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CEOs and Presidents Essay

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Influence Practices of Elon Musk and Jeff Skilling

CEOs and Presidents


This paper looks at the influence processes of three CEOs: Elon Musk of Tesla, Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson, and Jeff Skilling of Enron. These leaders have various strengths and faults and their leadership approaches are all different and to some extent based on their own personalities and styles of management. Some have met with more success than others, and some have met with more failure. Gorsky has succeeded at leading Johnson & Johnson for the past 8 years. Skilling failed in his leadership role at Enron and was jailed for fraud. Musk has seen a string of successes and failures during the course of his tenure as head of Tesla. This paper discusses their various influence processes, analyzes their strengths and weaknesses and summarizes their key attributes that effect positive organizational change and improved performance.

Introduction to the Concept of Influence Processes

The concept of influence processes is that it is an action a leader takes to have an impact on followers immediately and the organization overall. Lunenburg (2012) states that leadership itself is an influence process, and by this he means that what are often called leadership styles—such as transformational leadership, servant leadership, democratic leadership, or authoritarian leadership—are really influence processes that leaders engage in to affect their teams and workplaces. Singh-Sengupta (1997) has also argued that leadership styles are really influence processes that use interpersonal influence to motivate and communicate with others so that they can self-actualize. Self-actualizing in turn creates a level of self-influence wherein self-leadership becomes the manner in which the potential of the workers and the organization is achieved (Prussia, Anderson & Manz, 1998).

Leadership styles are not the only influence processes. Others include direct decision-making, allocating resources, implementing a reward system, identifying and promoting leaders from within, and role modeling (Brown & Trevino, 2014; Kameda, Ohtsubo & Takezawa, 1997). Building trust, establishing credibility, and utilizing expert power or referent/charismatic power are other ways (De Vries, 1998). Elon Musk is a leader who combines expert power and charismatic power to influence those around him, particularly stakeholders with whom he engages on Twitter, where he communicates to the public at large. Leveraging Twitter is a way to influence stakeholders (Malhotra & Malhotra, 2016).

Role of Influence in Contemporary Leadership

Influence is highly important when it comes to contemporary leadership because it impacts the way leaders motivate workers, empower them and get them to achieve their potential. Leadership is about having the ability to motivate people and guide them to the well-defined goals that have been set before them. Unless goals and objectives are clearly identified and a pathway to achieve them is laid out, it is very difficult for workers to feel like they know what they are doing or what they are working towards. So it is vital that leaders not only be able to motivate and guide but that they be able to communicate the vision of the end goal. This is the essence of effective influence in contemporary leadership. Indeed, communicating a vision is one of the central skills of transformational leadership (Bromley, 2007). For example, in an organization, a CEO will focus his team on a goal like increasing profitability. The vision is laid out—this is where the organization wants to go, and then it is explained how the organization can get there. That is step one. Step two is motivating the people, which requires an intimate understanding of them, how they think, what they need, and how to reach them. As Maslow (1943) points out in his hierarchy of needs and theory of human motivation, the pinnacle of the needs hierarchy is self-actualization, but to get there people need their lower levels needs satisfied first, such as shelter, food, a sense of belonging, love, esteem, self-respect and so on. Once those needs have been satisfied the individual will be self-motivated. Most leaders want to be surrounded with self-motivated workers, but this is not always possible so a great leader is able to find out what each worker needs and then support them so that they can reach their full potential.

Various Types of Influence Processes and the Factors That Can Affect Them

The four main types of influence processes are negative, neutral, positive and life changing. The latter two are the most important to use while the former two should be avoided. Positive influence leads to positive growth within workers and helps them to change in a way that is for their own personal and professional good. Life changing influence is even better because this is the kind of influence that helps to create leaders who can then pass on what they have learned to others. When this type of change occurs, it creates disciples—true believers in the message and method that they have received from the leaders who have impacted them.

