The image that comes to mind when most people think of the quintessential "business leader" is the CEO with the corner office, tucked far away from the day-to-day work. 

That's because, in business, becoming the CEO or the leader is often times seen as the final destination, the end goal, and where you sit after a lengthly list of accomplishments.

But the truth is, that's not what the role is really about. 

In Tesla's most recent Q3 earnings call, Elon Musk said that his main office isn't in any one specific location. "I always move my desk to wherever--I don't really have a desk actually--I move myself to wherever the biggest problem is in Tesla," he said.

Every leader should take note of that perspective, because Musk hit the nail on the head.

Being the CEO isn't about watching from afar, never getting your hands dirty. It's about spending time where time needs to be spent. There are no "good" departments and "bad" departments. Just departments where things need fixing. 

In this video, Jack Canfield says it perfectly: "True leaders understand that they have the opportunity and ability to respond differently to every situation. When events arise, whether they're good or bad, leaders see these events as neutral. But they see their response to these events as crucial."

You can't get too emotionally attached to what's going on. There are a lot of leaders that could never take Musk's mentality of moving their desk (metaphorically or physically) to the weakest department in the building. That's because they're too attached to the things that are working well--and similarly, the things that aren't going well, they can't stand to work on them because they're aggravating.

Great leaders only see opportunities--and are excited to get working on the next one.

This got me thinking to how I spend my typical day as the CEO of LendingOne, and this is what I came up with:

  1. 20 percent of my time is spent thinking about the positive things going on in the business and what we can do make those things work even better.
  2. 20 percent of my time is spent on growth initiatives and how we are going to hit our goals over the next three years (not next month or next quarter).
  3. 60 percent of my time is spent focusing on the problems, inefficiencies, and issues that may be prohibiting us from meeting our goals.

I imagine most other CEOs and company leaders would come up with somewhat similar findings--that a much larger amount of time is spent working to solve problems or improve inefficiencies than bask in all the things working well.

This is exactly what Musk means when he says, "My desk is wherever the biggest problem is."

So many leaders get caught up spending the opposite amount of time continuing to optimize what already works well. 60 percent of their time (or more) is spent refining and refining what works well. Their corner offices are in the nicest part of the building. 

But that's not what drives results, and it's certainly not the way leaders wrestling with Tesla-sized business obstacles think about where they spend their time. 

Every leader, from the CEO of a publicly traded company to the founder of a five-person startup, should prioritize time based on where the biggest problems are. That's how you grow. That's how you lead by example. And that's how you always keep tabs on where your business is most vulnerable--and needs the most attention.

Published on: Jan 23, 2018