Author: 8. October 2019, 11:31

Two personal qualities, two controversial stories. What makes a manager become a good leader?

Foto Musk by Dr. Dunkan Hull; Foto Ronaldo  

Is every manager automatically also a leader? It may sound simple but looking for an answer to this question is a bit trickier than what it may first appear. Many people consider these words synonyms. How could you indeed manage people without also leading them?

Leadership and management undoubtedly do have much in common but there's one fundamental difference between these two concepts. Managers make people work for them. On the other hand, leaders inspire people to follow them and help them achieve things they didn't even know they were capable of.

Nonetheless, there is also the other side of the coin, and the stories of great leaders aren't always rosy. They demonstrate their strengths mostly when things start going awry and, to achieve success, they need to make many sacrifices.

Let's take a look at two stories of controversial leaders and their individual qualities, which make people follow them.


A South African by birth, who's always loved to take risks. An example? He was accepted to Stanford but left after two days to found Zip2. Result? Four years later, the company was bought by Compaq, and then 27-year-old Musk cashed in 22 million dollars. And that was just the beginning.

Then came PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, The Boring Company... and, over time, Elon became a billionaire, whom the world perceives as a charismatic visionary (his similarity with Ironman isn't purely coincidental). 

What about him as a leader?

Elon's trump card: bold creativity

Let's go back nine years, to when IBM published a study in which 1,500 CEOs from across the world acknowledged that creativity was going to be the most important managerial quality in the following five years. Three years later, Musk was named Businessperson of the Year by 'Fortune'.

This course of events certainly wasn't a coincidence, since Musk belongs among a relatively new sort of creative leader. These people, according to the Harvard Business Review , represent a kind of empathetic leader, who behaves less like a strict commander and more like a coach, and someone who puts more emphasis on self-esteem than on demanding respect.

Let's take a look at some of the key principles of creative leadership: to have a vision and be able to translate it into action, to have the courage to make tough decisions, to dare to go off the beaten path, and to be able to handle both success and failure.

Do you also feel like these principles are basically the summary of Musk's CV?

The dark side

Elon's great strength – creativity. Elon's major weakness – creativity.

Well, creativity and ego. Leaders like him abound in creative ideas and tend to venture immediately into new projects.

This in itself wouldn't be such a big problem. But Elon belongs with those people who don't like to share the spotlight, which, logically, can lead a person with such a myriad of executive responsibilities to exhaustion (an interview with Elon).

This also reveals Musk's shortcomings in some areas of HR. The executive management in Tesla gets replaced at relatively short intervals, and a leaked internal email from last year, in which he categorised the performance of some subcontractors as "worse than that of a drunken sloth", suggests that the company culture might not exactly be thriving.

And the fact that he can swing the price of company shares like a metronome with his Tweets, or having labelled a British diver, who was saving kids in a submerged cave, a pedophile without any proof, just because he said Elon's offering of a submarine for the rescue mission was only a PR stunt, also don't play in his favour.

Why do people follow him?

Elon's life is basically a book of visionary and crazy stories. And it's the craziest stories that demonstrate best his uniqueness as a creative leader. One such tale began in 2001, when he introduced the concept of an experimental greenhouse on Mars.

However, he needed to get it there somehow. So, he went shopping in Russia, where he was offered an intercontinental ballistic missile for $8 million. He refused the offer because he thought the price was too steep and decided to build one on his own.

But he didn't know anything about rockets. So he plunged into studying and hired several top-notch experts, with whom he managed to launch SpaceX from the Earth in 2006. Even though for only 33 seconds.

This triumph was followed by two years of unsuccessful, extremely expensive trials, and after its third failure, the project was on the verge of collapse and bankruptcy. However, at the last minute, Elon managed to secure an investment from Peter Thiel – a businessman and a prominent Donald Trump supporter.

This decision didn't meet with a very positive response, but it allowed the space mission to continue. SpaceX hasn't only managed to launch its rockets to space, but also to land successfully, and reach the ISS.

And that's where the biggest power of creative leaders lies – not only in their crazy ideas and correspondingly crazy executions but also in their ability to take risks and withstand the failures one cannot avoid when walking off the beaten path.

People follow Elon because of his visions and his determination and because they want to be part of something great.