The factors that affect these influence processes include characteristics of the leader, the follower, the situation and the culture in which the leader-follower relationship transpires. Stressful environments will have a different impact on the influence process as opposed to calm, stress-free environments. Followers who are facing a change and are resisting it will have an impact on the influence process of the leader. A leader who is stern and authoritative, like Alex Gorsky of J&J, will rub some followers the wrong way but will be appreciated by others for being a decision maker. Influence is a highly personal exchange, and no two relationships will be alike.

Methodology Used to Identify and Research the Leaders Selected

There is no one definition of leadership that is one size fits all. For instance, various definitions of leadership have arisen in the past. According to Chamers (2014), leadership is “a process by which a person directs, guides and influences the behavior and work of others towards accomplishment of specific goals in a given…

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…a big issue that has to be addressed and leaders should focus on strengthening personalities that have a more ethical approach to leadership. Otherwise the implications for allowing Egoistic personalities to lead the company are that the needs of stakeholders who are not shareholders are dismissed because the leader gets the most immediate feedback from shareholders and feeds on their approval as a means of stroking his own ego. This is putting the self first instead of the organization and its stakeholders first. Leaders have to put others first because that is why they are there.

Summary of Key Attributes of the Influence Processes Employed by the Leaders to Effect Positive Organizational Change or Improved Performance

The key attributes of the influence processes employed by the leaders Gorsky, Musk and Skilling to effect positive organizational change or improved performance were 1) an ability to communicate, 2) an ability to motivate, and 3) an ability to reward. Each of these three attributes are crucial to creating an effective organizational change as they all get to the heart of what makes Kotter’s (2012) 8 step model for change management so effective. The model is about identifying the issue that needs to change, communicating in rational and logical ways why the change is needed so that people understand it; showing empathy and sympathy for their needs and accepting feedback from them so that they feel they are part of the change process, and creating a team of workers who can facilitate the change by being part of the solution. They focus on celebrating minor victories and creating an environment in which good things happen because everyone feels invested in the organization and in the desire to find the solution to the problem and implement the change.


Influence practices are essential for creating an environment in which workers want to be there, in which people are motivated to succeed, in which leaders can empower others to want to be self-actualizing, and in which a vision can be communicated that everyone can buy into. There are many different types of influence practices. Three that have been highlighted here are the practice of communicating, motivating and rewarding. Each of these influence practices can help leaders to connect with their workers and inspire them to want to achieve the goals that have been set out for them. However, there are downside risks to influence that have to be mitigated and one way to do that is to implement a system of ethics that will prevent egos from running amok and causing problems for stakeholders and consumers. The more that leaders reflect on the importance of acting ethically the more likely they will be to succeed. Also, in a global organization there is a need for cultural competence so that all voices can be heard and a truly inclusive environment can be created in the workplace. Workplace equitability is a situation that is pleasing to all and that helps workers from feeling that…

Sample Source(s) Used


Bromley, H. R. (2007). Are you a transformational leader?. Physician Executive, 33(6), 54.

Brown, M. E., & Treviño, L. K. (2014). Do role models matter? An investigation of role modeling as an antecedent of perceived ethical leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 122(4), 587-598.

Chamers, M.M. (2014). An Integrative Theory of Leadership (4thed.). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

De Vries, M.F.K. (1998). Charisma in action: The transformational abilities of Virgin's Richard Branson and ABB's Percy Barnevik. Organizational Dynamics, 26(3), 7-21.

Healthcare Technology Report. (2019). Alex Gorsky is the all-American CEO. Retrieved from

Holmes, A. (2007). Ethics: Approaching moral decisions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Kameda, T., Ohtsubo, Y., & Takezawa, M. (1997). Centrality in sociocognitive networks and social influence: An illustration in a group decision-making context. Journal of personality and social psychology, 73(2), 296.

Kolodny, L. (2018). Elon Musk’s extreme micromanagement has wasted time and money at Tesla, insiders say. Retrieved from

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