Transformational leadership and Starbucks

Over the next few weeks, I am going to be writing a series on transformational leadership. In my next post, I will define the concept as well as an alternate style called transactional leadership. To kick off the series, I wanted to illustrate the hallmarks of transformational leadership through the story of one of my favorite transformational leaders: Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks.

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Howard Schultz is a transformational leader because of the way he developed a vision and then made it into a reality in partnership with Starbucks’ other employees. His vision was for Starbucks to be a “third place” between home and work and that Americans would pay $3-5 for a cup of coffee. Schultz used his charismatic personality and values to develop a transformational work environment at Starbucks that built a coffee empire. He uses motivation, influence and referent power to overcome business obstacles and achieve shared success.

Evidence of Howard Schultz transformational leadership qualities are a key component of the Starbucks operation. In the most obvious example, Starbucks refers to all its employees as, “partners” and offers them stock options and health care benefits (for both full and part-time employees) . He writes, “From the beginning of my management of Starbucks, I wanted it to be the employer of choice, the company everybody wanted to work for.” Schultz realized that leadership was about the people at the front lines doing the work to bring his vision to reality. He focused on the employees and used his strong motivation and influence skills to achieve his vision.

Schultz has also demonstrated the ability to motivate his employees both in terms of direction and emotional intelligence. On the first day Starbucks was in business, Schultz went to address the other Starbucks partners. He had three points written down on a 5-by-7 note card that read, “1. Speak from my heart. 2. Put myself in their shoes and 3. Share the Big Dream with them.”

When the response to Schultz’s first speech was a combination of skepticism and guarded optimism, he recognized what he needed to do. Schultz knew he had to develop referent, expert and position power in addition to his legitimate power role as the CEO of Starbucks. He used the tactics of shared benefits, consultation and collaboration, emotional calibration and consistency to motivate his new employees. He writes, “The only way to win the confidence of Starbucks’ employees was to be honest with them, to share my plans and excitement with them and then follow through and keep my word, delivering exactly what I promised – if not more.”

Schultz focused on outcomes, satisfaction and trust to build employee commitment to Starbucks, which minimized turnover and retained employees who were aligned to the vision and brand for Starbucks. He writes, “A business plan is only a piece of paper, and even implemented properly [is not complete] unless the people are committed to it with the same heartfelt urgency as their leader.” When Starbucks lost its way, in Schultz’s eyes, he closed all Starbucks locations temporarily for mandatory training, including lessons on how to make the perfect espresso shots.

Schultz has impacted not only the Starbucks partners who have grown and thrived with the company, but also the patrons of Starbucks. In his book Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing its Soul, Schultz describes the reactions of patrons when they learn that their neighborhood Starbucks was closing due to the suffering performance of the company, when, at one point, it was nearly at the brink of bankruptcy. They felt the loss on a deep emotional level because of what the store meant to the community. Schultz describes stories where people reacted emotionally to the announcement that the store they frequent was closing. One woman in Minnesota wrote, “I can’t believe that ‘my’ Starbucks is closing. You never know how important a place is until you are about to lose it.”

The impact of the Starbucks that Schultz created has also impacted me personally. In fact, I have written portions of this post from a Starbucks. It is incredible to me to witness what Schultz visioned coming to life in front of me. I was recently in one of the first Starbucks locations on the East Coast in Friendship Heights. The layout, the service, and the atmosphere was exactly how Schultz would have described it to a potential investor, partner or customer. There was a romance to the coffee service, and sitting there doing work at a table and drinking from my own personalized cup of coffee was surely a small but meaningful luxury. Knowing how much work it took Schultz to achieve that vision, including overcoming many skeptics and frequent trips to Italy, made the taste of my peppermint mocha even sweeter.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Transformational leaders pursue an important vision by empowering people to be a part of something larger than themselves. Leaders like Howard Schultz lead through respect and empowerment.

Building teamwork and strategy

I see what you are doing Patrick Lencioni…

I’ve gotten hooked on your podcast and now I am reading all of your books.

Well played, Pat. Well played.

This post is all about Lencioni’s book, The Advantage, which is a clear, concise, and easy read all about how teamwork, strategy, and communication come together to help organizations achieve strategic goals.

The Advantage is the only Lencioni book that I’ve encountered that is not told as a fable with an explanation at the end. The author gets right into the content describing four disciplines that achieve organizational health. They are:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team
  2. Create clarity
  3. Over-communicate clarity
  4. Reinforce clarity

The Advantage Model and Summary

For lessons on building a cohesive leadership team, they mirror Lencioni’s model in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The create clarity section uses the model Lencioni describes in Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars with a few added tips. The new learning for me came in the “over-communicate clarity” and “reinforce clarity” sections of the book, particularly in the practical advice about meetings.

