Real-Life Superhero Leaders: Elon Musk

But Musk isn’t trying to change the world with everything. He believes that a “usefulness optimization” should be used wherein, even a marginal increase of making someone’s life better is worthwhile if it occurs for a large enough group of people.

Lesson #3 for mere mortals:  While changing the world is great, all goals don’t need to be world-changing. As long as you’re making someone’s life better, you’re impacting the world.

Superpower #4: Extremely smart yet basic thinking – One only has to look at Elon Musk’s simultaneous role as leader of multiple companies to understand the superpower in how he thinks differently. Musk relies on a thinking approach called “first principles”[6] which is looking at the world from a physics mindset and boiling things down to the most essential and basic fundamental truth. Using this as the starting point, everything is reasoned up from there. This way of thinking has allowed Musk to see complex concepts and problems differently than someone who thinks analogously, which is more common.

Musk is changing the world in a lot of different areas at the same time, and while it may appear that he is multitasking on a grand scale, instead he is a master of prioritizing and compartmentalizing. He prioritizes the stepping stones to a vision[3] through which things have to occur and puts 90 – 95% of his attention on the present issue and avoids distraction by not getting ahead of what has been accomplished. Musk also described thinking about certain aspects of his different companies for “a half hour per week” which points to an ability to compartmentalize and set things aside until it’s time to focus on that particular piece.

Lesson #4 for mere mortals:  Think differently. Start with the fundamental truths and then reason your way through the steps to arrive at logical conclusions. Said another way, start with a problem, and when you can’t ask any more questions and are down to the core idea, you’re using first principles thinking.

Claiming Your Superpower 

Do you possess any of Elon Musk’s superpowers? While his superpowers come together in a most spectacular way, perhaps you have one or two strengths that resemble the list above. If these just aren’t in your wheelhouse, don’t despair. Remember there are lots of superheroes, each one with different superpowers.

How can you claim your “superpower”? You start with uncovering what it is. Your superpower may be an internal behavior that you possess and take for granted. You may not be aware of its potential power or haven’t paused to recognize the significance of this trait in the past. For example, there is at least one time in every leader’s career when you’ve done something that demonstrated brilliance. Think about that time in your life and, specifically, what you did.

Remember when you demonstrated an act of brilliance.

The situation in which you demonstrated this amazing strength may have faded from memory, but it’s still there. It was uniquely yours, a flash of amazingness, and perhaps you had no idea you had it in you. That trait you demonstrated quite possibly is your superpower and is a good starting point. A superpower is an extraordinary internal strength that helps you be successful. Just as your goal or passion doesn’t have to be world changing, neither does your unique strength.

[1] Elon Musk: How I became the real ‘Iron Man’, (2014, June 10). Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mh45igK4Esw

[2] Musk, E. (2017, March 30). Tesla and SpaceX: Elon Musk’s Industrial Empire. CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tesla-and-spacex-elon-musks-industrial-empire/

[3] Musk, E. (December 11, 2015). Elon Musk: Elon Musk’s Vision for the Future. STVP Future Fest, Stanford eCorner. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVk1hb0ZOrE (Original work broadcast October 7, 2015)

[4] Musk, E. (2017, November 26). Elon Musk Incredible Speech – Motivational Video by Mulligan Brothers. Motivation Archive. Retrieved fromhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QygpaIJclm4 (Original work broadcast March 30, 2017)

[5] Buntinx, JP. (2017, March 18). Top 6 Solar Companies in the United States. The Merkle. Retrieved from https://themerkle.com/top-6-solar-companies-in-the-united-states/

[6] Hoffman, Jayme. (2016, September 15). First Principles and the Art of Thinking Like Elon Musk. The Mission. Retrieved from https://medium.com/the-mission/first-principles-and-the-art-of-thinking-like-elon-musk-98658bb36569

Carly Vivian
Carly Vivianhttps://www.slalom.com/
CARLY is an expert in leadership development and organizational change management (OCM). Her mission is to reinvent how people think about change, replacing fear and inertia with clarity of direction and forward momentum. Carly loves to work with leaders and help guide them and their teams through major transitions with agility, connection, and commitment. As a leader in Slalom's Business Advisory Services practice, she leads strategic initiatives to bring new levels of transformation and change management to clients. With 20+ years of consulting experience and deep expertise in executive coaching, organization effectiveness, strategy, and team effectiveness, she has a proven track record for delivering solutions that drive growth, accelerate innovation and result in improved outcomes. Carly can be reached at [email protected]


  1. What is the same about leaders and superheros?
    More often than not, both are in good shape. They stand strong and hold the same poses, with the chin raised, minus the hands on the hips.

    And if you have some muscles, you project a stronger leadership presence. I’ve only ever see only one exception to the rule.