Hate Elon Musk all you want, but he’s got one of those management tricks every boss should emulate.

Elon Musk is not a good boss. Her delusional demands of him and questionable management practices tell of him as a capricious and unreliable leader. Now, despite his abuse and the old-fashioned orders he gives his employees, you have to admit that he’s right about one thing.

In an email just before Thanksgiving, Musk told employees that “managers are expected to handle some of the software programming” and likened an engineer’s inability to program to a captain’s. cavalry to ride a horse. Musk’s point is important, and I’ve made it before : bosses need to be able to do the same job as those they lead.

Bosses have distanced themselves alarmingly from the average worker, making decisions based on assumptions that are not based on actual work. This frustrating separation has poisoned much of modern management, creating a class system within organizations where a bloated sect of isolated traffic cops take advantage of worker labor without participating in it or properly valuing it.

Although there is some truth to Musk’s message, his idea of ​​what constitutes a manager’s contribution to the company’s final product is totally out of place, and of course there is the problem of the messenger himself: a poster child for the misplaced boss. who demands excessive dedication from his employees while he himself provides little value. But despite problems with both the messenger and the message, valuable treasure can be extracted. 

the right message

Today’s management culture is rotten: managers have stopped doing real work, the kind of work needed to create a final product that makes a company money. Instead of being in a position where respect is earned through execution and actual work, bosses have become figureheads rather than enforcers, mired in endless work that a cottage industry of “advisors” claims which is necessary to demonstrate its value.

That is why Musk is somewhat right: a boss must actively participate in the process he manages and have a thorough understanding of the activity that is being carried out. A person managing programmers needs to be able to contribute to and review that code, just as a person managing cooks needs to be able to prepare food alongside them. A truly “useful” manager is someone who operates on the basis of practical experience, leading from a place of respect for both employees and the work they are doing. This type of knowledge engenders goodwill between employee and boss , creating a culture of mutual respect that can increase communication and facilitate better performance.

Balancing management skills and technical knowledge is an active debate in the software industry, where, depending on who you ask, an engineering manager’s interest or ability to code depends on whether the team can function without him. . Scott Berkun, author of Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management , told the SD Times that he believed the two disciplines were somewhat opposite: “Programming requires intense concentration without interruptions, while management requires dealing with constant interruptions and change of mind.” context. Being able to do both is not something that many people can do in practice,” he said.

Berkun is not wrong: the incredible concentration and discipline it takes to constantly write, test, and execute code are very different attributes to those of a manager. In addition, the fact of being a good and productive worker is not enough to be a good boss. Being in charge of employees is a unique skill that requires your own training and knowledge. Going from producing valuable work for the company to leading a team of employees is not for everyone. 

As I have suggested above , the ratio of managers to the people they manage should be much higher if the manager is not doing the actual work, but even then, lack of hands-on experience will hinder their effectiveness. But because manager status has become the only real avenue for promotion at many companies, many organizations end up with a hodgepodge of disconnected bosses or micro-managers who aren’t the right fit for the job. 

Asking bosses to do a little work just to “prove” themselves would be administrative work called something else. What I mean is that the big bosses need to be part of the process. It is essential that managers understand and respect the work of those they lead in order to have the empathy necessary both to make the right decisions and to create the conditions necessary for the success of their employees.

the wrong messenger

The irony of Musk’s call for managers to become more involved in the work of their teams is that Musk himself is exactly the kind of manager he says he hates : disconnected from the process, oblivious to the company culture, and clearly confused about how your own product works. 

Musk has demanded that managers be able to create “good code,” but he doesn’t appear to be much of a programmer himself. Jackson Palmer, co-creator of dogecoin, called Musk a “con man” who “had trouble getting basic code to work” in his interactions. Musk has become obsessed with code review, asking workers for ” up to 10 screenshots of your most prominent lines of code ,” which developers who contacted me likened to “an aerospace engineer being asked for his most important airplane parts” or “ask a car mechanic to show you his top 10 screws”.

