Growing your business requires leadership skills of all kinds, and serving other leaders in different roles. Even the most successful business leaders find strategic value in serving on advisory boards for other organizations. These roles provide opportunities for leaders to learn, collaborate, connect and wield influence while offering expert advice. But the advice can fall on deaf ears, and the advisor can find himself at odds with the association he advises, even if it's coming from the likes of Elon Musk. It then comes down to another challenging moment for a leader; just how do you gracefully navigate the announcement of your exit?
Caught in the middle of a hot button issue, Elon Musk resigned from an advisory role with the President's Strategic and Policy Forum in response to President's Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.
"I've done all I can to advise directly to POTUS, through others in WH & via councils, that we remain," Musk tweeted.
This wasn't the first time Musk disagreed with the President or the administration's decisions, but it drove him to resign from the forum. What makes this such a noteworthy nugget, is that in the face of these disagreements, just how he kept it professional.
1. Leave with a firm yet graceful announcement.
Musk did this with grace, making the reasons for his resignation clear, but without disparaging his role, the leader, or the White House. He didn't riot. He didn't make personal attacks, or invite more attention than was needed, or fan the political flame wars on the Internet. This takes discipline, respect, even for those with whom we may consider an opponent.
2. Allow for room for disagreement and still managed to stick to his principles.
Musk has been known to support a vision of the future rooted in sustainability and renewable energy. Yet he was willing to work with an organization who doesn't share his views. This showed remarkable tolerance, maturity and leadership on his part, and should serve as a lesson to the budding entrepreneur. There will be times when you find yourself working with those you do not like or agree with completely, and you'll need to find ways to build bridges and make connections to achieve your goals.
3. Don't leave at the first sign of trouble.
Elon left when he saw no path forward. There are plenty of perks and reasons to stay on the board of an organization, and not make waves with those you come to disagree with or even loathe. It is the role of a leader and advisor to confront issues head on, and to navigate the challenges and attempt to influence, facilitate and even steer things to a more acceptable position. That said, there may come several times where you must choose to bite your lip or stand on principle, and politely, strategically and respectfully withdraw. Preserving your personal and professional integrity along with your brand may not always make you rich, but it will keep your opportunities in alignment with your principles.
On any resume, a Presidential advisory role would look amazing, not that Musk needs it. But as an entrepreneur, you may find yourself staring down an opportunity to serve on a prestigious board, only to come to find yourself at odds with one, as Elon did. And it's worth paying attention to these graceful exits in the face of conflict, as you too may need to sever ties to protect your integrity and/or brand while preserving the respect and relationships of many if not all involved.