In a comment which is very telling of his leadership style, Musk once famously stated; “Meetings are what happens when people aren’t working.” Yet his name has become somewhat synonymous with effective meetings due to his ability to extract productivity from every fibre of his employees. Using his fierce and driven personal style to approach every facet of his work, Musk has not only elevated the concept of what a successful meeting is, but he has also revolutionised it.
His techniques aren’t always typical, but there can be no denying that they’re effective at the very least. The results of which tend to be a synergistic, innovative, and engaging environment, which somehow manages to be both intense and supportive. It isn’t an approach that everyone can pull off without the likelihood of driving a nervous breakdown in employees, but there are aspects of Musk’s approach to conducting a meeting that can be extrapolated to anyone who needs a little more panache in their meeting style.
To start us off (Musk-lite, if you will), there are three rather basic rules that Musk aims to apply to effective meetings;
No Large Meetings
Musk has pleaded with his followers to “Please get rid of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.” It all boils down to planning really, as the planning stage includes thinking about who really needs to be there. When conducting a meeting, basically cut the fat; if a specific topic isn’t relevant to all attendees at a meeting then they will sit there thinking of all the better things that they could be doing.
"In accordance with Musk's stance - only invite individuals to a meeting if you truly believe that they will add or receive value."
If You’re Not Adding Value, Leave!
Musk’s next rule of thumb in regards to a successful meeting is that if you’re not adding value to a meeting, leave. This may sound a little cutthroat initially, but is there any worse feeling than knowing that you’re somewhere that you don’t belong? Not to be confused with imposter syndrome, but if you truly believe that you shouldn’t be at a meeting the best solution according to Musk is “Walk out or drop off a conference call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value.” Some individuals would genuinely baulk at such straightforward advice – but think about it; this could help build transparency and authenticity into the fibres of meetings if it’s used regularly and effectively. According to Musk, it’s not rude at Tesla to walk out of a meeting where you’re not adding value; “It’s expected. It’s not rude to leave. It is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.” This is such a person-centred approach to meetings that it’s no wonder Elon Musk is so successful at them.
Hold Meetings Infrequently
The reason for conducting meetings is usually to resolve issues through raising issues and achieving a resolution, therefore as Musk stated; “Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.” Holding meetings when they’re not necessary will become frustrating for all involved as its counterproductive and will end up wasting valuable time. When considering holding a meeting, always ask yourself how urgent the meeting is – could the objectives be achieved through email or a group chat?
Musk is one of the world's best known entrepreneurs, and is the founder and CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX.
At a sublevel, Elon Musk requires that everyone who attends his meetings is prepared. And by this, he doesn’t just mean have a pen and paper at hand. He expects his attendees to have contributions that are well researched and game ready. He expects his passion to be reflected in his team, making it difficult for an employee who isn’t prepared to demonstrate that they have done their homework. In other words, he wants proactive preparation instead of a phoned-in, preparation by numbers exercise.
On a more specific level, Musk further expects these attributes;
Musk doesn’t want a load of hyperbole and filler content at his meetings. He expects coherency based on base-level facts. If something sounds complicated and daunting, he expects it to be stripped back so that all in attendance can make sense of the information being disseminated to them. He requires his attendee’s to not only think outside the box but deconstruct and analyse the whole structure and figure out how the box is put together.
Equality of Expectations
Another very important factor that Musk brings to his meetings is to never expect more from his employees that he does himself. He has been quoted as saying “No matter how hard you work, someone else is working harder.” He expects results, and fast. There is no denying that to work for Elon Musk must be intimidating, but he applies the same rules and expectations to all staff at all levels. What’s more important, is that he expects it of himself too. This approach needs to be viewed in a cautionary manner, however – emulating this style of intensity can lead to employee burnout and resentment, which can ultimately reduce productivity. Taking a reasonable approach to some of Musk’s meeting style may allow for more employee freedom in terms of approaching projects in a solution-focused manner which may ultimately lead to more effective results.
Long term goal focus
There is no quick route to success, and Elon Musk is the perfect example of this. He has not just experienced a bumpy ride with the prosperity of Tesla and SpaceX, but he has been put through stratospheric hoops. Yet he remained goal-focused, and always kept the end product in mind. The same perspective should be applied to a meeting – keep employees mindful of the end result and devise milestones as an incentive if needed. These will then help to create achievable objectives for all involved.