Elon Musk – A Modern Authentic Leader

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Elon Musk – A Modern Authentic Leader

Elon Musk is an American businessman. He is the co-founder of PayPal, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, and CEO and product architect at Tesla Motors (Cole, 2021). He has used his skills to aid in the design of electric cars and even spaceships.

First, according to the theory of authentic leadership, Musk had to exhibit positive psychological capacities and moral reasoning, and had to experience a critical event, in order to develop into an authentic leader (Northouse, 2019). Musk was born in South Africa to an engineer and dietician. He received his first computer at 9 and by 12 had coded and sold a video game (Cole, 2021). A clear indicator of his innate capacity for technology.

Unwilling to support apartheid through military service, Musk moved from South Africa to the United States (Cole, 2021). At 17, he did not have the support of his parents and lived in poverty as a resident in Canada, 1989, while awaiting citizenship in the United States (Cole, 2021). This is arguably the first of two critical life events. In 2000, he met Justine Musk who would mother six of his children. Their first child was lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (Cole, 2021), which was the second notable critical life event. In 1992, Musk received a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, which was his golden ticket into the United States (Cole, 2021). Eventually he went on to study at Stanford and began to pursue his technology legacy (Cole, 2021).

Musk is undoubtedly a visionary. He displays all of the four key positive psychological attributes discussed in the Northouse (2019) text. He faced failure and strife, but he maintained his optimism and was able to continue on through his resilience (Northouse, 2019; Cole, 2021). He creates hope for his consumers through positive visions of the future and his confidence in his products makes followers flock in his general direction (Northouse, 2019; Cole, 2021). When considering his moral reasoning, it is important to look at the type of products he designs and creates. Tesla Motors has a significant emphasis on producing environmentally friendly cars (Cole, 2021). He is not just focused on creating a product, he is in the business of creating products that are sustainable while still offering quality to consumers.

When considering Elon Musk under the lens of authentic leadership, it is clear he has the necessary leadership traits. According to published work by Walumba and associates (2008) as discussed by Northouse (2019), the four components of authentic leadership are self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency. Self awareness refers to the leaders understanding of themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses, and how they impact others (Northouse, 2019). They have a strong sense of themselves and what they stand for (Northouse, 2019). Internalized moral perspective is describes an internal understanding of one’s morals and living by those in everyday leadership practice (Northouse, 2019). Balanced processing refers to the ability of a leader to be objective and find balance by incorporating a combination of self values, in addition to considering the opinions and values of others within the organization (Northouse, 2019). Rational transparency is about one’s ability to express their true self to others, regardless of whether the aspects of themselves are positive or negative (Northouse, 2019). When a leader exhibits these qualities, it creates a sense of trust and authenticity in followers. Musk, as a leader, has the capability to create balance between who he is, the vision he has created for the world, and acknowledging the importance of the strength of his team (Cole, 2021). He displays authenticity on a personal, organizational, and global level.



Cole, R. (2021, June 24). Elon Musk. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Elon-Musk.

Northouse, P. G. (2018). Leadership: Theory and Practice. 8th Edition. Los Angeles: Sage Publications


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