In the morning hours of Thursday, February 18, several Leeds MBA students were provided a pleasant deviation from our typical morning routines. In it’s characteristically humble yet impactful way, The Deming Center for Entrepreneurship treated us to another amazing guest speaker: Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks International and Starbucks North America.
Here is a bit about Howard’s background:
He joined Starbucks in 1989 as vice president of sales and operations, and grew the retail business from 28 stores to more than 400, by the time he was named president of Starbucks Coffee International in 1995.
Under Behar’s leadership, Starbucks opened its first location in Tokyo in 1996, then introduced the Starbucks brand across the Middle East, Asia and the United Kingdom. He retired as president of Starbucks North America in January 2003 and continues to serve in an advisory capacity and to coach leaders at all levels. He is a retired member of the Board of Directors serving from 1996 to 2008. Since his retirement he has written a book “It’s Not About the Coffee” that describes his leadership principles.
Behar serves on several boards, including Anna’s Linens, Washington State Budget and Policy Center, University of Washington Foundation and Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Lynn.
Obviously, armed with this biography, we all knew this man was an accomplished professional with extensive business experience and expertise. Thus, we were all ready to hear about the strategic business theories to which he subscribes, the triumphs and tribulations he has enjoyed and endured, the business lessons he has learned throughout his years, and the mistakes he has made by which we could learn…you know, the usual “corporate veteran wisdom.” But after a 90 minute group discussion, shaped by student interest and filled by the inspirational genius that was Howard Behar, I am convinced that each student carried out of that room something much greater than he or she anticipated when they began loading their plate with fruit and pastries.
We learned that human beings with closely held and strongly upheld values will always prove to be the greatest leaders.
Mr. Behar presented to us the eight leadership principles that he describes in his book. We then selected the three that sounded most interesting to us. I will list and describe in short those three principles below and leave you with the encouragement to get the book and learn more of the other five.
Wear One Hat
I picked this one. Why? Because, as an entrepreneur, one is constantly reminded that he must wear many hats in order to even give his startup a chance at success. The CEO must also be a sales person and the CMO and the CFO, while the CTO must also be the customer service department and the head of maintenance and the other sales person. As it turns out, this notion has nothing to do with the point Howard made.
When he says, “Wear one hat,” Howard means that one should maintain his or her values at all cost. You should always be yourself and resist altering any facet of your character because of the position you hold or the opinions of your superiors. Because, once you have compromised the values that define you as an individual, you have failed yourself and your company.
Never change who you are to satisfy someone else. Or, as one Doctor said, “Be who you are and say what you feel. For those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”
Pick Your Own Broom
If your job is to sweep the floors, you should have a say in the kind of broom you use. If your position calls for ensuring a certain level of quarterly sales, then you should be allowed to utilize the tools you see best fit to reach those numbers.
If you are forced to use a push broom when you really need a whisk broom, you just won’t be able to do your job to your full potential. Similarly, if a regional manager at Starbucks isn’t allowed to provide a certain beverage that her customers demand and that her competitors will provide, she mustn’t be expected to meet (or especially exceed) her sales goals.
But if a business leader is able to cut through the bureaucratic BS, give that sweeper a choice of brooms, and allow that regional manager to sell those fancy new drinks, that same leader will likely see his employee create sparkling floors and record quarterly profits. And another possible outcome just might be the birth of the Starbucks Frappucino.
Excellent leaders enable others to pick their tools and use them to meet their objectives.
Care Like You Mean It
Howard Schultz did not pick up the phone and call his head of legal counsel when he found out about three of his employees who had been shot and killed in a Georgetown Starbucks location. Instead, he got in his car and visited the families of each victim – telling them he was sorry, sharing in their grief, and crying for their losses.
This defined Mr. Schultz in the eyes of Howard Behar. And, according to Mr. Behar, the significance here wasn’t in the fact that Schultz didn’t call his lawyers right away – it was in the fact that that action did not enter Schultz’s mind. He truly cared about the fact that his employees were murdered in his stores, and the fact that those individuals belonged to families who had just suffered a loss greater than any PR fiasco or lawsuit that could be brought against his company.
It is not enough to know that you should care. A respectful and respected leader innately focuses on the things that matter and puts superficial concerns aside.
Priceless learning experiences such as this are what make being a student worth every dime of tuition and every minute of studying.
— A special thanks to the Deming Center for making these experiences possible.
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