Starbucks is my coffee of choice. I always order the same thing – a “grande” house blend, bold, with no room for cream. Every now and then, I accompany my coffee with a healthy oatmeal or a not-so-healthy cinnamon scone. I enjoy the community atmosphere, the comfortable seating for reading or study, and becoming a “regular” when I frequent the same Starbucks for any length of time. I especially like feeling “known” when the barista begins to pour my personal choice before I even reach the counter.
Given my affection for the coffee, I was excited to read about the Starbucks story in a book about authentic leadership¹. A man named Howard Schultz created the Starbucks atmosphere we know today. Schultz wanted to offer a coffee-house with the community feel he had experienced in the espresso bars he visited in Milan, Italy.
“The reservoir of all my life experiences
shaped me as a person and a leader.”
In addition to community, Schultz integrated other life values into the Starbucks culture. Schultz was born in 1957, and he grew up in Brooklyn, New York, living in the Bayview Housing Projects. As the son of a blue-collar delivery truck driver and a stay-at-home mom, finances were always tight, especially after his dad injured his ankle and lost his job and their health insurance. There was no workman’s compensation in those days, and an injured driver was useless and dispensable.
Those years of struggle etched deeply in Schultz’s memory and compelled Schultz’s vision to lead a company that valued and respected the staff and offered higher pay, stock options, and health care benefits even to part-time employees.
Schultz’s story built his character. From his mother, Schultz heard many times that he could do anything he wanted. When Schultz saw his father’s lack of success and accompanying bitterness, Schultz developed a fear failure and self defeat, and became driven to achieve and succeed.
“You must have the courage
to follow an unconventional path.”
Over the years, Schultz intentionally “re-framed” his opinion of his father and chose to emulate his father’s integrity, work ethic and commitment to family. Schultz learned to appreciate his story of family hardship as the source of his values and his motivations, and to this day Schultz remembers his humble beginnings and intentionally integrates his story into his leadership and his company.
I am learning to “re-frame” many of my life experiences too; letting go of hurts and bitterness and choosing to emphasize and apply the positive character traits that I gained as a result of struggle and hard times.
Whenever I drink my coffee now, I try to remember how my life story can inspire my leadership.
What experiences from your life story inspire you?
¹More details of this story (and others) are found in the excellent book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George.