I got to work today still tired from the very long week and my team told me, “Everyone at the company conference wanted to know how they could get you as their manager.” My sleepiness instantly evaporated. Take care of your people and everything else falls into place.
I gave the keynote address today at our company meeting of our clients.
My message: care for your team members, clients, and partners as people first and employees second. Watch how your business transforms from being transaction-based to relationship-based.
Leadership as service and heart-centered is the most potent superpower I know in the world of business. And yes, that is 100% THE hill I will live, work, and die on.
(Hat tip to Bob Giampietro who first said those words to me 11 years ago. They changed my life and career, and I’ve never looked back.)
Let me be clear about my philosophy on leadership. I’ve had two kinds of bosses: amazing ones who fight for their people and truly awful ones who fight against their people. Those of you who have worked with me and for me know this: I fight for my people. I block and tackle for them. I listen (rather than just waiting for my turn to talk). I can’t always get them what they want, but I will always get them what they need and won’t rest until that happens. Everyone gets a seat at the table and gets to have their say without sugar-coating. Everyone gets clarity and transparency. The hinges are off the door, or better yet there’s never a door at all. I am there to serve, support, and encourage, not to criticize or dictate. This is what it takes to have a team. Until you do that, you may be someone’s boss but you’ll never be someone’s leader. And there’s a world of difference between those two roles. Let’s always be mindful of that distinction and push ourselves to be the latter. Not surprisingly, if you take care of your team, the team will take care of customers, and customers will take care of investors. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
Over the weekend, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, issued a statement to every partner (employee). I teared up reading the strong and courageous stance he’s taking on immigration, healthcare, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, refugees, and Mexico. Now this is a leader we should all emulate. Business is, first and foremost, about people. The full statement and link are below.
I write to you today with deep concern, a heavy heart and a resolute promise. Let me begin with the news that is immediately in front of us: we have all been witness to the confusion, surprise and opposition to the Executive Order that President Trump issued on Friday, effectively banning people from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, including refugees fleeing wars. I can assure you that our Partner Resources team has been in direct contact with the partners who are impacted by this immigration ban, and we are doing everything possible to support and help them to navigate through this confusing period.
We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American Dream, being called into question. These uncertain times call for different measures and communication tools than we have used in the past. Kevin and I are going to accelerate our commitment to communicating with you more frequently, including leveraging new technology platforms moving forward. I am hearing the alarm you all are sounding that the civility and human rights we have all taken for granted for so long are under attack, and want to use a faster, more immediate form of communication to engage with you on matters that concern us all as partners.
I also want to take this opportunity to announce specific actions we are taking to reinforce our belief in our partners around the world and to ensure you are clear that we will neither stand by, nor stand silent, as the uncertainty around the new Administration’s actions grows with each passing day:
Support for DACA: As I wrote to Senators Graham and Durbin this week, we are enthusiastically behind their work to support “Dreamers” across our country – including those young men and women who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. There are nearly three-quarters of a million hardworking people contributing to our communities and our economy because of this program. At Starbucks, we are proud to call them partners and to help them realize their own American Dream. We want them to feel welcome and included in our success, which is why we reimburse them for the biennial fee they must pay to stay in the program and why we have offered DACA-related services at our Opportunity Youth hiring fairs.
Hiring Refugees: We have a long history of hiring young people looking for opportunities and a pathway to a new life around the world. This is why we are doubling down on this commitment by working with our equity market employees as well as joint venture and licensed market partners in a concerted effort to welcome and seek opportunities for those fleeing war, violence, persecution and discrimination. There are more than 65 million citizens of the world recognized as refugees by the United Nations, and we are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business. And we will start this effort here in the U.S. by making the initial focus of our hiring efforts on those individuals who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel in the various countries where our military has asked for such support.
Building Bridges, Not Walls, With Mexico: We have been open for business in Mexico since 2002, and have since opened almost 600 stores in 60 cities across the country, which together employ over 7,000 Mexican partners who proudly wear the green apron. We have sourced coffee from Mexico’s producers and their families for three decades and last fall, we also announced the creation of a farmer support center in Chiapas to help accelerate our collective ability to grow and export some of the world’s finest coffees from this important growing region, while donating more than $2 million to support the livelihood, food security and water quality of coffee producing communities in Oaxaca. With the support of thousands of Starbucks partners and millions of customers, we have also donated over a million coffee trees to support 70,000 families, and we will be expanding the initiative this year to generate another 4 million tree donations. Coffee is what unites our common heritage, and as I told Alberto Torrado, the leader of our partnership with Alsea in Mexico, we stand ready to help and support our Mexican customers, partners and their families as they navigate what impact proposed trade sanctions, immigration restrictions and taxes might have on their business and their trust of Americans. But we will continue to invest in this critically important market all the same.
Our Healthcare Commitment to You: Finally, let me restate what we have recently communicated with you about the Affordable Care Act – our commitment remains that if you are benefits eligible, you will always have access to health insurance through Starbucks. Many of you have expressed concerns that recent government actions may jeopardize your ability to participate in the Affordable Care Act. If the recent Executive Order related to health care remains in place and the Affordable Care Act is repealed causing you to lose your healthcare coverage, you will always have the ability to return and can do so within 30 days of losing that coverage rather than having to wait for an open enrollment period. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Benefits Center at 877-728-9236.
In the face of recent events around the world, let me assure you that we will stay true to our values and do everything we can possibly do to support and invest in every partner’s well-being while taking the actions that are squarely within our ability to control. This is our focus: providing a Third Place of respite for those around the world who seek it, daily.
