Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Today I finished Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Needless to say, it’s fascinating and thought-provoking. In this biography, the author remained true to his readers and didn’t let Elon control the content. He interviewed Musk regularly along with people close to Elon to present the reader an unbiased narrative. Reading this you understand Elon Musk does not carry the humble style of Jack Ma but rather is shaped in the highly determined and runover mold of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.

The author starts with Elon’s unhappy childhood that shaped his innovative and ambitious character. He flourished in confidence and determination during his college years. His first startup Zip2 turned him into a dotcom, Silicon-Valley millionaire. Losing the war over control of Paypal against Peter Thiel left him with millions of dollars in hand. He moved next to the space industry eventually forming SpaceX. Then he gave us Tesla Motors electric car. He continued with SolarCity and was aiming to further transform the aerospace, automotive, and solar industries with the Hyperloop and other projects. But his success comes with a turbulent personal life. He is notorious for setting unrealistic goals, assigning incredible workloads, and verbally abusing his employees. Despite that, he is respected by employees for his sense of mission as they know it brings success. 

The Truth About Employee Engagement by Patrick Lencioni

Last week I finished reading the book (hardcover) The Truth About Employee Engagement: A Fable About Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery by Patrick Lencioni. This is another good business fable from Pat that touches a very fundamental understanding of team dynamics.

In this book the author talks about why people feel misery at job and what needs to be done to increase employee engagement. I hear employee experience as another term that HR teams use a lot which is slightly different than employee engagement. But for this book’s purpose, I took it as Pat was trying to not worry much about the definition and rather focus on the 3 root causes of job misery – lack of measurement, irrelevance and anonymity. He particularly warns us not to confuse bad jobs with miserable jobs while describing these 3 signs.

Lack of measurement (Pat invented the word Immeasurement for it) is the reason that makes an employee unsure about their own contribution to the team effort. This ends up in relying on someone else’s subjective opinion or mood and the lack of self-assessment on success or failure or level of contribution in a daily basis will eventually deteriorate the motivations for work. To overcome this, managers need to show their direct reports how to measure their contributions on their own every day.

Irrelevance is the reason why employees don’t feel if their work is making any meaningful difference to anyone else’s lives. Managers need to work with their employees to show the connection between someone’s work and the impact it makes to the customers, other employees, the industry or their own managers.

Anonymity is the reason for a miserable job when people don’t feel known for their uniqueness. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority. People who see themselves as invisible, generic or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing. Managers need to take a personal interest in understanding their direct reports, so that people can bring their selves into the work and feel important to their leaders.Patrick came with general guidelines on how to improve on these areas, but the actual implementation will defer case by case or personality types, industry, geography. However, the common theme or philosophy outlined by him should apply to engage employees in their team and company.

Leading the Pack by John Maxwell and Brian Tracy

I finished the audiobook Leading the Pack: Expert Training to Build Relationships and Inspire Followers by John Maxwell and Brian Tracy yesterday. This is a compilation of several insightful lectures from both these famous leadership coaches. But I didn’t get the feel of a book as I have listened to many such lectures on youtube from both the authors already.

The 9 Types of Leadership by Beatrice Chestnut

Today I finished The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace by Beatrice Chestnut. In this book, the author talks about Enneagram and how it is relevant to leadership styles. The Enneagram is a system of nine personality types combining traditional wisdom with modern psychology – a powerful tool for understanding ourselves and the people in our lives – with three major applications: 

  • Personal and spiritual growth
  • Successful relationships at home and at work
  • Leadership development, team building and communication skills for business

This nine-pointed diagram (Ennea is Greek for nine) has apparently been used for centuries in esoteric Christian and Sufi traditions as a map of human consciousness and archetypes. The other alternatives to Enneagram model are Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Big 5 and DiSC. 

I first came to know about Enneagram a decade ago when Todd Pierce joined Salesforce as an EVP and introduced it to all of us. In this book, the author talks about how he learned it from an Executive Coach while he was at Genentech and subsequently carried it to Salesforce and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. My personality style looks to be Type 3 based on a few tests I went through.

The Enneagram describes three centers of intelligence and perception: Head, Heart and Body. While every individual has all three of these centers, each of the nine personality types has a particular strength in one of them. 

  • The Intellectual Center: using the mind for language and rational thinking, ideas and images, plans and strategies. Located in the head. Type 5, 6 and 7 predominantly use this.
  • The Emotional Center: using the heart for positive and negative feelings, empathy and concern for others, romance and devotion. Located in the area of the chest and diaphragm. Type 2, 3 and 4 predominantly use this.
  • The Instinctual Center: using the body for movement, sensate awareness, gut-level knowing, personal security and social belonging. Type 1, 8 and 9 predominantly use this.

