Monday, June 11, 2018

Book Review: It's Not About the Coffee (2007) by Howard Behar

It's Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks (2007)
by Howard Behar (with Janet Goldstein)

"At Starbucks, the coffee has to be excellent, from the sourcing and growing to the roasting and brewing. The vision has to be inspiring and meaningful. Our finances have to be in order. But without people, we have nothing. With people, we have something even bigger than coffee," that is what Howard Behar, senior Starbucks executive since 1989, deeply believes. He has also served as executive vice president of sales and operations, president of Starbucks International, president of Starbucks North America and also one of the company's board of directors (since 1996). Through experience, he has helped establish the Starbucks culture, which stresses the importance of "people over profits." In this book, he revealed the 10 principles that guided his leadership – and not one of them is about coffee. "There can be no coffee without people."

Behar starts with the idea that if you regard employees and customers as human beings, everything else will take care of itself. "We're all human." If you think of your staff as people (not labor costs) they will achieve results beyond what is thought possible. And if you think of your customers as people you serve (not sources of revenue) you'll make a deep connection with them, and they'll come back over and over. He often repeats this mantra: "We are in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people." This book is about people, the importance of putting people first. "If you grow people," he writes, "the people grow the business."

The 10 principles in this book have been integral to Starbucks from the start and remain so today claimed Behar. He shares inside stories of turning points in the company's history as it fought to hang on to these principles while growing exponentially. You'll read about Starbucks' success stories and even failure stories, real-life examples and those who work at Starbucks and coffee/people business – such example of leadership vulnerability. About 50% of the time I spend reading this book, I read it at Starbucks all over Kuching area. I used these principles to measure (outwardly) how they treat the customers (including me), how they communicate with each other, their attitude overall, and how proud they are working at Starbucks. I've discussed some of these principles with the baristas (one of them is my schoolmate) – and even fellow customers who sat next to me – at Precinct 88, Jalan Song, Kuching. "It's true," I said to myself as I closed this book and sipped my Americano, "Starbucks is different: they treat their customers as human beings."

The 10 Leadership Principles are:

#1 KNOW WHO YOU ARE: Wear One Hat. Our success is directly related to our clarity and honesty about who we are, who we are not, where we want to go, and how we're going to get there. When organizations are clear about their values, purpose, and goals, they find the energy and passion to do great things.

#2 KNOW WHY YOU'RE HERE: Do It Because It's Right, Not Because It's Right for Your Resume. The path to success comes from doing things for the right reasons. You can't succeed if you don't know what you're trying to accomplish and without everyone being aligned with the goal. Look for purpose and passion in yourself and the people you lead. If they're not there, do something.

#3 THINK INDEPENDENTLY: The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom. People are not ‘assets', they are human beings who have the capacity to achieve results beyond what is thought possible. We need to get rid of rules – real and imagined – and encourage the independent thinking of others and ourselves.

#4 BUILD TRUST: Care, Like You Really Mean It. Caring is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength, and it can't be faked – within an organization, with the people we serve, or in our local or global communities. Without trust and caring, we'll never know what could have been possible. Without freedom from fear, we can't dream, and we can't reach our potential.

#5 LISTEN FOR THE TRUTH: The Walls Talk. Put the time into listening, even to what's not said, and amazing results will follow. You'll know what your customers want, you'll know why the passion is missing from your organization, and you'll learn solutions to problems that have been sitting there waiting to be picked.

#6 BE ACCOUNTABLE: Only the Truth Sounds Like the Truth. No secrets, no lies of omission, no hedging and dodging. Take responsibility and say what needs to be said, with care and respect.

#7 TAKE ACTION: Think Like a Person of Action, and Act Like a Person of Thought. Find the sweet spot of passion, purpose, and persistence. "It's all about the people" isn't an idea, it's an action. Feel, do, think. Find the balance, but act.

#8 FACE CHALLENGE: We Are Human Beings First. Use all the principles to guide you during the hardest times. If the challenge is too big if you find yourself stuck, take small bites. But remember to put people first, and you'll find the guidance you need.

#9 PRACTICE LEADERSHIP: The Big Noise and the Still, Small Voice. Leading can be the noisy "I'm here!" kind of thing. But don't ever forget that leaders are just ordinary human beings. Don't let the noise crowd out the truth. Listen to your still, small voice. Let quiet by your guide.

#10 DARE TO DREAM: Say Yes, the Most Powerful Word in the World. Big dreams mean big goals, big hopes, big joys. Say yes, and enjoy all that you are doing, and help others to do the same.

I can't agree with all the things that he said here. I still believe that we need a small dose of rules (with independent thinking); sometimes ‘noises' is good for a leader; and say ‘yes' is not the most powerful word in the world (say ‘no' is the closest one, in my opinion). Of course, there are even more things that I would agree with, especially, that leadership is "all about the people." Basically, Behar has written an excellent book about the power of servant leadership and putting others (employees, clients, customers, etc.) first! Superb!


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