Personal Leadership Skills from Starbucks: Taking You and Your Business to the Extraordinary

One of the most memorable quotes attributed to Howard Schultz, Founder and CEO of Starbucks: “We are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee.”

It’s Not About the Coffee, It’s About the People—All the People:

“We’re all human” is the mantra that says it all to me. None of us are really customers, or employees, or managers, or bosses. We’re people. We’re human beings.

At Starbucks we’re in the human service business, not the customer service business. That means the coffee has to be excellent, from the sourcing and growing to the roasting and brewing. The vision has to be inspiring and meaningful to our partners, the communities we’re a part of, and all the people we serve. Our finances have to be in order so we can do the work we love. But without people, we have nothing. With people, we have something even bigger than coffee.

Ten Principles of Personal Leadership:

At Starbucks there’s a little green booklet, called The Green Apron Book, which sets down the guiding principles for all the people who work at the company. It’s a simple book, barely a booklet, but no one ever complains about its simplicity. The guidelines are merely reminders of what we stand for in our Starbucks stores—what we can do, not what we must or can’t do.

As we grew from a small to a much larger group of committed individuals, The Green Apron Book was a way to capture and write down the things that mattered to us about our mission and the kind of company we were creating. In the same spirit, the principles of personal leadership I’ve learned and taught and present in this book are principles that everyone can embrace. I’ve used them as touchstones to keep me honest and to keep me clear. They’ve also withstood the test kitchen of my leadership at Starbucks. The principles are literally brewed into the way we work, make decisions, confront problems, care about one another, persevere, and create opportunities for our future. This book, these principles, are trusted markers that can set your course in the turbulent sea of business, commerce, and life. I’ve used these principles as I’ve coached hundreds of leaders at every level. Not every principle will be equally meaningful to you or equally challenging for you to remember and practice. But I can guarantee you that you won’t go wrong if you use these ten principles as a guiding force in leading yourself and, if it’s your goal, in leading others.

  • KNOW WHO YOU ARE: Wear One Hat Our success is directly related to our clarity and honesty about who we are, who we’re not, where we want to go, and how we’re going to get there. When organizations are clear about their values, purpose, and goals, they find the energy and passion to do great things.
  • KNOW WHY YOU’RE HERE: Do It Because It’s Right, Not Because It’s Right for Your Résumé The path to success comes from doing things for the right reasons. You can’t succeed if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish and without everyone being aligned with the goal. Look for purpose and passion in yourself and the people you lead. If they’re not there, do something.
  • THINK INDEPENDENTLY: The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom People are not “assets,” they are human beings who have the capacity to achieve results beyond what is thought possible. We need to get rid of rules —real and imagined—and encourage the independent thinking of others and ourselves.
  • BUILD TRUST: Care, Like You Really Mean It Caring is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength, and it can’t be faked—within an organization, with the people we serve, or in our local or global communities. Without trust and caring, we’ll never know what could have been possible. Without freedom from fear, we can’t dream, and we can’t reach our potential.
  • LISTEN FOR THE TRUTH: The Walls Talk Put the time into listening, even to what’s not said, and amazing results will follow. You’ll know what your customers want, you’ll know why the passion is missing from your organization, and you’ll learn solutions to problems that have been sitting there waiting to be picked.
  • BE ACCOUNTABLE: Only the Truth Sounds Like the Truth No secrets, no lies of omission, no hedging and dodging. Take responsibility and say what needs to be said, with care and respect.
  • TAKE ACTION: Think Like a Person of Action, and Act Like a Person of Thought Find the sweet spot of passion, purpose, and persistence. “It’s all about the people” isn’t an idea, it’s an action. Feel, do, think. Find the balance, but act.
  • FACE CHALLENGE: We Are Human Beings First Use all the principles to guide you during the hardest times. If the challenge is too big, if you find yourself stuck, take smaller bites. But remember to put people first, and you’ll find the guidance you need.
  • PRACTICE LEADERSHIP: The Big Noise and the Still, Small Voice Leading can be the noisy “I’m here!” kind of thing. But don’t ever forget that leaders are just ordinary human beings. Don’t let the noise crowd out the truth. Listen to your still, small voice. Let quiet be your guide. 10. DARE TO DREAM: Say Yes, the Most Powerful Word in the World Big dreams mean big goals, big hopes, big joys. Say yes, and enjoy all that you are doing, and help others to do the same.

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