In this book, the author not only talks about these 9 personality types but also goes in detail about how each of these types has 3 different inclinations – self-preservationsocial and one-to-one. That makes the total number of Enneagram subtypes to 27. However, she doesn’t touch on the concept of wings in this book.

Enneagram Type 1 – The Perfectionist
Core Desire: To be right / to be good
Core Fear: Being wrong / being bad
Wounding Message: “It’s not ok to make mistakes”
Possible wings: 9 and/or 2
Stress Number: In stress, 1’s take on the negative traits of type 4
Growth Number: In growth, 1’s take on the positive traits of type 7
Center of Intelligence: Gut / Instinctual Triad
Description: Type 1’s are honest, dedicated, self-disciplined, responsible, and ethical when at their best and living in healthy levels. When 1’s are in unhealthy levels, stressed, or not at their best they can be critical, rigid, judgmental, resentful, and inflexible.

Enneagram Type 2 – The Helper
Core Desire: To be loved / to be wanted
Core Fear: Being unloved / being unwanted
Wounding Message: “It’s not ok to have your own needs.”
Possible wings: 1 and/or 3
Stress Number: In stress, 2’s take on the negative traits of type 8
Growth Number: In growth, 2’s take on the positive traits of type 4
Center of Intelligence: Heart / Feeling Triad
Description: Type 2’s are selfless, warm, friendly, generous, intuitive, and giving when at their best and living in healthy levels. When 2’s are in unhealthy levels, stressed, or not at their best they can be prideful, martyr-ish, insecure, possessive, flattering, and demanding.

Enneagram Type 3 – The Achiever
Core Desire: To be valuable / to be admired
Core Fear: Not being valuable / not being admired / failing
Wounding Message: “It’s not ok to have your own feelings or identity”
Possible wings: 2 and/or 4
Stress Number: In stress, 3’s take on the negative traits of type 9
Growth Number: In growth, 3’s take on the positive traits of type 6
Center of Intelligence: Heart / Feeling Triad
Description: Type 3’s are confident, efficient, energetic, hard-working, and optimistic when at their best and living in healthy levels. When 3’s are in unhealthy levels, stressed, or not at their best they can be inauthentic, workaholics, self-promoting, impatient, validation needy, and vain.

Enneagram Type 4 – The Individualist
Core Desire: To be authentic / to be uniquely themselves
Core Fear: Not having an identity / having no significance
Wounding Message: “It’s not ok to be too much (or too little)”
Possible wings: 3 and/or 5
Stress Number: In stress, 4’s take on the negative traits of type 2
Growth Number: In growth, 4’s take on the positive traits of type 1
Center of Intelligence: Heart / Feeling Triad
Description: Type 4’s are authentic, creative, expressive, introspective, and compassionate when at their best and living in healthy levels. When 4’s are in unhealthy levels, stressed, or not at their best they can be moody, stubborn, temperamental, withdrawn, and depressed.

Enneagram Type 5 – The Observer
Core Desire: To be capable / to be competent
Core Fear: Being incapable / being incompetent
Wounding Message: “It’s not ok to be comfortable in the world”
Possible wings: 4 and/or 6
Stress Number: In stress, 5’s take on the negative traits of 7
Growth Number: In growth, 5’s take on the positive traits of 8
Center of Intelligence: Head / Thinking Triad
Description: Type 5’s are observant, objective, insightful, independent, and calm when at their best and living in healthy levels. When 5’s are in unhealthy levels, stressed, or not at their best they can be withdrawing, arrogant, cynical, indifferent, and distant.

Enneagram Type 6 – The Loyalist
Core Desire: To be secure / to be supported
Core Fear: Being without support / being without guidance / insecurity
Wounding Message: “It’s not ok to trust yourself.”
Possible wings: 5 and/or 7
Stress Number: In stress, 6’s take on the negative traits of 3
Growth Number: In growth, 6’s take on the positive traits of 9
Center of Intelligence: Head / Thinking Triad
Description: Type 6’s are loyal, witty, committed, prepared, responsible, trouble-shooters, and supportive when at their best and living in healthy levels. When 6’s are in unhealthy levels, stressed, or not at their best they can be anxious, rigid, paranoid, pessimistic, and hyper-vigilant.

Enneagram Type 7 –  The Enthusiast
Core Desire: To be content / to be satisfied
Core Fear: Being deprived / being trapped in pain (typically emotional)
Wounding Message: “It’s not ok to depend on anyone for anything.”
Possible wings: 6 and/or 8
Stress Number: In stress, 7’s take on the negative traits of 1
Growth Number: In growth, 7’s take on the positive traits of 5
Center of Intelligence: Head / Thinking Triad
Description: Type 7’s are adventurous, imaginative, enthusiastic, spontaneous, and positive when at their best and living in healthy levels. When 7’s are in unhealthy levels, stressed, or not at their best they can be unfocused, superficial, restless, impulsive, escapist, and self-absorbed.

