Responding to Elon Musk on Twitter can be very risky. The way you respond to either criticism or praise--in general--says a lot about you. The way you respond when it comes from a billionaire known for his sometimes controversial but always lively Twitter feed can be dangerous.
If only every leader could take the approach that Ford's CEO, Jim Farley, did on Friday. It just might be the best example of emotional intelligence I've ever seen, and it only took that one simple word.
That was the entire tweet. Just one word. It turns out that was all Ford's CEO, Jim Farley, needed.
On Thursday, Tesla's CEO tweeted his thoughts about the hardest part of making cars. Everyone has an idea, but only a few of them can execute on it. Even fewer can do it while making money. In many ways, the tweet was a shot at basically every other American company that has ever tried to make cars. Well, except one.
"Tesla & Ford are the only American carmakers not to have gone bankrupt out of 1000's of car startups," Musk wrote. "Prototypes are easy, production is hard & being cash flow positive is excruciating."
Musk's tweet highlighted that his company, along with Ford, were the only two American car companies that have never declared bankruptcy.
Musk has a point. Both General Motors and Chrysler went through especially dark periods a decade ago, requiring government bailouts, and eventually, bankruptcy protection.
Ford, on the other hand, fared better because of a little forward-thinking financial planning. For the company, that fact is a point of pride. Even during the auto bailouts in 2009, Ford didn't take a government handout. It did borrow money but was in much better shape than its Big Three competitors.
Tesla, on the other hand, has done what none of its competition has been able to figure out--how to mass-produce electric vehicles that customers actually want to buy. Not only that, even after its stock price has fallen 31 percent in the past month, Tesla is still worth more than all of the other U.S. automakers combined.
I'm sure Musk feels like he has plenty of reasons to gloat. Tesla is in rare company, and the surge in its stock price over the past few months has made him, at one point at least, the wealthiest man in the world.
And yet, he managed to pay Ford a compliment, something that says a lot in and of itself.
It would have been easy for Farley to gloat. Tesla certainly has momentum, but Farley runs a company that has been around for almost 120 years and just introduced a product that just might beat Tesla at its own game.
Ford just launched the Mustang Mach-E, which, according to analysts, is cutting into Tesla's market share, which dropped 12 percent in February compared with the year before. Morgan Stanley said that drop was 100 percent attributed to the Mach-E, even after Ford announced a series of delays in delivering the vehicles because of lengthy quality checks.
Instead, Farley's response was brilliant precisely because in saying so little, he actually said a lot. The ability to be both competitive and gracious is a sign of emotional intelligence.
Farley's response was gracious because it was a tacit acknowledgment that despite the hype, Tesla truly has done what almost no other car company has been able to do, especially in such a short period of time.
The thing is, when you're proud of an accomplishment, it's much better to let someone else point it out. When they pay you a compliment, take it. Then, don't be afraid to return the favor, even when it's from your competition.