I spend the majority of my time in meetings at work. In a complex organization with many different functions, it is hard to avoid meetings and, in all honesty, it’s a necessity to operate a large organizations. Still, meetings can be productive with the right intention and format.

Lencioni describes a model involving four kinds of meetings in The Advantage and even describes how much time a leader invests in meetings using his model and the potential benefits.

Using the model assures regular and clear communication with the team on as frequent as a daily basis. In my experience, I have learned that Lencioni’s emphasis on over-communicating is right on. In the midst of a task heavy day, most people need the friendly reminder to align those tasks to strategy and operations. That is why great organizations (particularly service organizations like the Ritz-Carlton) that I have observed and admired have mechanisms to repeat key themes on a daily basis.

I recommend that any leader who is either in a new leadership role or is looking for a change of pace with their current team read The Advantage. Also, subscribe to the At the Table podcast, knowing that it will be supplemented with an investment in materials!

KEY TAKEAWAY: Leniconi’s model described in The Advantage is a must-use for teams looking to achieve strategic goals. By focusing on the four disciplines of healthy organizations, leaders can set an important tone in how a team works together, sets its strategy, and keeps that plan top of mind.


The Advantage is available for purchase on Amazon for $27.95 (does not include Prime discount)

Can you win a game with no end?

Simon Sinek’s latest book, The Infinite Game, provides another challenge to the status quo for leaders. Always thought-provoking, different, and inspiring, Simon Sinek asks leaders in business a fundamental question: What game are you playing?

Sinek describes how many corporate leaders judge their success based on how they win or lose at the game of business. Sinek though, says that business is not a win-able game because there is no end. He argues that business and service are, in fact, infinite.
Sinek reviews lessons from several successful businesses who are loyal to their “just cause,” a mission statement with a few extra parameters, in order to further prove his point. One example he gives is CVS’ decision to no longer sell cigarettes in their stores as part of their commitment to enriching community health.InfiniteGame

One aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the inclusion of real life examples of how to lead in an infinite game. Sinek features leaders who rally for a cause, instead of simply trying to beat a competing organization. He gives examples of training leaders from the US Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. He discusses the Shell URSA oil rig as an example of a team that needed to establish psychological safety in order to ensure physical and environmental safety. He uses the Four Seasons Las Vegas as an example of an organization where leaders care for the employees, which leads to incredible customer service (Incidentally, this example about an associate named Noah, was my favorite part of the book).

Sinek writes much about the role of a CEO in an organization playing the “Infinite game,” suggesting that the CEO should really function more as a Chief Vision Officer or CVO.

Few authors are able to write with as much strong conviction on leadership topics as Simon Sinek. He is very critical of finite-minded CEOs, which in the book include Jack Welch (Former GE CEO) and Steve Ballmer (Former Microsoft CEO).

But the real magic of Sinek is his ability to illustrate that businesses that practice long-term thinking around a “just cause” benefit both the business itself and the broader community. For example, in the CVS example of ending the sale of cigarettes at their stores, he explained how the company’s stock price went down for only a matter of days, only to shoot back up even higher than it had been performing.

I agree with most of what Simon Sinek writes about and try to put his ideas into my own leadership practice. Whenever I have the opportunity to work with a team, I always stress the need for a clear vision that can be understood across the organization and for psychological safety to develop high-functioning teams. Like Sinek’s other books, this is the next in an excellent series of required reading for modern leaders.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Simon Sinek’s latest book doesn’t disappoint. It illustrates how to lead in an organization pursing a just cause and and infinite mindset. Implementing the ideas should be simple and are imperative for most successful teams.


The Infinite Game is available for purchase on Amazon for $28.00 (does not include Prime discount)

The most important organization in the world

Welcome back to Leadership as a Practice. We took a brief hiatus for the holidays but are back with more exciting content for you to enhance your own leadership practice.

Part of the reason for the break is that my wife and I are expecting our first child this Spring and we had some planning to take care of. As our family grows, we did some deep thinking about what it means to become a family with a child.

Coincidentally, I have been listening to a new podcast called At the Table with Patrick Lencioni, and a recent episode was about how to create a strategy for the family, or as Lencioni describes it, the most important organization in the world. My wife listened to the podcast as well and we both decided to try creating a family strategy with core values, defining objectives, standard objectives, and a regular cadence of checking in on progress.

