The Effect of a Leader, Starbucks style

This morning I did my routine Sunday shuffle when I’m at home; get in an early morning run (cut real short today because of windy weather. A storm last night has snow creeping down to the half-way mark of Mauna Kea) water or weed my garden some, grab the Sunday paper on my way back in the door, and flip through it while I cool down from my exercise just enough to start drooling for my coffee.

The coffee has a ritual all its own, whether through my French press or my 4-cup espresso maker. It seems the more I got steamed up on my run, the more enjoyment I get out of the steam frothing up the milk I add to my espresso. Not sure why it works that way, but I always smile to myself on how I can count on that it does.

If they are home, my family is still asleep through all this, for I’m the only early riser, and by this time it’s not even 8am yet. Coffee made and warming my spirit, I go online to check in on the Ho‘ohana Community. Community, coffee, and Sunday mornings were simply meant to be.

So this morning, one of the first webstops I clicked in to was Phil’s place, Make it Great! for I know I can always count on him to do that for me, and he has a link to a Business Week article about Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz, and how his communication skills have given his company a “secret ingredient” for success. Good article, especially for those of us who love to learn about great leadership which works, and I encourage you to click in too; I’ll have the link for you at the end.

First, some other thoughts.

As I drank my coffee and read about Schultz, I couldn’t help but think about how many times I’ve been in Starbucks and have been impressed, and what effect Howard Schultz’s leadership has had on me personally, never having met the guy, never have listening to him speak, and never having read anything he has written. I thought about how Starbucks has gotten so big, yet remained so intimate for us, and we still can love them, as opposed to say, WalMart.

“His powerful communication skills define a leader who knows not only what he stands for, but also the values he promotes, and who knows how to make an emotional connection with his listeners.”

Carmine Gallo, about Howard Schulz

Well, those listeners haven’t included me, yet his words have still had their effect on me: How has this happened?

It’s got to be, that somehow, Schultz has been able to lead in a manner where his passion and effective communication of that passion, has locked arms with terrific management. The man can’t be in all of his stores all the time, and he can’t be managing them himself: He is somehow getting it done with some unsung heroes of management excellence.

The comments of the article include these from two Starbucks employees:

Nickname: nc

Review: Starbucks, for me, represents my extended family. They back me up when I need them the most.

Nickname: starbucksbarista

Review: Terry, [to another commenter stating, “the company itself has changed dramatically over the last 10 years, and what it really cares for now is "earnings per share."]
I work at Starbucks, and it’s the real deal. Starbucks this week demonstrated that, although committed to making a profit, they’re committed to their employees (we’re called ‘partners’) and customers first. The company is disbursing a few million dollars directly to all partners because we made so much money last year. I’m getting an extra $125 on my next paycheck. That’s a pretty good deal for working at what is basically a pricey fast food joint. (Although we hope Starbucks is more than that for our customers!)

As one of those customers, I can tell you that led by Howard Schultz, and run by some great managers everywhere, Starbucks has significantly contributed to the coffee addict I’ve become. Yes, I live in one of the places known for growing the greatest coffee beans in the world, but that’s just part of my own story; I have to give credit where credit is due. The Starbucks experience, the whole package, gets me and my business too, and they get me often.

I can’t help but admire and get inspired by great leadership. Howard Schultz, I don’t know much about you, but I see what your leadership has done, and you rock.

Think I’ll have another cup of coffee. You can check out the other inspirations in Gallo’s article here:

Starbucks’ Secret Ingredient,

How you can incorporate coffee chain chairman Howard Schultz’ persuasive communication skills in your workplace.

Lessons from Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz
Lesson 1
: Dig deep to identify what you are truly passionate about (hint: it’s not always the product itself) and convey that message to employees, customers, and colleagues. When you are passionate, you come across as excited, energetic, and enthusiastic — all of the qualities people like to see in others. And if people like you, they’re more likely to do business with you or to back your vision.

Lesson 2: Inspire your colleagues, investors, or employees by painting a picture of a world made better by your service, product, company, or cause.
Lesson 3: To get the most out of people, a leader has to tap into their emotions as well as their minds. People can relate to stories. They can see themselves in other people’s stories. The ability to use stories to get people to buy into one’s vision with their hearts is a powerful leadership capability.

Read the rest.

Thanks Phil!

Related posts; Can’t help but write about them when they’re this good:
Coffee, Ho‘ohana, and Syncopated Rhythm

Gingerbread latte, no whip, full holiday press

Investment Banking at the Prescott Starbucks

And more from the Ho‘ohana Community;

On the lighter side :-)
From Todd StorchStarbucks stole my kids’ books!
From Scott HodgeWhat would you say to Howard Schultz?

From John Richardson, who walked past many unique businesses in his MBA on the Run program, but ended up at Starbucks, because they were telling the best story- Stories in Old Town.

From Kevin Eikenberry (and who decidedly does)- Who Drinks Tea at Starbucks Anyway?

My archive winner by a long shot, thousands of hits and still counting… Investment Banking at the Prescott Starbucks.


From EM Sky, her own take on these 3 Lessons from Shultz- Starbucks & the Primate Mind.

