Leadership

What you can learn from self-made billionaire Elon Musk about emotional intelligence

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has an important trait for a CEO, leadership and management expert Justin Bariso tells CNBC Make It: He has high emotional intelligence.

As Musk powers through 80-to-90 hour work weeks, he still manages to balance spending time with his family with responding firsthand to concerns of Tesla customers over Twitter. But beyond that, he's able to identify others' emotions and change the way he works with people in order to better lead, according to Bariso.

"Effective leadership is due to a lot of factors and emotional intelligence is one," Bariso says. "If you understand how your words affect a group of people or how it will impact an individual, you will become more purposeful."

Bariso, who has an upcoming book, "EQ, Applied," defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify emotions and understand how they work to inform your behavior. It's "the ability to make emotions work for you instead of against you," he explains.

Data from IBM's supercomputer Watson and job firm Paysa found that Musk's top five personality traits include: intellect, immoderation, cautiousness, emotionality and altruism, all qualities that relate to Musk's emotional intelligence.

Bariso points to a specific example of Musk's emotional intelligence: An email he sent to employees in June in light of claims that the Tesla manufacturing factory had high injury rates.

Although he sent out an email earlier this year sharing his concern about the safety of his workers and ensuring the claims were overstated, Musk sent out a more detailed note reiterating his unease and consideration for Tesla employees. He even offered to put himself in his employees' shoes.

Industry news site Electrek published an excerpt of the staff-wide email:

No words can express how much I care about your safety and wellbeing [sic]. 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.

Some of the key phrases in the email that demonstrate Musk's emotional intelligence include using language such as "how much I care," "it breaks my heart" and "so that I can understand."

"While Musk's opening words will prove touching to some, it's his promise to take action that is most powerful," Bariso writes in an article for Inc. on the topic. "To personally meet every injured employee and actually learn how to perform the task that caused that person's injury is remarkable for the CEO of any company."

He notes that being a CEO and having high emotional intelligence aren't necessarily tied together.

"Some people seem genuine and empathetic but aren't," Bariso says. "Someone whose communications style is direct and brash, most would think low emotional intelligence, but the question is: What is his or her motive?"

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