Lencioni3Together, we read Lencioni’s book, The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family, which describes the process families can use to develop their strategic plan. This past Saturday night, we went out to dinner with the book, a legal pad, and pen and mapped out our strategy. The book describes that this process should be fast and we found that to be true. With the prompts and descriptions from the book, we spent about 20 minutes discussing the strategy and 10 minutes refining it. After reading our strategy over several times, we felt comfortable with the product.

From there, Lencioni prescribes developing a “rallying cry” or your family’s short term goal (2-6 months). I have also heard this idea called the “burning platform” in business discussions. The “rallying cry” will be reached by accomplishing “defining objectives”. From there, you define “standard objectives” or the themes that are always important to the family (ex: Physical health). After all of that work, the family meets weekly for 10 minutes to do a stoplight score (green for on schedule, yellow for close, and red for off schedule), which helps prioritize goals for the upcoming week.

My wife and I have our first check-in meeting this week, so we decided that we wouldn’t share our strategy with Leadership as a Practice readers until later (but stay tuned).

At work, I’m a big advocate of the value of strategic planning as well as disciplined and intentional implementation of the plan. Applying it to our family was something that occurred to me but I couldn’t figure out how to implement it. Lencioni’s model has helped my family get focused and organized. Our strategy has already helped us make decisions that are aligned. It also serves as an excellent model for a quick strategic plan for a functional department at any business.

Do you lead with intention both at home and at work? If you have any stories about this topic, I would love to hear them. Please send them to me here.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Strategic planning is a valuable exercise to accomplish both professional and personal goals. Leaders can establish a plan quickly and implement it. What better place to start than at home?


The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family is available for purchase on Amazon for $24.95 (does not include Prime discount)

Your reputation precedes you

The bible tells the story of two brothers, Jacob and Esau. Their story sheds light on how we develop reputations. As Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky points out, both Jacob and Esau have their names changed in the story. Jacob’s name was changed to, “Israel” after outsmarting his uncle, Laban, fighting with his brother Esau, and battling an angel. For Esau the story is different. Esau’s name was changed as well to what is loosely translated as, “Blood-hungry Wild Man” simply for the way that he asked for some of his brother’s red lentil soup.

Rabbi Kamenetzky asks, “It is quite disconcerting. Each brother had a name change. But [Jacob] had to have his hip dislocated, he had to battle an angel. All [Esau] had to do was slurp some soup, and he acquired a demeaning name for eternity. Is that fair?”

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While it may not be fair, it is an important lesson in life, especially for leaders. It is much harder for a leader to positive a reputation than it is for them to earn a negative reputation. For example, I remember a colleague of mine once giving me some good advice: “In managing people, there are no throw away lines.” Lack of clarity can throw a team into chaos and this sentiment could one day evolve into a leader developing a reputation for being a bad communicator, for example.

The solution to managing our reputation is self-awareness and the ability to control our emotions. We do that first by being intentional about what we are trying to accomplish and what reputation we need to accomplish those goals. For example, as a leader, I feel that it is a regular part of my job to remind my team that I am a human-being and that I make mistakes. In being transparent, my goal is to help build a team culture where we give everyone the benefit of the doubt (this only applies for team members without performance issues – that’s a different topic) so problems come to the surface to be solved. At the same time, I need to balance this by being self-aware about over-sharing, which could cause undue stress to the team.

In contrast to self-awareness and emotion managing, some leaders have a reputation for being pushy, unreasonable, and generally challenging to work with. However, they develop a reputation that, in spite of their behavior, “they get things done,” which justifies keeping that person in a leadership role on the team. That reputation can hurt a leader in a role with transformational goals because the leader’s reputation is that they cause havoc among teams, but the ends justify the means. That kind of transactional reputation undermines the leader’s abilities to be successful in achieving transformational goals, as the culture will be inherently more resistant to any suggestion made by a bulldozing leader, as it would be seen as more hierarchical than transformational.

Regardless of the specific line of work, a leader’s reputation precedes them. People will always talk about the leader, and whether a leader can control it or not, he or she will always have a reputation. Even the bible tells us that it is easier to earn a negative reputation than a positive one. It is for this reasons that leaders must become self-aware and manage their emotions, so that they can manage many different situations without being burdened by a negative reputation.

KEY TAKEAWAY: If you are a leader, you already have a reputation. Is it a good one or a bad one? If you could be an invisible, “fly on the wall,” what would people say about you? How does that help or hurt you accomplish your goals?