If I could coach Elon

Reading The New York Times interview with Elon Musk I wanted to say, Let’s coach. His description of the overwhelming amount of work and responsibility, and its personal cost, sounded achingly familiar to me. Many executives (and leaders at all levels) are struggling to meet the requirements of the job. Sure, some will dismiss his raw vulnerability as whining, especially under the lens of privilege. But I am glad to see the often hidden, dark side of success brought to the surface by such a visible role model. Overwork is a real health issue for leaders. Let me offer a few ideas that might be useful to you.

  • Watch out for isolation. Whether its travel, status, introversion, “living in a brilliant mind” many leaders spend too much time alone and working in their heads. Isolation breeds a narrow perspective and can lead to a habit of acting rashly without seeking advice (tweets, anyone). The solution is to create a trusted small circle that you regularly check in with. Then, give them permission to pull you into the real world and give you advice.
  • Give balanced attention to activity and rest.  Self-care is something that many leaders don’t make time for; they are so often focussed on others or on the future. A busy mind can be stimulating and fool you into feeling you’ve been active. Stress takes a toll on our bodies, and it is our physical limits that will often trip us up.  A body needs a good measure of activity and rest. Simply walking in nature has many cognitive and emotional benefits. When leaders schedule regular movement and periods of restoration they are not being selfish, they are being realistic.
  • Keep a journal. I don’t know if Mr. Musk kept a journal, but there is a way in which writing our thoughts helps to quiet our minds. Many people who ruminate too much can let go of troubling, circular thoughts by recording them. Self-reflection allows us to see some of the minute struggles in a greater context, and with more objectivity. Of course, having a diary helps when you are ready to write your memoir too.
  • Ask for help. The hardest part of being a leader is often admitting what isn’t working and that you need help. Leaders hesitate as they figure it out, strategize, problem-solve. “I don’t know what help I need” one brilliant leader told me. That’s okay, ask anyway. The help that is offered may not be what you imagined you needed. “The worst is yet to come” is a tough message to read from Elon Musk. But many people care about Tesla’s success – perhaps more than the number that want it to fail. Surely this is an invite to come and help.

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