Suffering from parts shortages -- much like the construction industry -- Tesla had slower production numbers in Q2 this year. Frankly, there was little to be done about it. Computer chips, plastic components, and glass are all hard to come by, which meant cars were being built with missing components that had to be filled in later.
Elon Musk, in a memo to employees, was frank about this. And, in spelling out the run for future quarters, noted the backlog with a push to speed production: "This is the biggest wave in Tesla history, but we've got to get it done. Much appreciated, Elon."
Much appreciated? Business backed up through no fault of Tesla employees and the exhortation to work harder faster comes with nothing more than a "much appreciated." What's the motivation for workers to double or triple their efforts? A passing thanks in a companywide memo?
Unfortunately, this is not out of character for Musk. The Guardian ran a story in 2018 highlighting the CEO's penchant for outsize goals, enormous asks, and big promises with little to no follow-through.
Once, the article reveals, Musk sent a note to his employees following investigations about high injury rates at one of Tesla's factories. He gushed about the importance of safety and well-being, and then asked to meet each injured worker as soon as they had recovered to learn about the circumstance of their injury.
"That's PR; that's bologna," one Tesla employee responded, while others who were injured said Musk never met with them.
Musk is not alone in the promise-and-ask-but-don't-deliver game. It seems to be common for American CEOs. Sundar Pichai, Alphabet's much-celebrated CEO, took fire for promising a focus on DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion) in the company's hiring -- and then failing to deliver. Jeff Bezos of online superstore Amazon signed a pledge to take care of employees -- and then yanked health care for part-time workers.
Yes, this is a problem with leaders, but it's also a problem with business in general. We now expect statements to be made demanding more of employees with little compensation. When promises of remuneration are made, they're often just for optics.
The result is waning trust. Customers trust business promises less. Employees trust their managers less. We nod, accepting that there is some PR benefit to bold statements from CEOs but little of substance.
Trust in institutions in general is waning, and while studies show Americans seem to hang on the words of business leaders more than government officials, approval numbers are still embarrassingly low: Only 48 percent of us trust our CEOs.
Why does this matter? If we don't trust business and its leaders -- or our governmental institutions -- how and where do we invest our personal energy, skills, and resources? Generally, we don't. We suffer through stress, malaise, and indifference, disenchanted with those we should be eyeing for guidance and inspiration. As a result, productivity and innovation ebb. We stagnate. We fall behind.
This isn't a "too late" scenario, however. Business leaders across all industries can buck the trend and redouble their communication and strategy efforts. The principle is simple, though the execution sometimes challenging: Don't promise what you can't deliver. Be honest. Confess to failure and fault while articulating a path forward.
Nobody wants perfection in leadership -- that's wholly unrelatable. What they want is vision, commitment, integrity, and honesty. It's time to change the downward trending trust index in this country. It's time to pivot to honest growth, even if it cannot hit pie-in-the-sky goals.