Elon Musk Says Napoleon Taught Him How to Motivate Employees

Elon Musk Says Napoleon Taught Him How to Motivate Employees. Science Says It Works – but There Is a Catch Musk believes military history offers lessons that apply to corporate life.


Like Elon Musk or not (is there a middle ground?), it’s hard not to respect his work ethic. Musk sometimes puts in 120-hour weeks, and says startup founders should put in 80-hour weeks.


Clearly Musk likes to work, but he also thinks the way he uses some of those hours helps motivate his employees. According to Walter Isaacson, author of the acclaimed biography Jobs (and next month’s Elon Musk), Musk likes military history, and applies some of its lessons to leadership.


As Isaacson recently said:

For example, he believes that wherever Napoleon was, that’s where his armies would do best, so he liked to show up late at night on the assembly lines at Tesla and SpaceX.


“If they see their general on the battlefield,” Musk said, “they will be more motivated. I learned that by reading about Napoleon.”


Granted, Napoleon might not be a great role model for long-term success, but still: Science says he has a point.


The Hawthorn Effect

We tend to change our behavior when we’re being observed; that’s the Hawthorne effect.


Since you are what you measure, if you measure productivity, your employees will typically be more productive. If you measure quality, quality will typically improve. In a broader sense, increased attention from bosses – or in this case, from Musk – typically improves job performance.


Still, Musk can’t be everywhere at once. Neither can you.


And oddly enough, that’s OK.


The Mere Exposure Effect

Imagine that you attend an in-person college class for a semester. You never speak up. You never speak to anyone. You’re just there.


Will the people in the class consider you likable? It all depends on how often you attend.


In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the same four women attended a number of different classes. Sometimes certain women would attend every class. Sometimes they attended half the classes. Sometimes they attended only one or two. What didn’t vary was how they communicated. They never spoke.


To anyone.


At the end of the semester, students were asked which of the women they liked best. The ones who attended the most classes were consistently rated as most likable, while the ones who attended the fewest classes were rated as least likable.


That seems odd, since none of the women ever interacted with anyone. How can you decide you like me – or don’t like me – if you’ve never talked to me?


According to the researchers:

Mere exposure had weak effects on familiarity, but strong effects on attraction and similarity.


Which is a fancy way of saying, “The more often I see you, the more I will like you.” And research shows likable people tend to be more effective leaders.


But what if it’s physically impossible for your employees to “see their general on the battlefield”? What if, like Musk, your business is in multiple locations: Even if you work 120-hour weeks, at best you still may see only the majority of your employees a few times a year.


Lack of presence should decrease likability.


Unless you do this. In a classic study first published in Human Relations, researchers gave participants profiles of two people and told them one would be a partner in future discussion groups.


Then, when asked, participants said they liked their future partner more than the other person, even though the profiles were basically identical.


According to the researchers:

When a person is in a unit relationship (meaning you’re part of an organization or team or even just a discussion group) with another person, there is a tendency toward making the relationship harmonious.


This harmony may be achieved by liking the other person.


No one likes to be in a unit relationship with someone they don’t like. So if I know I’ll see you, even though I’m not sure when – a la Musk showing up in the middle of the night on the factory floor – I’ll instinctively be primed to like you.


All you have to do, when we actually meet, is not screw it up. (Which may or may not be Musk’s strong suit.)


Exposure in Action

The mere exposure effect – frequent, consistent presence – is a major factor in likability. So is anticipated presence. Increased attention from bosses typically improves performance.


Want to be a better leader? You don’t have to start sleeping on the factory or office floor to inspire employees to “give it their all,” but you can show up more often. Stop by. Make a call. Send an email.


Be a consistent presence, whether in person or virtually, if only for a few minutes at a time.


If doing that seems impractical – although I would argue it’s not – make sure your employees know when you will show up. Let them know when you’ll visit their location. Set regular Zoom meetings, even if those sessions are months apart. Send regular update emails.


When people know you will show up – even if your actual presence is infrequent – they will like you more, and be more likely to be more engaged and productive.


As long as you don’t screw it up.


Source: Inc Africa – Jeff Haden

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