Elon Musk's Napoleon inspiration: How alike are they?

The writer of Musk's biography says the billionaire applies military lessons to corporate life.
Sejal Sharma
Are Elon Musk (left) and Napoleon Bonaparte (right) similar at all?
Are Elon Musk (left) and Napoleon Bonaparte (right) similar at all?

1, 2 

A brilliant tactician with an autocratic leadership style, and known for making decisions without consulting his subordinates. This is what is said about French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s leadership style.

Sounds familiar?

Walter Isaacson, writing a biography on Musk’s life titled ‘Elon Musk,’ said in an interview that Musk studied and analyzed Bonaparte’s leadership style for motivation. The book will be out on September 12, 2023.

Isaacson is a renowned author and journalist who has written biographies on the lives of Apple founder Steve Jobs and physicist Albert Einstein. Musk’s biography talks about different facets of his life, including the years growing up, his complicated relationship with his father, and his portfolios of companies - SpaceX, Tesla, and Twitter.

Isaacson shadowed Musk for two years

As part of research for the book, Isaacson attended Musk’s meetings and interviewed his family, friends, co-workers, and contemporaries.

"He likes military history," Isaacson told Axios, adding that Musk likes to read and listen to World War I history. "And he believes there are lessons that apply to corporate life."

"For example," Isaacson continued, "he (Musk) 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."

Musk is the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and owner of X, one of the biggest social media platforms. He is known for his bold ideas and daring leadership, leading to some bold innovations in the automobile and space industry. But, over the last year, his leadership has been characterized as erratic and more of a knee-jerk reaction to a problem at hand.

And that, too, in the full view of the public.

Inspired by the French emperor

On the contrary, Bonaparte’s leadership style was characterized by a strong focus on order and control. He believed that he could achieve the best possible outcome if he were at the top at all times, with a strict hierarchical structure.

"If they see their general on the battlefield, they will be more motivated," is what Musk learned from reading about Napoleon, Isaacson told Axios. And this is why he started spending more and more time in his factories and offices to motivate his employees.

Speaking in 2022 at the 29th Annual Baron Investment Conference in New York, Musk admitted that although sleeping on the floor was uncomfortable and made him smell like dust, he would switch to sleeping from couches at his factories to sleeping under his desk so his employees could see him as they came in for their shifts.

He said he wanted to show his staff that he wasn't "drinking Mai Tais on a tropical island." This was shortly followed by mass layoffs in X when it was known as Twitter. Over 7,500 employees were fired after Musk took over the microblogging company.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board