
Moreover, it’s these flaws that humanize them and give us a unique and renewed perspective of who they are. Although most of their imperfections are the result of extremities many people don’t have, it still inspires confidence and helps young generations realize, “Hey, they’re not perfect. They’re humans, just like me. If they’ve come this far and achieved this much, then why can’t I?”