Enneagram Type 8 – The Challenger
Core Desire: To be independent / to protect themselves
Core Fear: Being controlled / being harmed
Wounding Message: “It’s not ok to be vulnerable.”
Possible wings: 7 and/or 9
Stress Number: In stress, 8’s take on the negative traits of 5
Growth Number: In growth, 8’s take on the positive traits of 2
Center of Intelligence: Gut / Instinctual Triad
Description: Type 8’s are protective, energetic, decisive, loyal, resilient, and direct when at their best and living in healthy levels. When 8’s are in unhealthy levels, stressed, or not at their best they can be insensitive, manipulative, controlling, intimidating, rebellious, and confrontational.

Enneagram Type 9 – The Peacekeeper
Core Desire: To be at peace / to be harmonious
Core Fear: separation / loss of conflict / conflict
Wounding Message: “It’s not ok to assert yourself.”
Possible wings: 8 and/or 1
Stress Number: In stress, 9’s take on the negative traits of 6
Growth Number: In growth, 9’s take on the positive traits of 3
Center of Intelligence: Gut / Instinctual Triad
Description: Type 9’s are amiable, open-minded, optimistic, nonjudgmental, supportive, and peaceful when at their best and living in healthy levels. When 9’s are in unhealthy levels, stressed, or not at their best they can be conflict-avoidant, indecisive, unassertive, passive-aggressive, stubborn, and insecure.

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

Today I finished the first book of 2021, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni. In this book, the author introduces a model for achieving success for companies through organizational health. The following four disciplines are necessary for a healthy organization.


The first and most critical step in a healthy organization is creating a cohesive leadership team that is committed to do the ongoing work of developing and maintaining a high-performing team and mastering the five behaviors outlined in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

  1. Being open and building trust
  2. Engaging in constructive ideological conflict
  3. Committing to clear decisions
  4. Holding one another accountable for behaviors and performance
  5. Focusing on collective results


Creating clarity at the executive level is essential to building and maintaining a healthy organization. There are six simple but critical questions that need to be answered, eliminating all discrepancies among team members.

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. How do we behave?
  3. What do we do?
  4. How will we succeed?
  5. What is most important, right now?
  6. Who must do what?

The author detailed on the idea of a thematic goal or a rallying cry to answer the fifth question above in his book – Silos, Politics and Turf Wars.


Once a leadership team has become cohesive and established clarity around the six critical questions, they need to communicate the answers to employees over and over again. There are specific communication strategies the leadership team can employ to ensure that messaging is consistent and absorbed by employees.


For an organization to be healthy, organizational clarity (the six critical questions) must become embedded into the fabric of the organization. Systems in the following areas need to tie to the six questions: Recruiting and hiring The Ideal Team Player, managing performance, compensation and rewards, and real-time recognition.

In addition to these four steps, it is essential that a healthy organization get better at the one activity that underpins everything it does: meetings. Without making a few simple but fundamental changes to the way meetings happen, a healthy organization will struggle to maintain what it has worked hard to build. The author talks more about the four types of meetings in his book Death by Meetings.

Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

Last week I finished reading another Patrick Lencioni book Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business. This is another useful contribution from Pat to the corporate world, this time around how to make team meetings effective. I have also read his other books The Ideal Team PlayerThe Five Dysfunctions of a TeamThe Motive, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars in the past. And my next book by Pat will be The Advantage which I plan to finish before this year turns around.

In this book, the author tells us about team meetings – why many employees don’t like meetings (the paradox), and how to make meetings more productive and exciting (the reason for hope). We spend upward of 30% of our time at work in meetings, and yet the majority of those are boring and ineffective.

To make team meetings more engaging, Pat beings the analogy of movies. Just like interesting movies hook the audience from the very beginning, we need to make the first 10 minutes of meetings very engaging to the participants by allowing for drama. We may need to illustrate the consequences of a bad decision, highlight a competitive threat, appeal to participants’ commitments, or remind them of the impact their decision has on their clients, employees or societies at large. 

We also need to accommodate conflicts of ideas in the team meetings. An intelligent group of diverse people will seldom agree on matters of importance. To encourage challenging each other through active debate, the leader of the meeting may give real-time permission for a healthy debate at the start of the meeting.

To give structure to team meetings, the author recommends holding four different types of meetings in different frequencies. Those are – 

(1) Daily Check-In: It’s like news headlines, a daily 5 to 10 minutes morning standup to go round and say what items they are going to act on that particular day.