A football star, a five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or award, and the first player ever to raise the "big-eared" Champions League trophy five times. He is currently the most followed influencer on Instagram (185 mil. followers) and was one of the 100 most influential people in 2014 according to Time magazine.

But is he also a leader?

Ronaldo's strength – always to lead by example

Ronaldo's football excellence is like a puzzle – composed of many pieces. He is an attacker who can score literally at any time and from any position, and he is well aware of that. He is self-confident, never hides in the back, always takes on responsibility, and the pressure under which other players choke, drives him to perform his best.

However, he doesn't rely solely on his talent and mindset– with his hard work and dedication he could match even Jaromír Jágr in his prime years. Patrice Evra, his former teammate, whom Ronaldo once invited over for lunch after a training session, could only confirm that.

Tired Evra was looking forward to a steak and some rest but instead was served some plain chicken with water and an extra portion of training. Rumour has it he said he'd never accept another lunch invitation from Ronaldo again.

His dark side

Let's face it, Ronaldo is extremely competitive, and everybody knows that. He isn’t ashamed to admit that he wants to be the best in the world, and for many is the kind of player who focuses on personal achievements over team goals.

He is said to be narcissistic and arrogant, he doesn't celebrate his teammates' goals, and the Croatian national team coach said about him last year, that he wouldn't want him on his team because he was too selfish.

A true captain on the pitch

If Ronaldo is really so selfish, can he be a leader?

Let's take a look at a story written by the Portuguese national team, where he cannot count on the big-name players he's used to playing with in his club.

Before his era, the Portuguese had never won gold medals at any major tournament. The first chance to rewrite history came in 2004, when they made it to the European Championship semifinals. Back then, the young, less than 20-year-old Ronaldo left the pitch in tears after losing 0-1 to Greece.

The second chance appeared on the horizon 12 years later. The Portuguese travelled to France led by a better and more experienced team captain at the top of his game. They barely made it to the quarterfinals against Poland, which went to a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw.

Even though he wasn't playing his best in that game, he was the first one to set the ball on the penalty spot and score. The Poles responded in kind. With the score tied, it was Moutinho's turn and the stress was eating him up. The fans watching the match on TV could clearly see and hear his captain giving him a pep talk and ordering him to come forward.

Moutinho succeeded. The Poles equalized by scoring their third penalty goal but didn't add any more. The Portuguese won the penalty shoot-out, as well as the following match against Wales. In the final, they were to encounter the star-studded French team, who were the favorites to win the championship.

When nothing is going right, everything will... turn out bright?

Ronaldo left yet another final match in tears, but this time it wasn't due to the result. The injured captain was carried off on a stretcher 25 minutes into the game, and his teammates were visibly shaken.

CR7 isn't the type of guy who'd just sit back on the bench. Before long, he could be seen jumping up and down on the edge of the pitch, with his knee bandaged, cheering on his teammates and encouraging them ever more passionately.

And it worked. The Portuguese recovered and each player showed their best. Even though their game wasn't perfect, they played as a team nobody would want to play against. And they kept a 0-0 tie until the end of regulation.

The final match, tied score, and a charged atmosphere. During the overtime break, the cameras caught sight of Ronaldo talking to 28-year-old Eder. In the 109th minute of the game, Eder smashed a surprising shot and scored a winning goal, which secured the first and so far the only gold in Portugal's medal collection.

And what did Ronaldo say to Eder during the break? "He told me I was going to score the winning goal. He gave me the energy and strength I needed."

At Euro 2016, Ronaldo proved that he can also assume other roles besides that of a selfish scorer. The players followed him because he was able to motivate them not only by his presence on the pitch but also by sharing his great energy and eagerness to win even from the touchline. And he was genuinely celebrating his teammates' goals.

Become leaders with Beenia

In Beenia, we've understood the difference between management and leadership since the very beginning, and we've been trying to create and set up an environment that would allow leaders to fulfill their potential.

Vyškúšajte si Beeniu zadarmo

You can get inspired by Elon and look for creative ways of leading teams such as using Kanban. Or you can learn from his mistakes and share responsibilities with your teammates to lift some weight off your shoulders. But above all, you can always lead by example like Ronaldo, because just like you can see the progress of your colleagues, they can see yours.

Believe in yourself, take risks, and if you feel like it, show everybody that you have the makings of a leader. History has proven more than once what can be achieved by great leaders with amazing crews.

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