2017 VDTA Convention


Tesla Passes the Test

The best leaders are those whose “best stuff” comes to life in the toughest situations. Elon Musk is not only a creative tech guru – think Tesla and SpaceX – he’s become a leadership model. In a recent message to his team, Musk wrote:

“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.”

Tesla’s safety problems did not affect the performance of their vehicles or the perception of the company by the public – but it did touch its founder.

Here’s what we can learn from Mr. Musk’s message:

  • He showed emotional intelligence and freely said he cared about the safety of his employees. When someone says “it breaks my heart,” that’s real, not just a PR platitude.
  • He owned the problem. He didn’t blame his line managers or faulty equipment for the issues. It didn’t matter to him why there were so many accidents, he just wanted to fix the problem. And he was willing to pitch in and do that himself.
  • He is going to be part of the solution. He’s not going to get reports from the safety team; rather, he will meet with them every week. He’s going to go on the line to perform the problematic tasks himself. He’s willing to get his hands dirty to stop future mishaps.
  • He didn’t hand the problem off. Delegation is a critical management trait. But sometimes issues need to be addressed at the top. Business leaders are always time starved, but sometimes getting down with the troops is the best use of that limited resource.
  • Action vs. Apology. It’s easy to say, “We’re sorry” or that “We hope these things don’t happen again.” Musk instead outlined a specific action plan to improve processes, a plan in which he personally will be involved. In doing so, his employees can now hold him accountable if things don’t improve – and he’s willing to take that risk.
  • Leadership from the front. It’s hard to juggle all the balls business owners have in the air, but the term is leadership not followership.

So how does this apply to you?

  • Get on the floor and watch how your associates interact with their prospects. Commend or coach.
  • When you see bottlenecks, say in your delivery scheduling, meet with that team and show that it’s your problem, too.
  • Call at least one customer every day. Learn their perspectives on doing business with your company.
  • Meet with team members, not just their managers, regularly. Talk to your techs, support staff, and sales associates. They have great ideas that may never get to you. Schedule these meetings in your planner and make them a priority.
  • We often think that our jobs would be easier if we had the resources that larger businesses do. But remember that big companies were once small, and that’s where their culture was formed.

Leadership trickles down. “Command and control” leadership creates robotic employees just there to do their jobs. Leaders committed to the welfare of the staff, the satisfaction of their customers, and making a difference in their communities create engaged employees, loyal customers, and profitable businesses.

About the Author: Elly Valas is a speaker, author, and retail consultant. She shows retailers large and small how to beat the big box stores by using unconventional marketing and sales tactics that are simple, inexpensive, and effective. Her book Guerilla Retailing is available on Amazon.com with more than 14 million copies in print.

Ms. Valas has also worked with many manufacturers to help them take products to retail through the independent channel and train dealers to provide an improved shopping experience. From 1992 through 2003, Ms. Valas was the President and CEO of the North American Retail Dealers Association (NARDA), a trade association providing training, consulting, and business services to independent retailers in the consumer electronics, home appliance, and furniture industries.

Contact her at elly@ellyvalas.com or 303-316-7568 for information about her programs, consulting services, or to purchase her new book, Lessons from the Links.


Reprinted from Floor Care & Central Vac Professional & SQE Professional, August 2017