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04.06.11

Onward: You Are There with Howard Schultz

Leadership
Onward tells the story of a company suffering from the side effects of its own success made worse by the recent financial fiasco and what its returning CEO did about it. It’s a story of a company’s return to the why.

Howard Schultz realized that by 2007, Starbucks had begun to fail itself. It was obsessed with growth and lost sight of what made it “Starbucks” in the first place—the essence of what they set out to do 40 years earlier—to inspire the human spirit. Starbucks had lost its “point of view.” He writes, “No single bad decision or tactic or person was to blame. The damage was slow and quiet, incremental, like a single loose thread that unravels a sweater inch by inch.” This is usually how we experience derailment. We wake up one day and find ourselves somewhere other than where we had planned on being. Tangents are like that.

With sales and passion already slipping, the economic meltdown at the end of 2008 only made matters worse. In an inspiring and detailed narrative, Schultz tells from his perspective, how he got the company back on track and innovated around core values. It’s a sometimes emotional look at the thinking behind what worked and what didn’t. And it is told with dignity.

Onward is a valuable resource for leaders and is for that reason alone, worth re-reading. It was interesting to watch Schultz’s leadership evolve through the process and instructive to observe how he handled the board, personalities, tough choices, frustrations, progress and setbacks.

Here are some of his thoughts:
There are moments in our lives when we summon the courage to make choices that go against reason, against common sense and against the wise counsel of people we trust. But we lean forward nonetheless because, despite all the risks and rational argument, we believe that the path we are choosing is the right and best thing to do. We refuse to be bystanders, even if we do not know exactly where our actions will lead.

If not checked, success has a way of covering up small failures.

I believe leadership is about instilling confidence in others.

I’ve never bought into the notion that there is a single recipe for successful leadership. But I do think effective leaders share two intertwined attributes: an unbridled level of confidence about where their organizations are headed, and the ability to bring people along.

Reigniting people’s hearts and minds had to be done in person. For all the promise of digital media to bring people together, I still believe that the most sincere, lasting powers of human connection come from looking directly into someone else’s eyes, with no screen in between.

Grow with discipline. Balance with rigor. Innovate around the core. Don’t embrace the status quo. Find new ways to see. Never expect a silver bullet. Get your hands dirty. Listen with empathy and overcommunicate with transparency. Tell your story, refusing to let others define you. Use authentic experiences to inspire. Stick to your values, they are your foundation. Hold people accountable but give them the tools to succeed. Make the tough choices; it’s how you execute that counts. Be decisive in times of crisis. Be nimble. Find truth in trials and lessons in mistakes. Be responsible for what you see, hear, and do. Believe.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:17 AM
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