Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Lessons From Musk On How To Kill Productivity

© AdobeStock
Recent reports suggest the consistent use of two practices that almost guarantee productivity loss: management by fear and surveillance.

For better or worse, social media continues to amplify the impact of both good and bad leadership. Even those people who don’t actively “follow” social media platforms quickly hear about the good, the bad and the ugly goings-on in business. Unfortunately for Elon Musk, there’s been a lot more ugly than good lately.

Alternately lauded and maligned, Musk’s leadership style has been analyzed by fellow entrepreneurs, pundits, colleagues, staff and more. For me, the reports suggest the consistent use of two practices that almost guarantee productivity loss: management by fear and surveillance.

Unless you’re in law enforcement or security, “surveillance” should not be part of the organization’s vernacular. And even then, surveillance should only apply externally, not to your own people.

Moving beyond Musk, I’ve seen too many articles and posts that talk about monitoring employees’ work, particularly among remote staff. The focus seems to be on reassuring managers that their employees are working even when they can’t see them. They fear: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Reports of rampant quiet quitting certainly don’t help this perception, even while many recognize that disengagement and checking out aren’t new phenomena.

At best, surveillance is a colossal waste of resources—managers who monitor; employees spending time accounting for their time; technology to track activity; dashboards loaded with metrics that bear no relationship to outcomes.

At worst, constant monitoring fosters a level of detachment that kills productivity.

Surveillance erodes trust and destroys commitment to the work, the mission and the vision. If you’re lucky, dissatisfied employees will quit quietly. If unlucky, they’ll depart with great fanfare, ensuring all know precisely how leaders behave in your organization. This diminishes brand and can negate years of goodwill. Undoubtedly you’ve heard the maxim: people don’t leave jobs; they quit bosses.

Either result is simply bad business. Recall the surge in public resignations that have dominated social media in recent years. Consider the shift in unionization from manufacturing to service sector jobs. Remember the news stories detailing management failures.

The executives I advise are keenly aware of the significant organizational impact caused by disengaged or burned-out staff. At the same time, they’re grappling with creating the culture and work habits needed to retain talent and achieve their objectives.

Surveillance builds barriers rather than creating an appropriate line of sight and fostering the accountability it purports to address. Add a ferocious management style that raises the personal stakes for even the smallest action or decision and you’ve got the perfect recipe to kill productivity.

Stop surveilling people.

Instead, focus on the outcomes people deliver. Redirect attention from monitoring people’s work to those activities that boost productivity and engagement. Invest time and effort in the things that build trust, develop your people, and recognize the value that’s delivered. Identify the actions you can take to encourage commitment and deliver the outcomes needed to achieve objectives.

Make changes before it’s too late.

Rather than waiting for employees to leave or the proverbial “shit to hit the fan,” get serious and proactive about learning what’s needed to improve. Then implement the one action with the greatest potential for positive impact for your team.

Surveil outcomes, not people. Or get used to watching your people—and your reputation—walk out the door.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.