(De)Caffeinated Leadership

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On December 2, 2013

Entrepreneur magazine ranks Starbucks among the 10 most trusted businesses. Fortune magazine has it listed as none of the most admired brands in the world. Starbucks president and DEO, Howard Shultz received a phone call from President Obama, before the U.S. President delivered an important speech on jobs—because of Schultz’s leadership in the area of job creation. Fortune magazine also named Schultz businessperson of the year.

There’s obviously more to Starbucks’ success than coffee—and whether customers want it caffeinated or decaffeinated. How did Starbucks take something as simple as coffee and turn it into a global phenomenon? A lot of it comes down to leadership. So what are the leadership principles behind Starbucks’ success?

In his book, Leading the Starbucks Way: 5 Principles for Connecting with Your Customers, Your Products, and Your People, Joseph Michelli provides a glimpse of five things the bistro business behemoth does that sets them apart from the competition.

1. The first thing that sets Starbucks apart is having a genuine passion for their product. They reason that if they are not passionate about their product, why will their customers be? That’s what pushes them to move beyond providing something “replicable and consistent” (the goal of many businesses) to delivering something “magical and unique.”

2. Starbucks also stresses a culture of trust and love. They are firm believers that their internal corporate culture enables them to create an external corporate culture that their customers can experience (and the book has lots of stories of how customers trust and love Starbucks).

3. The company looks for common ground. Let’s be honest: not everyone agrees with everything Starbucks does. And they have taken social stands that aren’t universally popular. At the same time, they try to focus on what’s unifying rather than on what’s divisive. And they listen and innovate to meet local, regional, and global needs

4. They use technology to connect. For Starbucks, technology (specifically social media technology) isn’t just a means to multiply and magnify their message. It’s a way to connect with their audience.  This goes back to number 2 above, but they use technology to build that sense of trust and love.

5. Starbucks also walks that business tightrope of cherishing and challenging their legacy. They honor their past and their accomplishments, but they don’t allow themselves to be trapped by it. They are not willing to accept merely short-term success. They maintain a long-range view.

You could argue that almost anyone can make a cup of coffee. And a lot of people can make a really good cup of coffee. But not everyone has what it takes to turn that into a personal—and cultural—experience that keeps people coming back time and time again.

Maybe you’re not looking to go global with your business. And that’s OK. But what can you take from these Starbucks leadership principles that will move you from providing reliably consistent products and services to delivering something magical and unique?