My response to James’ “Starbucks” post

I originally started writing this as a comment to “Review — Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul“. Three points in, I decided to post it here instead because I think these points are worth sharing more widely. And because I want you to read the original post:)

As I’m not much of a book-worm myself (you could say that I prefer to read reviews like this one), I so appreciate your thoughts here. There were a number of things you said (and while I couldn’t possibly copy and paste them all here) that have resonated with me as well. (This is where I rip off three of your four points :>)

#1. The importance of giving people a reason to LOVE their job — I actually think it’s fairly easy to love one’s company or organization, and even easier to love the company’s mission (especially if it’s rooted in helping people). But the question of “do we give them reasons to love their job” is a big one for me. The differences between an employee who loves their job and “doesn’t-mind” their job is the difference between an employee who stays and gos.

#2. Managing up and down — I had a conversation with a friend (a brilliant, much wiser-than-myself friend) the other day and he was talking to me about the difference between management and leadership. We talked for 2o minutes or so debating the best and worst kinds of management style. And eventually he said to me, “well, that’s because there is a difference between management and leadership.” The fact is that those who spend their time managing are not always great leaders. But those who are great leaders will continue to attract hard-working employees to their side. Why? Because it’s easy to believe in a leader. It can be nearly impossibly to believe in a manager.

#3. Staying true to your core — I think there are a number of lessons you can learn from this principle: staying true to your core 1) keeps you centered and focused, 2) saves you time and can save you money, and 3) fosters a plan for your original vision. There were also two parts of one sentence you wrote that are particularly meaningful to me: why you do what you do is really important to make sure you don’t move into areas for which you are unsuited or which will only serve to distract you.

Why you do what you do is really important — This is a statement that I feel like I could live and die on. I can’t tell you how many people I meet that can’t tell me why they do what they do, or why they love the person they supposedly love, or why they choose to be Christian, republican, or homophobic. I believe that the reason you do what you do, or love who you love, or be who you are, is an extremely important one. It’s a reason that, in my book, defines you as passionate and proud or just lukewarm.

To make sure you don’t move into areas for which you are unsuited or which will only serve to distract you — I think we are far too often distracted. We see shiny objects and immediately want them. We see a light at the end of the tunnel, so we chase it. In the workplace, serving the distraction rather than the core simply = waste of time, waste of money. I’m also a big believer in matching gifts and talents with roles and responsibilities. But when you begin to move into areas for which you are unsuited, you’re nearly setting yourself up to fail, because someone somewhere else (probably on another team) could accomplish what you’re trying to do 1o times faster and 50 times better than someone who is “unsuited.”

I had a recent experience with this. Five months ago, we set out to design and develop the World Vision Blog. About 10 too many cooks in the kitchen, 7 concepts and 4 meetings later… we came out with an agreed upon look. At the time, it wasn’t that bad. Then, about three weeks ago, our amazing designer re-designed the Blog staying true to her core of great design work. And tadaaaa — a much more beautiful and clean blog design. And now, when I look at the old design, I want to bury my face in a pillow thinking I actually tried telling a talented and creative designer how to design something — I tried to give expertise in an area I was unsuited. Lesson learned? Do what I’m good at and let others do what they’re good at.


All in all, after reading your post, I’m reminded of the rare but absolutely critical characteristics that are necessary of a great leader and a great company. And while I can say from first-hand experience that working at Starbucks is nice, I did not thoroughly enjoy dipping my hand into not-quite-clean sanitation buckets (I did like grinding the beans in store though). From a customer’s perspective, I would say well-done, Howard. I’m sold on the smell and the nice baristas and the free-coffee-on-Earth-Day thing (which also happens to be Good Friday, and you know I think there is no better way to celebrate Jesus than receiving free coffee).

As an ending note to this ridiculously long comment, I have to say, the words expressed in your post are an example of a manager who thinks like a leader.

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  • Wow. I’m honored. And that blue background? Horrible. Gone.