5 Ways Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Reed Hastings Inspire Their Employees to Innovate

By Mattson Newell (@MattsonNewell), Director for Partners In Leadership, an expert and author on Breakthrough Communications, Global Human Resources, and Talent Development

While the initial success of companies like Netflix, Facebook, and Tesla, is, of course, grounded in the fantastic products they’ve introduced to consumers, the leaders of these tech world behemoths recognize that long-term success requires fostering a strong culture of innovation within their companies. In fast-moving industries, leaders must create a culture of learning that keeps employees invested in their work and committed to the challenge of improving upon the status quo.

The strategies used by leaders like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Reed Hastings are innovative and unique, but they can be borrowed by leaders from all industries to encourage a sense of creativity and curiosity in their employees. The success of these visionary leaders in creating cultures of learning can be boiled down to five critical strategies.

1. Lead With Passion

Mark Zuckerberg is passionate about the grand vision that his company is working towards — but he applies that same passion to the everyday, often unglamorous work it takes to achieve that vision. Through frequent appearances on the news and at conferences, as well as through posts on his own personal Facebook page, Zuckerberg is constantly setting an example for his employees, demonstrating to the world how excited he is about the work Facebook is doing. This kind of dedication does more than inspire confidence in shareholders: employees who see that their managers are passionate about what they have achieved are much more inclined to work diligently in pursuit of the company vision.

2. Lead By Example

Earlier this year, Elon Musk caught wind of some safety concerns affecting employees in one of Tesla’s plants. Instead of just issuing a new company policy or sending a sympathetic email, Musk asked that moving forward, employees send any and all concerns regarding safety directly to his inbox. On top of that, he promised to personally visit any factory in which these incidents occurred, spending time on the factory floor and observing the process himself to determine what changes could be made to improve protocol. Musk’s decision to lead from the front lines showed his employees that he was committed to their safety and personally invested in improving Tesla’s manufacturing process.

3. Create a Culture of Asking Questions

Leaders who create a culture in which employees are encouraged to ask questions are able to keep their organizations nimble and primed for growth. It was Musk’s constant willingness to ask questions and challenge the status quo that pushed Tesla from being just another car company to one of the most innovative businesses in the world. If Musk hadn’t challenged what was accepted as “the way business has always been done,” SpaceX would never have been born.

It takes the courage to think big to launch a company, but maintaining this mindset remains just as important as your company grows: promoting a culture of innovation and experimentation can help you to maintain your competitive edge for decades down the line.

4. Be Open to Change

In order to create and implement truly innovative ideas at their companies, leaders must not only embrace change themselves, but ensure that their employees do the same. CEOs like Netflix’s Reed Hastings, for example, understand that ideas for new products and processes are great, but that these innovations will never truly be impactful if they are not seen through to completion. That’s how he pushed his company to make the transition from mailing customers DVDs by hand to streaming all of its video content, a practice that was unheard of until Netflix championed it. Rather than letting this daring idea fall by the wayside, Hastings acted on it, and in doing so ushered in the new normal of on-demand video streaming services.

5. Empower Employees to Learn

It’s all well and good for managers to encourage their employees to take learning seriously — but the best leaders actually give their employees the resources they need to do it. For example, Google allows its employees to spend 20% of their time each week learning new skills and developing their existing talents. Granting employees the time and space to learn will always generate positive returns for any company.