Starbucks has and will always stand for opportunity – opportunity for our young people who are working to land their first job in the 75 countries where we do business, opportunity for our farmers who care so deeply for the highest of quality coffee we offer to customers all around the globe, and yes, opportunity for those who come to America in search of their own fresh start – whether that is with Starbucks directly, or through our suppliers or our partner companies.
If there is any lesson to be learned over the last year, it’s that your voice and your vote matter more than ever. We are all obligated to ensure our elected officials hear from us individually and collectively. Starbucks is doing its part; we need you to use the collective power of your voices to do the same while respecting the diverse viewpoints of the 90 million customers who visit our stores in more than 25,000 locations around the world.
So, while we seek to understand what the new Administration’s policies mean for us and our business both domestically and around the world, I can assure you that we will do whatever it takes to support you, our partners, to realize your own dreams and achieve your own opportunities. We are in business to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time – whether that neighborhood is in a Red State or a Blue State; a Christian country or a Muslim country; a divided nation or a united nation. That will not change. You have my word on that.
I took this picture at the Women’s March in D.C. and it’s a strong reminder to me of what we’re fighting for now. This is the future. This is where we’re going. This is why we standup and raise our voices.
We are now in the societal version of the financial crisis that reared its head in 2008. I was working at American Express in 2008 and with a front row seat to the recession, the picture was bleak. And here’s what CEO Ken Chenault and his senior staff did: they talked to us, and kept talking to us. All the time. Every week. They told us what they were afraid of. They told us what kept them up at night. They shared data with us. They didn’t give up. They urged us to do whatever we could with whatever we had from wherever we were in the company. And so I did. I’m going to write him a letter and thank him for his example that I carry to this day.
I realize that my expectations of leadership are very high, and I have no intention of lowering them. I didn’t always agree with Ken’s decisions while I was at Amex (and sometimes I adamantly and publicly disagreed), but I certainly always respected him. I always believed he was trying to do the right thing given extenuating and complex circumstances. I know that no matter how hard I was working, he was working harder.
My boss at Toys R Us, Bob G., was the same way. He was always invested in who I was as a human being first, and as an employee second. And he would often tell me that in addition to showing it through his world-class mentoring and advice.
I recognize that I have been tremendously fortunate to have had many great leaders during my career. (Some god-awful ones, too, but we’ll save that for another post.) CEOs, don’t throw away an opportunity to exercise leadership and to inspire your people, especially during these trying and difficult times. That’s when your people need leaders the most—not when the sailing is smooth but when the water is choppy and the direction unclear. Your people need you. Don’t fail them.
A long time ago I embraced the idea of leadership as service. If leaders take care of their teams, their teams will take care of their customers, and their customers will take care of the company. If we’re going to lead an organization, a group, a product, or a yoga class, the last thing we should do is play the “look at me and look what I can do” card.
This is what so many leaders get wrong. They bury themselves in their work and forget the crux of their role—to support their team members, individually and as a group, and spend the vast majority of their time removing roadblocks so that their teams can do their best work. The roadblocks can be funding, revenue, processes, procedures, services, and the list goes on.
It takes a tremendous amount of two-way trust to lead—leaders have to trust their teams and vice versa. It’s about crossing the finish line together, not beating one another to the end, whatever the end is. Just as the Lean Startup revolutionized how we see entrepreneurship and management, I hope that this idea of leadership as service revolutionizes the way we see company culture. A leader needs to be the last in line, not the first. It’s so much easier to push than to pull.
“I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.” ~Rita Mae Brown
This morning I had to send a brutally honest note to someone. It wasn’t rude, but it was direct, clear, and concise. Someone has been trying to push me into doing something I absolutely don’t want to do. I thought about just going along with it for a while, to save any drama and to avoid making anyone else uncomfortable despite my extreme discomfort with the situation for the past few months.
Then my friend, Amanda, posted the quote above and I realized I couldn’t conform against my own authenticity. So I sent the note, and never looked back. I have no idea how it will be received, and that’s not my concern. I can only do things and go places with my whole heart. Anything else is just phony.
And here’s what I learned in writing that note: it’s always possible to be both professional and honest, respectful and strong, dignified and clear. You can’t be worried about burning a bridge that isn’t even there. Sometimes you’ve got to disappoint others to be true to yourself.
I spent this morning on Google Hangout with my Ethics professor, Ed Freeman, and it’s one of the very best work mornings I’ve spent in a long time. We had an introductory call about the book project we’re working on and it left me feeling hopefully, happy, and excited about the future.
This is how we should all feel about our work—glad and grateful to be a part of it. The second that our work lives start to take the turn of groaning as we hop (or begrudgingly roll) out of bed, we’re in trouble. That’s going to happen once in a while. I’m not under any kind of delusion that work is nothing but sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. Sometimes, it’s just challenging, difficult, and exhausting.
But is a tough day just a tough day or is it a repetitive pattern that makes us feel like we’re going nowhere fast? If it’s the latter, then it’s time to turn a door into a window and climb out of a bad situation by any means necessary. Once this kind of pattern gets entrenched in a workplace, it takes a massive amount of enlightened leadership to change it. And I’m sorry to say that leaders who have the courage, fortitude, creativity, and empathy to take on the Herculean effort of a culture shift are rare.
And that’s about to change. Ed and I are working on a project that makes enlightened and fearless leadership the norm, not the exception. We’re doing it through unconventional thinking and even more unconventional action. I can’t wait to get these ideas out into the world, and I hope you’ll all come along for the ride with us. More soon…