To reach production targets for his electric car company Tesla, Elon Musk has said he's worked up to 120 hours a week. At times, he ignores emails and phone calls, has barely had time to shower and has been known to sleep on his factory floor. He's called this year both "excruciating" and "difficult."
In response, Tesla executives have reportedly amped up their search for a No. 2 person who can relieve some of Musk's day-to-day responsibilities — a claim the CEO disputes. Musk, though chronically exhausted, said in an emotional Thursday interview with the New York Times he doesn't plan on renouncing his roles as chairman and chief executive.
Musk's situation could highlight a classic problem facing many leaders: Reluctance to delegate. At best, that reluctance can lead to long nights and lost time. At worst, it can lead to a 'one-man show' management style experts say slows growth and keeps leaders from thinking about the big picture.
Leaders struggle with delegation for multiple reasons. Some are just perfectionists, says Carol Walker, the president of consulting firm Prepared to Lead, in a recent Harvard Business Review article. Leaders might also see their work as better or believe that relinquishing control will somehow detract from their own importance.
Founders like Elon Musk understandably feel a special sort of responsibility, says Peter Harms, a professor of management at the University of Alabama. He says entrepreneurs like Musk could feel indispensable because they often are one of the few in their business who do understand its intricacies. They can struggle the most with giving up power, since their company is like their baby and, says Harms, "you wouldn't give your child to a stranger."
Other leaders might simply lack confidence. Ironically, experts say that delegation of responsibility and not just tasks is a sign of a truly confident leader. "Giving up being 'the go-to expert' takes tremendous confidence and perspective even in the healthiest environments," Walker says in Harvard Business Review. "It's even more challenging in the average company, where being a good manager is seen as a 'nice to have,' but where producing the core deliverable is what is truly esteemed."
Musk, who runs both SpaceX and Tesla, might do well by studying examples set by Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett. Buffet has CEOs in place for companies in his Berkshire Hathaway portfolio, and serves as "as a kind of manager of managers," Barron's pointed out in a recent article. Buffett reportedly employs a hands-off approach with his managers, giving them a sense of autonomy while making them feel trusted.