My company, Velo3D, has been a SpaceX supplier for a few years now. As a critical additive manufacturing supplier to SpaceX, I've had my share of conversations with Elon Musk. I've also had many questions from people interested in the topics of our conversations. As it so happens, I've never felt inclined to disclose what we talk about until now.

Last week, I received one of the most profound lessons in leadership from Elon. And it was delivered in such an understated and patient way, I was left speechless, grateful, and with a pressing need to share it.

My company recently expanded into a shiny new manufacturing facility in Fremont, California. This move coincided with a massive production scale-up of our industrial-grade metal 3-D printers. Sitting at the top of our backlog is a large order from SpaceX. Our scale-up could not have come at a more difficult time. Supply-chain shortages and Covid restrictions introduced many components and facility preparedness challenges.

Last Friday, I learned that our big bottleneck is power. We simply didn't have enough power in the building. Our regional power utility has been delaying grid connection since November, and it was uncertain when the connection will be complete. As a stopgap, we were running on generators approved by the city. Our proactive team acquired a big generator to operate the whole building, but we needed approval from the city to connect the generator to the main building.

Despite our facilities team chasing the city for almost a month, we were unable to make any progress. When I heard this, I thought to myself, I know someone who has a really big factory in the city. Maybe he can helpAfter all, Tesla is our neighbor across the street, and I bet they have a good relationship with the city. I decided to reach out to Elon to see if he could help accelerate things.

I sent Elon an email explaining the whole situation that Friday afternoon and he called me back the next day. Our conversation was very short, maybe two minutes long. He asked a few questions to understand the situation and then asked me, "Did you go down to the city yourself? That's what I would do." My response: "This is exactly why I called you. Your name is more impactful than mine, and I imagine a call from you will be more meaningful."

His response was worth gold: "No, no, you don't understand. I used to do this even before anyone knew who Elon Musk was."

I was dumbstruck. The simplicity of his advice shocked me. I didn't even consider the possibility to go to the city and ask for the permit myself. Truthfully, I had no idea what this process involves. The government always loomed in my mind as this giant, inexplicable entity that one cannot move or negotiate with. At the same time, I felt stupid and a bit ashamed for asking Elon to intervene on our behalf.

Despite feeling a bit silly, I told him that I would go to the city myself and try to make this work. He added: "Very few CEOs go to the city to ask for permits. When you do, you show how critical it is for you, and they will take your request more seriously. If it doesn't work by Monday, let me know and I will call them."

This conversation and the whole chain of events was one of the most profound lessons I've had in my career--the idea that when everything else fails, you as a leader must roll up your sleeves and get the job done.

To be clear, this is not because you can't count on others. On the contrary--going the extra mile and trying to help your team when they are struggling can be of immense value. By taking that action, you demonstrate to your team and to external stakeholders that you care and that you want to inspire and motivate them to also lead when called on.

While I've applied this to other situations before, I realize now that there were many situations where I didn't--mostly out of fear that I wouldn't add value or would overstep into micromanagement territory. I now know this was the wrong approach.

Here are a few additional insights from my conversation with Elon that I believe are worth sharing.

You can do it

Why didn't I consider going to the city myself? Truthfully, dealing with the local government seemed too formidable in my mind. But Elon's perspective that he will prevail and find a way to get it done is the lesson I find most inspiring.

To accomplish impossible things, you need the conviction that you can accomplish anything. If you work hard and think creatively, and if you don't accept failure as an option, you are more likely to succeed than fail. David could not have bested Goliath if he didn't have the courage to face him.

Ask for help

Why didn't the team ask for my help earlier? There is a human desire to not want to pile problems onto other people. We all make this mistake, so we need to learn when to ask for help, especially when the stakes are high, and a diversity of perspectives can help solve a particularly challenging problem.

The delivery matters

The calm and humble manner in which Elon explained to me what to do, and more important, why to do it, was simple and didn't leave me humiliated. In fact, it left me inspired. The key here was when he said, "Most CEOs won't do it." His words didn't leave me feeling like I am a failure who wouldn't do their job, but rather it gave me the opportunity to act, be the star, and go above and beyond.

At this point, you're probably wondering how it all ended. Well, I'm pleased to say that we received our permit and are in the process of getting the power to our new facility activated.

Of course, Elon was right. When the inspection and permit department saw us, and when we explained why we came down there, they were more than willing to help. The employees of the city of Fremont who met with me were so helpful; I can't stress that enough. This was not a case of being ignored or of incompetence--we just needed to demonstrate how critical our situation was, and they went above and beyond to help find a solution.

I'm glad we got the permit, but even if we hadn't, I would not have gone back to Elon despite his offer to help. The purpose of asking for his help was to get the city's attention and priority, and we were able to accomplish it on our own.