Leadership & Customers Service: Howard Behar’s Book Proves Starbucks Isn’t Only About Coffee

June 25, 2014  |  

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Seeing Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, on a recent episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday got me to thinking about Starbucks and the leadership principles that have catapulted their brand into a world-renowned icon. Whether or not you are a fan of this gourmet coffee company, there’s no denying that Starbucks has tapped into something that works. In Howard Behar’s classic book, It’s Not About The Coffee: Leadership Principles From A Life At Starbucks we gain valuable insight from the former president of Starbucks International about what it took to grow Starbucks from 28 stores to 400 in just a few years. The simple ideas outlined in It’s Not About The Coffee assures current and future leaders that there is still value in what our modern world may consider the “basic approach.”

Early on in Behar’s book he explains how understanding that “we’re all human” was an important foundation from which he built his leadership philosophy. For Behar, Starbucks was in the “human service business, not the customer service business.” Holding this in mind, Behar feels he was always able to remember that without people the company was nothing. By thinking of his customers as people he was able to foster a connection that had them coming back over and over to enjoy not only the product but the experience. Amazingly all 10 of Behar’s leadership principles stem from this straight-forward concept of being human and following our truth.

Wrapped in the “Know Why You’re Here” principle, for example, is the belief that success comes from doing things for the right reasons (i.e. bringing your passion and purpose to the work you do) rather than as just filler for your resume. According to Behar, when we know why we are working somewhere we experience success in our day-to-day roles, success in our creative ideas, in handling problems, and in times of challenge. This principle reminds readers that people want to work for big ideas that matter to them and make a difference. You and your employees are not interested in doing work for the sake of work but rather to reach a bigger goal or dream. In the chapter on building trust, “Care, Like You Really Mean It,” Behar sets the tone with the familiar saying: “People don’t care how much you know. They want to know how much you care.” In this chapter readers learn that it is impossible to successfully lead in business unless you genuinely care about people. It is not enough to say you care but to follow it with action: inviting feedback when you know your performance wasn’t what it should be, saying “thank you” to others and acknowledging contributions wherever they come from, taking responsibility for giving and receiving honest appreciation and coaching.

As with most books I end up enjoying, It’s Not About The Coffee, closes every principle with five or more bullet points, these in the form of questions to help spark your own thoughts on where you stand in regards to the particular lesson. One bullet: “Is your work and life filled with recipes or rules? Which rules do you need? Which can you throw away?” is meant to help you evaluate your level of independent thinking.

Whether you are looking to demonstrate your leadership capabilities to a boss to snag an upcoming position, are an entrepreneur working to build a business based on more than just a product, or are a manager working in Corporate America, It’s Not About The Coffee is brimming with excellent tips for fostering connection with the people working with or under you.

Howard Behar joined Starbucks as a senior executive in 1989. His positions have included executive vice president of sales and operations, president of Starbucks International, and president of Starbucks North America. He has also served on the company’s board of directors since 1996.

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