While Musk may claim to want Twitter to be agile and efficient, he is directly bogging down his valuable engineering teams by asking them to prove themselves using elements that don’t make sense, too demanding for teams already on the edge.

And it’s not just his bizarre code requests that have exposed Musk as a miserable boss: By trying to prove he knows how to “fix” Twitter, he’s managed to commit just about every sin a boss can commit. He has isolated himself, fired many longtime members of the company, and surrounded himself with sycophants and family members with no real knowledge of the company. 

He has attacked teams critical of Twitter and pushed others to quit, leading to a huge increase in hate speech on the platform . He has shown no respect for his employees and has fired those who criticize his “slash and burn” approach. When Musk took over Twitter, he stated that all employees would have to submit to an extremely harsh culture that included “working long hours at high intensity,” adding that “only exceptional performance will qualify as a pass.” 

Following this menacing gibberish, Musk fired thousands of people days before Thanksgiving in an attempt to instill fear and order in anyone “lucky enough” to still work at the company. He has instituted “code reviews” that last until the wee hours of the morning . And he has forced Twitter workers to work unreasonable and abusive hours at the company, to the point that Musk has ( potentially illegally ) turned several rooms in Twitter headquarters into dormitories . 

You are using one of the oldest (and worst) forms of management: indicating that hard work will continue until morale improves and that the best result is achieved by openly intimidating workers.

But setting aside, if at all, Musk’s decisions to make the platform he bought more harmful and dangerous , these moves show he doesn’t understand what makes good work. He is imposing long, grueling hours, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that this process burns out workers and worsens productivity . 

Musk, who is supposedly obsessed with productivity, doesn’t seem to have any interest in evidence showing that working more than 40 hours a week hurts people’s ability to perform : he just wants more hours and more work so he can save money and pay the bulky debt of the social network .

Instead of instilling a culture of trust that allows employees to manage their own hours to produce more and better, Musk has set himself up as a leader in the anti-remote culture that believes “entitled” employees have too much of it. easy and that the office is the only way to make sure they “put in the time,” despite the evidence that many workers are more productive from home .

Of course, these notions are often driven by extremely well-off executives who feel they are losing control of their company, in large part because they never really understood or participated in the work that made them rich. Your only means of evaluating the quality of employees’ work is the time spent completing tasks: the product must be better if it took more time and visible effort to produce it. 

But this short-sighted approach to hours spent ignores that time is only one factor in producing something valuable. Workers are independent creatures who use their skills to create something, and evaluating the final product itself, rather than the time it took to create it, is the sign of a good manager or executive.

Musk was right that managers need to deliver value for their companies, but what’s galling about that message is that their own contributions aren’t self-evident . In fact, it’s been a clear drag on Twitter : The company’s ad revenue is down 15% year-on-year in the Middle East and Africa, weekly bookings are down 49%, and 50 of its top 100 advertisers have abandoned the platform since it started. Musk took care of her.

He’s being sued over what a former Twitter engineer called “clumsy and inhumane” firings , and his ill-planned launch of a subscription service for Twitter verification led to several brands being humiliated at the hands of the world’s sharpest Tweeters. . And as Musk continues to demand more of his workers, we’ll see his executive vision continue to falter, because he fundamentally has no respect for the people who keep his companies alive. 

This is the irony of Musk’s view on bosses. In a sense, he understands that status and pecking order do not determine a person’s value to the company. He clearly knows that a good manager is one who feels empathy for his employees and is not only willing to be at the foot of the canyon with the workers, but also actively does so. But he lacks self-reflection to recognize his own shortcomings in this regard. 

It is really rare to understand the ability of a high-ranking person to lead and manage a company, and Musk has shown that being rich and successful does not mean being a good leader. In fact, by his own logic of how managers can contribute to the company, Musk should be firing himself one of these days.


Tricare west is a global news publication that tells the stories you want to know.

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