From Stacy Brice, a commentary on a chink in the effectiveness armor- Starbucks–not sharing Akeelah?

From Dwayne Melancon, who with his family visited the original Starbucks in Seattle- From a store to a lifestyle.

From Phil Gerbyshak, who is the caffeine shot in any meetup, I guarantee you! – The Power of Coffee.

From Starbucker, a Starbucks enthusiast if there ever was one! – Starbucks: Change Agent.


  1. Adrian Savage says

    Aloha Rosa,
    I too like to read about leadership success (and I’m addicted to Starbuck’s Coffee Frappucino — ideal for the Arizona climate), but I feel I have to add a word of caution.
    What works for one person in one circumstance doesn’t always work elsewhere. It’s a very natural human trait to want to copy success. It’s pretty much the stock-in-trade of most consultants and very many management writers. It makes for a good feelings and a nice sense of believing there’s going to be an easy way to make things work.
    Sadly, the universe doesn’t always play fair. If it were that easy to find success, everyone would be successful.
    What does work — nearly always — is using stories about successful leaders and businesses as the basis for asking some great questions; then taking time to explore the answers and find your own way forward. One that matches your unique circumstances.
    I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but I see many, many leaders and would-be leaders being mislead into the notion that the way to become successful is to copy others who have made it already. That’s a sure route to disappointment.
    Let’s enjoy success stories for what they are: a good read and a chance to ask ourselves some new questions.

  2. says

    Oh I quite agree Adrian, I don’t think you are raining on anyone’s parade here at all.
    My wondering about all of this today is itself the question, who are the managers — the whole lot of them — behind the scenes here, who are helping to make the Shultz vision for Starbucks the one which plays out day to day in so many locations across the globe? And who are all the wonderful employees who inspire all us writers to pen their stories? However to give Shultz credit where credit is due, how did he cause that to happen? Or in the words of our Ho‘ohana this month, how is the Starbucks harmony of Lōkahi engendered?
    Carmine Gallo (the Business Week author) seems to feel that the manner in which Shultz communicates is a key answer.
    As you know, I make quite a distinction between the inspiration and strategic clarity of great leadership, and the operational execution and diligent follow-through of great management. Both have all things, just to a different degree, and we ask for mentorship from both. We ask for value alignment from both for the sake of our personal integrity. We ask for independence and the freedom to put our own signature and fingerprint on the delivery of a unifying vision, and we ask for the right to speak into that vision to begin with. Stories are indeed the celebration of all that individuality, freshness, and creative thought and ownership, are they not?

  3. says

    Hi Rosa, Great post!
    Below is a link to a Starbucks podcast from my Small Business Trends Radio program. Author David Lorenzo was my guest on this particular show, and he spoke about something called the “Starbucks moment.”
    A Starbucks moment, as he defines it, is when you have a random encounter with someone (perhaps while standing in line at Starbucks to get coffee) and turn it into a business opportunity.
    David works at Rockefeller Center in New York, but says he spent a lot of time in the Starbucks in the lobby getting ideas for his book. That’s the power of Starbucks!
    The podcast can be downloaded here:

  4. Rick Fuqua says

    Not that it’s that a huge deal, but it would be nice if Starbucks had Kona coffee available at all stores.
    As for the business side, I respect that Starbucks has created an image of quality, even while sprouting up on every corner. They have avoided the McCoffee comparison, probably mostly by keeping their price for a cup of coffee so high. So often we associate quality with price. When was the last time you saw Starbucks issue a coupon or discount?
    I also think it is pretty slick how they have projected a European/Bohemian coffee house image, which appleals to the left – while also projecting a business class style, which appeals to the right. Hippies and Yuppies united.

  5. says

    We all strive to be reassured that what we are doing is OK, we often seek out and value the opinions of others over those of ourselves.
    This can cover anything from a finding ‘post-it’ note on your payslip saying “Well Done – Good Job”, to telling three hundred new employees a day – your Starbucks story.

  6. na says

    In response to Rick, above: Starbucks actually issues many many discounts and freebies. Drink coupons are given at every store to make up for minor mishaps such as a longer than usual wait for a beverage (and usual is about a minute). Recently Sbux stores gave away free coffee for two hours during peak business hours. For each promotion, marketing materials include free drink coupons and giveaways. As well as “pass on kindness” cards that were recently distributed, meant to be given amongst customers, inspired by a starbucks drive thru that saw nine customers in a row pay for the drink for the customer behind them.
    I tell you all this to illustrate the point that the leadership written about above does create, and come from, genuine desire to create community.

  7. says

    It’s interesting Rosa that I have read so much about Starbucks and yet the Australian stores in no way reflect the kind of experience and leadership you describe. They are just another coffee shop, albeit a way-too-expensive one. You can see what they are meant to be, but it ain’t happening. It’s an incredible shame, and I wonder what the leadership lesson in that is.
    Still, they do make a killer moccha!

  8. says

    It is a shame Pete, perhaps even more so when we know of the brand’s reputation elsewhere, and thus the possibilities of what could be. The management lesson is that bigger is not necessarily better; the leadership lesson that a lack of consistency can be your potential downfall.