Musk just resigned from both Presidential councils. It's been broadly covered. But just in case you're one of those people who, like Musk, have tough calls to make about what to say yes to no to in your life, here's a golden opportunity to learn from one of the most productive leaders of our time.
Here's how Musk says no.
Elon Musk is an entrepreneurial superpower. When he joined two presidential councils under Donald Trump along with 20 other CEOs last year, he came under a ton of criticism. He lost business and for some, credibility. Photo after photo showed a sour-faced Elon Musk alongside Donald Trump, and some Tesla customers canceled orders at what they saw as two-faced behavior. Musk thought it was worth those risks, and said why.
1. Public goal clarification.
The first step in knowing what you're saying no to, is knowing what you are saying yes to.
For example, after the criticism got to a certain pitch, Musk posted a statement on Twitter about his goals:
"In December I agreed to join the Presidential Advisory Forum to provide feedback on issues that I think are important for our country and the world . . . Advisory councils simply provide advice and attending does not mean that I agree with actions by the Administration. My goals are to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy and to help make humanity a multi-planet civilization, a consequence of which will be the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a more inspiring future for all. I understand the perspective of those who object to my attending this meeting, but I believe at this time that engaging on critical issues will on balance serve the greater good."
That was February. By clarifying why he was serving on the councils, his intentions and their alignment with his goals became crystal clear. Of course, the criticism didn't stop--but the fact that he responded to it is a direct take away you can use in moments of leadership in your life.
2. Service commitment.
Commitment is one of Musk's top entrepreneurial traits. Musk participated in the ongoing conversations around manufacturing, jobs and climate. He did the work. In the press, he often took his licks. Just like you when you're doing something unpopular you believe in, you don't shirk and you don't distance yourself from the commitment. You just get it done. Musk didn't waste momentum clarifying why he was doing it--he'd already done that. The months flew by.
3. Position clarification.
Musk is an expert story teller. You can see those skills in how he kept his position clear.
For example, on the divisive decision to pull from the Paris Climate Accord, before the U.S. withdrawal was announced, Musk tweeted:
Don't know which way Paris will go, but I've done all I can to advise directly to POTUS, through others in WH & via councils, that we remain
In leadership positions, this can be a tough line to walk. As you get embroiled in points of view from other powerful positions, it's easy to give ground. Musk is a master at keeping centered and showing where he stands in a public way that doesn't put others down--but just points forward to his goal. He could be seen actively taking a risk to influence an Administration by getting closer to it, not distancing himself.
4. Redirection of energy.
Finally, when after all that work, attendance and advising didn't result in the Trump Administration warming to Musk's positions on job creation, carbon tax, immigration, or climate change, he resigned.
Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world
How you handle saying no
There's a lot of things you could say when you aren't being heard, especially when you are sticking your neck out as a leader like Musk was. His approach to withdrawal, at least publicly, displays the same even tone and clear position as his other communications on these issues. Next time you're faced with a tough call, and your integrity is being called into question, think about how Musk navigated these difficult waters. He's a master at the art of the pivot, and a big part of it is he knows what his goals are. Once he was sure he couldn't be effective in advocating for his position, even after spending significant time earning trust, he left. No drama, just on to the next move toward his clear goals to help the human race thrive and survive. In the art of the leadership pivot, it's always more about what you're saying yes to, than whom you are saying no to--even, in this case, when it's the U.S. president.