An inauguration day primer on leadership from Elon Musk to Donald Trump

On Inauguration Day, individuals all over the world were wondering what the U.S. presidency of Donald Trump will be like. The real estate tycoon, turned reality TV star, turned President of the United States, has met twice with serial tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and would be wise to take some lessons from his leadership model. Musk’s model of leadership has been the driving force behind innovative businesses and he has single-handedly changed how people around the world view energy and transportation.

Explain how your vision can help humankind. Elon Musk’s powerful vision, as articulated in his latest Master Plan, has always contained diverse elements that fit into a larger whole. Musk wants to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy, so that “we can imagine far into the future and life is still good.”

Mr. Trump can capture a somewhat dissatisfied electorate by laying out a vision that benefits all.

Define your terms. “Sustainability” is a word that’s now overused and applied differently, depending on purpose. For Elon Musk, “sustainable” energy is a concept that matters for everyone. He applies it to an energy economy that he argues “will run out of fossil fuels to burn and civilization will collapse.”

If Mr. Trump’s first 100 days resembles his campaign promises, his governmental reform agenda should be clear, concise, and digestible for all the electorate.

Live by what you preach. Musk has often been critiqued for his nontraditional approaches to business, including investments and borrowing. Musk said, “If I ask investors to put money in, then I feel morally I should put money in as well. I should not ask people to eat from the fruit bowl if I have not myself been willing to eat from the fruit bowl.” He is reported to have invested over $100 million of his own money into SpaceX, around $10 million into SolarCity, and $55 million into Tesla Motors, Inc. Even when his companies have experienced volatility, Musk has been resolute in his commitment and self-confident in his decisions.

Never a shrinking wallflower, Mr. Trump, nonetheless, will have to demonstrate that he can empathize with U.S. citizens of all demographics and beliefs by making sacrifices for the good of all.

Be honest and forthright. In order to make his vision of mass produced fully electric cars a reality, in 2010, Tesla was awarded a milestone-based loan, requiring matching private capital obtained via public offering, by the DOE as part of the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program. Tesla repaid the full loan facility with interest in 2013, becoming the only American car company at the time to have fully repaid the government. “I would like to thank the Department of Energy and the members of Congress and their staffs that worked hard to create the ATVM program, and particularly the American taxpayer from whom these funds originate,” said Elon Musk. “I hope we did you proud.”

Mr. Trump, too, should make it a habit to take the high road whenever possible, graciously accepting challenges and thanking individuals across both sides of the U.S. political spectrum for their help.

Do it yourself. Musk’s experience is grounded in his education at the University of Pennsylvania, where, at the age of 24, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the College of Arts and Sciences, and a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business. He worked toward but did not complete a doctorate in applied physics and materials science at Stanford University. Musk has applied his training as an applied engineer into the systems level of design. He is said to work 100 hours per week, side-by-side with his engineers. He is known to test-drive changes being made to Tesla vehicles before it goes out to customers.

Mr. Trump, who is said to be more of a delegator than a decision-maker, would be well-advised to get into the details of governance, to be less of a talker and more of a doer in the model of Elon Musk.

Back up your policies with peer-reviewed data. Musk argues that the move away from fossil fuels is inevitable, and “virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane.” According to NASA, 97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

Mr. Trump should look to multi-layered, data-driven sources as the foundation for his policies in order to best serve  U.S. citizens.

Seek out and listen to feedback. Musk looks to other innovators as sources of ideas and systems analysis. He retains contact with former business associates and considers their opinions and approaches against his own. Constantly engaged in self-analysis, Musk reflects on what he has accomplished, the people who have helped along the way, and how the process could be improved.

Mr. Trump would be well-served to slow down and engage in a habit of self-reflection at regular intervals; it is critical for his success as the U.S. president and for the future health of the United States.

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