I think he, like many successful founders, see things almost getting done that could be great … and at some point feels he no choice but to intervene or a company or initiative will fail. So he takes them over himself, reluctantly. And the better a founder you are, the more often you can do this, and it’s easy to take on way too much.
Elon Musk did not plan to be CEO of Tesla. He just wanted to be its largest early investor. But after burning through most of the cash, and cycling through several CEOs, and with a product that looked like it might never get to market … he decided he had to jump in as CEO to make it work.
The Solarcity story is different, but again perhaps there is a similar thread. He did not want to be CEO or run it, he just wanted to fund it and see it come to fruition. But as it struggled post-IPO, he saw acquiring it and rolling it into Tesla was perhaps the only way for it to achieve its goals. So he decided he had to.
Sleeping on the line and taking over design at Tesla are probably another example. Didn’t want to. “Shouldn’t” have had to. But in the end, he saw no other choice.
Perhaps SpaceX is the one he wanted to be CEO of. It looks like going to Mars was his real dream, and electric vehicles and green energy were critical parts of his visions, but not ones he felt he had to run. He didn’t start off as CEO of those ones. The time came, when things were really struggling, that he just decided he had to. There was no one else that could achieve the vision.
Maybe on a smaller scale, the same reason Jack has to run Twitter as well as Square.
You don’t actually want to. But great founders feel like they have to. As some point, it has to get done.
Above, a look back at CEO #2 (or #3?) of Tesla.