Musk’s Disruptor vs. Pelosi’s Deliverer: Which Leadership Model Is More Mature?

Carla Seaquist
6 min readFeb 10

--

I start with a leading question: Is Elon Musk’s disruptor “leadership” model any way to run a company, much less a country?

Elon Musk may be an entrepreneurial genius: He is co-founder of the electronic payment firm PayPal; an early investor and CEO of the electric car company Tesla; and founder, CEO, and chief engineer of SpaceX, maker of spacecraft. All making Musk the world’s richest person.

But his “managing” — scare-quotes intended — of the social-media giant Twitter, after acquiring it in 2022 in grandstanding fashion, is making hash of that genius reputation.

Capitalism, in theory, advances through “creative destruction”: out with the old and in with the new. But how creative is it when a CEO’s performance results in a massive drop in revenue at his newly-acquired company, and delisting from the New York Stock Exchange, and massive layoffs? Amidst this chaos, chaos which he created, Musk then announced — so soon? — his $44 billion takeover might result in a bankruptcy filing? And not to overlook the knock-on effect: Thanks to Musk’s antics acquiring Twitter, stock at Tesla dropped 65% (!) last year and dropped another 12% in the New Year in a single day.

That’s a lot of destruction — and for what again? Why are disruptors such big deals?

And we haven’t discussed the human cost of Musk’s managerial cannonballing: Twitter has shed 80% — repeat: 80% — of its workforce since Musk’s arrival. That’s a lot of pain and, you know, disruption — in lives, hopes, careers. Yes, the tech industry generally is shedding workers, but the hemorrhaging at Twitter is outsized, like its new owner’s outsized, and unearned, rep.

Capping this Philistine’s portrait: Musk purports to be — bad joke — a champion of free speech. Whose first act as Twitter owner was to reinstate the account and force-multiplying platform of the lying ex-president Donald J. Trump, arch-enemy of the First Amendment who calls the media “the enemy of the American people” and any negative coverage of himself “fake news,” thus devaluing Truth. Come again, Elon?

Of course Musk and Trump are two of a kind: the disruptor leader. My question at the top — Is the disruptor model any way to run a company or a country — was not rhetorical. We had Donald Trump inhabiting the White House for four calamitous years. Speaking not just for myself, I can say those years were extremely long and made harrowing as the Disruptor-in-Chief knocked off multiple guardrails of American Democracy.

With these disruptors, and others, American slid further off the rails. In his essay “The Childish Drama of Elon Musk,”Atlantic’s Tom Nichols describes Musk as an “irritable and unpredictable child” and cites the disruptor as “one more step in the infantilization of American life, in which we must accommodate and work around the behavior of grown men and women who not so long ago would have been pushed out of public life either by our collective political disgust or by responsible shareholders who would insist that their corporate leaders get back to work instead of making a spectacle of themselves.”

Now: Contrast this spectacle, this Chaos, with the deliverer model of Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi served two stints as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives — first woman Speaker in American history — and just vacated the post after Democrats lost control of the House in the November midterm elections.

Rather than focus on flash and ego, Pelosi focused on serving the bread-and-butter needs of the American people. And, importantly, she delivered, famously working her tally-sheets of where each House member stood on any given bill and working the phones to get them to Yes. Never did she bring a bill to a floor vote without securing the requisite pledges ahead of time; she left little to chance. (Her legislative strategy — “I can count” — she got from her poliitician father, Thomas D’Alesandro, one-time mayor of Baltimore and a Congressman himself.)

What did Pelosi deliver? Principally, the Affordable Care Act, which expands health insurance to millions of Americans, a Democratic goal since Franklin Roosevelt’s era (and which Republicans tried 70+ times to rescind, without success — thanks to Pelosi). She delivered the Dodd-Frank Act, regulating Wall Street after the 2008 financial crash, which she called a crisis “from the depths of hell.” In the pandemic she enacted trillions in public health and economic recovery efforts; also President Biden’s super-abundance of legislation (infrastructure, chips, etc.). A full listing of bills Pelosi sponsored in her 36 years in the House runs over 7,100(!).

Pelosi delivered in another way: On January 6, 2021, as mobs stormed the U.S. Capitol, while the “Commander in Chief” was watching his insurrection go down, it was Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer who commandeered the law enforcement response to quell the mob and enable the electoral count completed that night. Nancy Pelosi: insurrection-buster!

In sum: Nancy Pelosi delivered an infinitude of services to the American people, often in crises, like the peerless people’s tribune she is. And she powered through despite the ugliest misogyny directed at her, as the Republicans’ prime bogeywoman. Even her husband was targeted, assaulted in their home by a hammer-wielding invader calling for “Nancy.” Arguably, Pelosi’s task was doubly hard: Like Ginger Rogers, she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. In truth, Nancy Pelosi was a Speaker for all time, as her counterpart from the opposition, Republican John Boehner, attested: “No other Speaker in the modern era, Republican or Democrat, has wielded the gavel with such authority or such consistent results.”

Meanwhile, what has the disrupter Elon Musk delivered? Dedicated capitalists contend he has created wealth, which he has (with an obscene chunk of it going to himself). But Musk has also created havoc — not only for former employees, but in the very system making this grand American experiment in capitalism and democracy go. Talk about a bogeyman! Strange, their effect: Disrupters have their fun creating havoc, then, post-havoc, they move up capitalism’s hierarchy, while their employees, expendable, get shafted and move out.

This heedless behavior bespeaks arrested development — psychological — in the disruptor. And much in American culture feeds this infantilization (as noted above). The media, notably business writers, find disruptors pure catnip and tout their daring and charisma, inflating the mythology, then are shocked, shocked when the daring charismatic’s balloon bursts. Memo to media: Isn’t it time for lessons learned? Yes, daring is required to innovate, but so is a humane sensibility. (In the political realm, I called out Britain’s premier disruptor Boris Johnson, for selling his nation on the Brexit fraud, in “Beware the Disruptor With No Follow-up Plan.”)

Our historical moment calls for maturity, responsibility, vision that goes beyond selfish ego to embrace the commonweal. Since 9/11 when “everything changed,” in the two decades since, little actually has changed, certainly not in the modeling of responsible behavior — in politics, business, culture. Yet red alerts throughout the system are blinking wildly: To the existing brew of extreme polarization, anger, and cynicism, now add anti-democratic denialists and armed militias. All this disruption calls for….more disruptors?

So: Can we be done — finally — with the disruptor? Can we make way for the grown-ups?

Milad B. Fakurian / Unsplash

--

--

Carla Seaquist

Our times examined via politics, culture, morality. Author, "Can America Save Itself from Decline?" (Vol. II). Playwright. Fmr. HuffPost. www.carlaseaquist.com.