It’s Not About The Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks

by Howard Behar

I am not a Starbucks fan; in fact, I hardly am a coffee drinker.  Growing up Chinese on a British colony means that my nature and nurture are totally geared towards a cup of tea.  However, as it has been a long while since I picked up a business management book, and thinking at least this should be an interesting one, I picked it up.

This book do offer a few pearls of wisdom; my favorite is to listen with “Compassion Emptiness”.  This is a Buddhism concept.  While it may look weird at first sight (now, if Starbucks specialized in tea, maybe we would expect more Zen from its management.)  Basically the idea is that you listen with compassion, but also with emptiness: no prejudice, no judgment, so solution already in mind.  A lot of times we listen only to wait for our turn to put in our side, our view of the story.  I do think this is a nice concept.

Another interesting idea (from Bruce Nordstrom, retired co-chairman of Nordstrom) is that the primary job of an employer is to “provide freedom”: freedom to serve, freedom to make decisions right on the spot, and a management willing to live with those decisions. The sense of pride and ownership gives people the freedom to serve themselves and the organization.  It encourages people to focus less on what they should do, but why they should do it.

A repeated theme is, “we are in the business of serving people, not selling coffee.”  They have great coffee but one day the author came back to his office to find three complain letters about customer service.  That’s a very vital shift of focus, one that distinguish a great company from its competition.

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Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 2:10 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. It was so nice to see your comments about It’s Not About the Coffee, which I coauthored with Howard Behar. He’s the real deal – I learned so much from him. Interestingly, I read The Alchemist, one of your all-time favorites, while working on N@C and it turns out that Howard Behar is the “alchemist” type, according to some consulting methodologies. Also, I acquired and edited Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel and we worked on five books together during my HarperCollins days. So I guess there was a bit of magic in your connecting with this particular leadership book.

    Glad to have seen your blog. Best, janet


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