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Lessons from Military History Could Make You a Better Leader, According to Elon Musk

And the science backs it up.
Joshua Koszalkowski
Contributing Writer

Elon Musk’s intense work ethic and leadership style draw inspiration from military history, particularly Napoleon’s strategy of being present at key moments. Musk believes that showing up in the midst of operations motivates employees, a tactic he learned from studying Napoleon. This practice aligns with the Hawthorne effect, where increased observation leads to improved performance. The “mere exposure effect” also plays a role, as regular presence and anticipated engagement make leaders more likable and effective. While it might not be feasible to be omnipresent like Musk, consistent engagement, whether in-person or virtually, fosters better relationships and productivity among employees.

Why it matters: Whatever the topic at hand may be, history offers valuable lessons for those who dig deeper. In this day and age, one can incorporate scientific principles to better dissect history and extract underlying wisdom. In the case of Elon Musk and the leadership lessons he learned from studying Napoleon, science points to a few important principles, such as the Hawthorne Effect and the Mere Exposure Effect.

  • Recently, Musk stated, “If they see their general on the battlefield, they will be more motivated. I learned that by reading about Napoleon.” The Hawthorne Effect backs this notion up, demonstrating that people alter their behavior when they are under observation. When measuring productivity, one can safely conclude that employees will likely be more productive when their boss is nearby.
  • Another principle we can draw from Napoleon’s leadership style is the Mere Exposure Effect. It states that people have a tendency to develop preferences for things simply because they’re familiar with them.
  • Leaders who consistently show up for even a few minutes at a time, whether virtually or in person, will increase their likeability with their employees and have a more engaged workforce. They can do this by increasing the frequency of their interactions, such as sending emails to check in with their employees or dropping by to say hello from time to time. Or in Musk’s case, showing up in the middle of the night on the factory floor.

Go Deeper —> Elon Musk Says Napoleon Taught Him How to Motivate Employees. Science Says It Works–but There Is a Catch – Inc.

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