Dear Elon,

It can't be a surprise to you that many entrepreneurs look up to you as a role model. In a world where government corruption and monopoly power makes starting a business more difficult each year, we need heroes to inspire us to soldier on despite the odds.

We want (and indeed expect) you to be successful. We're the ones who cheer when you point out that the SEC is full of crap and that short-selling fools should stop asking bonehead questions. We dig it when you light up a blunt on TV. We're your biggest fans.

That's why it's so disappointing for us to read in  Wired that you've bullied and demeaned employees. I don't know if those stories are true. I hope they're not. But if there is even a grain of truth in them, you need to know that you're disappointing everyone..

Look, we totally get that you were working so hard last summer that you could barely see straight. We knew you were stretched so thin that even when you accused a hapless critic of a horrible crime, we gave you a pass.

Regardless of what you were going through, though, you have a responsibility to treat your employees decently, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because we need to know that it's possible to emulate you without acting like jerk.

I'll bet you get tired of being compared to Steve Jobs, but the comparison comes up because it's apt. While Jobs was responsible for insanely great products, he also was frequently a rampant bosshole.

Because Jobs was, and is, a role model, countless CEOs who his brilliance now imitate the easiest part of his shtick--treating people like crap. And since that stuff is wildly counterproductive, that unnecessary grief without any benefit.

Jobs's cruelty remains a blemish on his legacy, just like Henry Ford's antisemitism, Thomas Jefferson's serial rapes, and the shabby way Thomas Edison stole ideas from his employees including Tesla, your car company's namesake.

Beyond securing your legacy, though, consider the pettiness of what you're accused of doing. It's one thing to punch powers-that-be like the SEC; it's another to punch downwards. Frankly, it's beneath you. Heroes don't bully; they inspire.

We're not asking you tolerate incompetence. By all means, insist upon excellence. But we all know, intuitively and viscerally, it's not just possible, but desirable and more productive, to discipline and demote employees without demeaning or degrading them.

If there is any truth to behind these depressing stories, you need to apologize, not just to the people you treated poorly but to those who look up to you. And then you can, indeed you must, do better. Consider:

  • "To whom much is given, much is required." (Saint Luke)
  • "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Jesus of Nazareth)
  • "With great power comes great responsibility." (Stan Lee)

Thanks for listening. 

Geoffrey