For centuries, lovers have used the occasion of Valentine’s Day to express their
undying love for each other. Howard Schultz used the date in 2007 to express
another kind of love—tough love, perhaps, for a passion of his life, Starbucks.
Shultz, then chairman, sent a memo to his leadership team expressing his con-
cern that the push for growth has perhaps diluted the Starbucks experience.
Under Schultz, the company went from a single store in Seattle to more than
13,000 stores worldwide, with even bigger plans to triple the number of stores.
Nearly a year later, in January 2008, Schultz wrote another letter, this time
announcing that he was once again assuming job of CEO. This new role would
provide him with a more hands-on role in leading transformation he believed
was necessary to reinvigorate the company.
Then in February 2008, each store
shut down for three hours one evening for an eduction in Starbucks brewing
techniques and customer expectations.
Asking the Tough Questions
Whether you like coffee or not, you have to give Schultz credit for having the
guts to stand up and take a hard look at the business he helped develop. Too few
Knowing yourself is critical to leading others.
Self-examination is a good habit to develop.
“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your
life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”
people in his position do this. As a result, the business does lose focus and, in
turn, ceases to serve its customers. Looking in the mirror is an apt metaphor;
and it is one that Robert S. Kaplan uses in an article for the
Harvard Business
. Kaplan even comes up with self-assessment questions related to vision,
priorities, time management, succession planning, and core values. Looking in
the mirror takes guts; listening to what your gut tells you is even tougher.
Schultz, who also evoked the mirror metaphor in his memo, is not pleased, but
he’s not whining about it; he is challenging himself and his team to focus on
their priorities and still maintain their passion and principles.
Managers can learn from Schultz’s example. Some thoughts to consider as
you stand in front of the metaphorical mirror follow.
Do not blink. Take an honest look at your team. Ask yourself if they are fol-
lowing the goals and objectives that you have set for them. If not, ask yourself,
as Kaplan suggests, whether you “identified and communicated three to five
priorities to achieve” the vision for your organization. Most managers do one
of two things: assume that vision is reserved for senior leaders or mention it
once and then forget about it. No; you have to make the vision and its subse-
quent priorities real and tangible for your team.
Live a little. Resolve some. No one is perfect. You have your shortcomings
related to your work habits and likely your team has things it does that you do
not like. Have a conversation about changing. Give a little and resolve to make
some differences. For example, if your team asks you to back off and let them
work, do it. At the same time, you can ask them to keep you in the loop. And if
things go awry, make it known that you want to be informed immediately—not
to accuse, but to help out and fix the problem early.
Break some glass. Not the mirror, though. For the early part of the jet age,
General Electric was an also-ran. One airline executive commented, “When I
want a light bulb, I’ll pick GE’s. For jet engines, I’ll stick to Pratt & Whitney.
One executive, Brian Rowe, took that kind of dismissive statement as a chal-
lenge. As president of GE’s aircraft engine business, Rowe shepherded the devel-
opment and sales of the GE90, the behemoth powerhouse of its class. When he
pitched Boeing to use the engine on his then-new airlines, the 777, he said,“It’s
time for us to take our business soaring together. This is a leadership respon-

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