(2) The Weekly Tactical: It’s weekly staff meeting to be held for 45 to 90 minutes focused entirely on tactical issues of immediate concern. It should start with a lightning round of 1-minute updates from each participant, followed by a progress review on critical business information or metrics, finally ending with a real-time agenda focused on short-term tactical problem-solving that align with team priorities. The key is to resolve the issues at hand and reinforce clarity without giving in to any discussions on long-term strategic issues.

(3) Monthly Strategic / Ad Hoc: This is the long and interesting meeting within the team that focuses on strategic issues for the team, project, or business. It requires a prepared agenda, sent to the participants for research ahead of time, with one or two major topics to discuss for a couple of hours. Impromptu/ad hoc strategic meetings may be called anytime as the need arises but the monthly scheduled strategic meeting should still be put in the calendar.

(4) Quarterly Offsite Review: This is an opportunity for the team to step away from immediate pressing issues that normally command attention, and review the business in a more holistic long-term perspective.

The Alliance by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, Chris Yeh

I finished reading The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, Chris Yeh. I read this book after I heard a speech from LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman. In this book, the authors suggest that the old model of a lifelong job will no more work in the modern world of the competitive labor market. Free agents are no good either and instead, a third model is proposed called the alliance. In this model employer allies with the employee to transform the company’s future while the employee, in turn, transforms their career working for the company – a win-win situation. This mutually beneficial partnership between employer and employee has three components: tours of duty, employee networks, and corporate alumni relations.

Both employer and employee identify their goals and determine where they overlap. They then construct a “tour,” or finite term of employment, that helps them both grow. Tours can be introductory level or generic (Rotational), focused on a specific goal or outcome (Transactional), or lifelong (Foundational).

Employers benefit from the professional connections of employees in many different ways. Call it network intelligence. At LinkedIn and several other Silicon Valley companies, employees of all levels are encouraged to engage in networking activities, such as lunches and conferences. I personally attend many engineering meetups in Bay Area as well as LunchClub for networking.

An alumni network serves as a key benefit across the hiring process, employment, and post-employment. Alumni network programs allow for the concept of a “lifetime alliance” even after an employee leaves a company.

Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High

I finished reading Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Swizler. This book should be read by every leader, manager and people who make decisions under high stress. Even for the general audience, the crucial conversation is a good skill to learn for life.

A conversation among two or more people may be marked as crucial if the opinions differ and the stakes are high, which in turn results in highly charged emotions. You may consider these as high-risk conversations as well. If handled properly, they create breakthroughs. But if mishandled they can lead to breakdowns. The authors researched for 25 years with 20,000 people to come up with some recommendations on how to identify and handle crucial conversations better.

1) Start with an open conversation in a positive mindset – How we discuss something is often the real issue rather than what we are discussing. How we discuss something is often the real issue rather than what we are discussing.

2) Stay in dialogue – If the lines of communication go down, then there is no hope for a resolution.

3) Establish safety primarily by listening – Listen from an authentic place of compassion, curiosity, and encouragement. Make the conversation safe so that others don’t mask, avoid, or withdraw. There are four paths to powerful listening: AMPP – 

  • A = Ask (to get things rolling)
  • M = Mirror (to confirm feelings)
  • P = Paraphrase (to acknowledge their story)
  • P = Prime (when we are getting no-where) 

4) Control your emotion – To speak honestly without offending requires a mix of confidence, humility, and skill. Use the following 5 tools: STATE –

  • S = Share the facts
  • T = Tell your story (i.e the meaning you are making of these facts)
  • A = Ask for the other person’s path/story
  • T = Talk tentatively
  • E = Encourage testing – The intent is to reach a shared meaning to the facts as a solid basis on which to agree on the next action steps.

5) Agree on a mutual purpose – Use the key steps for developing a mutual purpose: CRIB  – 

  • C =  Commit to seek a Mutual Purpose 
  • R = Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
  • I = Invent a mutual purpose
  • B = Brainstorm new strategies

6) Separate Facts from Story – There are three stories we need to listen out to deconstruct how a person is viewing the situation.

  • Victim stories (It’s not my fault).
  • Villain stories (it’s all your fault)
  • Helpless stories (There’s nothing else I can do).

The key is to get both parties to construct a bigger shared story. It is only when we have a shared meaning can we start to devise an action plan. If we find there is still disagreement then use the ABC

  • A = Agree
  • B = Build
  • C = Compare

7) Agree on a clear action plan – Use the 4 methods of decision making to agree on a clear action plan.

  • Command – who are empowered to make the decision
  • Consult – consult before making the decision
  • Vote – the most vote wins
  • Consensus – where one seeks a position that everyone can sign up to

Ask the following questions – 

  • Who cares? – don’t involve people who don’t care
  • Who knows? – who has the relevant expertise
  • Who must agree? – who are the people who could block the implementation later on
  • How many people must be involved? – try to involve the fewest people possible.