How Capable Leaders Effect Change

by | Jul 10, 2017

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How Capable Leaders Effect Change

Tesla’s safety record has recently come under attack.

Employees at the carmaker’s Fremont, California plant were getting injured at a rate far exceeding the industry average.

Elon Musk, the company’s famed CEO, vowed to fix the problem. How?

He started with a note to every employee in the company …

Here, in part, is what it said:

“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.”

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Inertia is the tendency to remain unchanged.

Inertia is a powerful, omnipresent force in nature. It exists in everyone and everything, all matter. Inertia is why we need time to “wake up” in the morning. It’s why some of us have trouble falling asleep at night.

Inertia could prolong unhealthy routines, keeping people in bad jobs and toxic relationships. It keeps employees bound to the processes they’ve always known, good or bad.

Inertia could prolong unhealthy routines. It keeps employees bound to the processes they’ve always known, good or bad.

Musk’s message was designed to effect change, to squash the negative inertia his employees and managers were pinned to.

He did a masterful job …

How to effect change at work:

Whether you manage one employee or an entire organization, like Musk, you can lean on these tactics to garner not only trust and credibility, but to effect change by way of a new perspective.

True change. Are you ready?

Here’s what made his message so compelling:

1. It bleeds empathy.

“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.”

Empathy is the capacity to identify and acknowledge the emotions of others.

As a leader, you’re in the relationship business, which is built on the premise that those who support you come first. People want to know that that is, in fact, the case. That they’re not cogs in a machine but, rather, respected professionals without whom business comes to a halt.

A leader’s sincere, consistent, empathetic approach to the well-being of his or her staff—to their needs—is a potent way to illustrate this.

2. It establishes a plan.

“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.”

A plan is a sequence of actions designed to achieve a specific goal.

Aside from giving direction, a plan creates stability. It facilitates decision making. It lets people know what to expect. A plan is usually a source of comfort, not to mention a sign that change is on the horizon.

Capable leaders are good at 1) creating a plan and 2) seeing it through, which brings me to my next point…

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3. It sets a standard.

“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.”

A standard is an agreed upon norm. It’s the way things should be.

In many ways, a standard is a commitment from one entity to another. In this case, it’s a promise from the CEO of one of the largest car manufacturers in the world to do the right thing for his people.

It’s a compelling gesture that acknowledges fault while pledging change—and that combination can make all the difference.

The Gist:

Getting into a rut is easy. Digging your way out is exponentially more difficult. It takes effort to shift the winds of inertia …

Here’s what business leaders can learn from Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, who effected change on a grand scale.

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