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A Lesson from the Broken Heart of Starbucks’ CEO

  • Jason Pankau and Michael Lee Stallard Authors
  • 2011 8 Aug
  • COMMENTS
A Lesson from the Broken Heart of Starbucks’ CEO

A leader I (Mike) know and much admire is Howard Behar, the former president of Starbucks North America and Starbucks International.   Howard told me about the time 14 years ago when he received a call in the middle of the night at his home in Seattle alerting him that three Starbucks employees at the Georgetown store in Washington, D.C. had been shot and killed, including an 18-year who had just recently begun working there as his first job.  Behar immediately called Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, who was in New York on vacation at the time.

What Schultz didn’t do says a lot about his character. He didn’t call Starbucks’ public relations people or lawyers.  Instead, Schultz headed straight to Washington, D.C.  When he arrived, he spoke with the police then proceeded to the store to get the addresses of the three murdered Starbucks employees. He went to each of their homes, told their families he was sorry and shared in their tears.

Howard Schultz’s heart was broken. He showed courage by expressing the grief he felt. Doing so contributed to helping the victims’ families, friends and colleagues. As awful as grieving the loss of a loved one or friend is, it's far worse to grieve alone.

Howard Schultz’s empathy and compassion spoke loudly to Howard Behar, a leader who has a huge heart. Behar left his former employer and joined Starbucks in part because the previous CEO he worked for advised him he “shouldn’t wear his heart on his sleeve.”   Schultz was the type of leader Behar wanted to work for -- a leader he could respect and admire because of his courageous and compassionate heart, a leader he wanted to give his best efforts to serve.

Howard Behar became part of the group of three leaders at the top of Starbucks who were referred to as “H20” (i.e. Howard Schultz, Howard Behar and Orin Smith).  Behar had an enormous impact on Starbucks North America as its president, then went on to become the first president of Starbucks International where he led it to spectacular growth.  After Behar retired, he continued to serve on Starbucks’ board of directors.  Behar was loved and respected throughout Starbucks for his heart and passion as well as his work ethic, open-mindedness and judgment about the retail business.  He became a Starbucks employee for the rest of his career, in no small part because his boss, Howard Schultz, had a heart.

One of the great privileges of our work as leadership trainers and coaches is that we get to meet, observe and know leaders at a wide variety of organizations including churches, businesses, government organizations, universities and hospitals.  We’ve met quite a few who exercise frequently to keep their hearts and bodies fit for the long hours, and no small number of them are also motivated by the desire to impress others with their physical presence, energy and competitiveness.  

Regular physical exercise is certainly of value.  What many leaders miss, however, is the need to develop their hearts in other ways beyond exercise that are even more important -- ways that produce the character strengths of love, kindness, compassion, gentleness and empathy.  A leader whose character is missing these strengths may have power over others but will never lead from influence that moves people to give their best efforts and align their behavior with the leader’s goals.  This truth is expressed in sayings such as you have to "earn the right to be heard" and "people don't care what you know until they know that you care."

Research has shown that 75 percent of employees in America today are not engaged at work.  Research also shows that approximately the same percentage of Christians are not engaged at church.  They show up but don’t actively give their best efforts.  Part of this is because they don’t feel connected to their leaders and to the people around them.  The heart is key to connecting. Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) states “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  That’s why developing hearts is especially important to getting America and our churches back on the right track.

To develop your heart, invest the time to get to know Jesus and the people in your life.  Cooperate with the Holy Spirit by caring about and serving others as Jesus commanded.  That includes taking the time to get to know and serve your spouse, children and parents, your fellow believers at church, your colleagues at work, your friends, and the less fortunate in your midst who have nothing to give back to you. Ask questions such as, “How are you doing these days?,”  “What’s going on in your life?,” “Where did you grow up?,” and “What do you enjoy in life?”  

Slow down and listen closely.  Find out about people’s hopes and dreams, and look for ways to help them. If you’re a leader, you can develop the heart of the people you lead by bringing them together to serve at a local charitable organization in your community that helps the less fortunate.  By getting to know and serve Jesus and the people in your life, your community and the world at large, you will develop a heart that connects, strengthens and grows the body of Christ.

To learn about one of the most effective churches in the world that intentionally develops hearts, read Alpha Church: The Church Flourishes When People Connect. You might also enjoy learning more about two leaders who have developed heart and who inspired the people they led: Bono of the rock band U2 and Admiral Vern Clark, the second-longest serving chief of the United States Navy.  We also recommend Howard Behar's book It's Not About the Coffee. Howard Schultz will be speaking next week at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit.

Pankau and Stallard are co-authors of the bestselling book Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion Creativity and Productivity (Thomas Nelson).  Jason Pankau is president of Life Spring Network, a ministry that helps pastors and church leaders develop holistic, transformational, disciple-making communities, and he is the author of Beyond Self Help: The True Path to Harnessing God’s Wisdom, Realizing Life’s Potential and Living the Abundant Life (Xulon Press). Michael Lee Stallard is president of E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training, consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders develop “Connection Cultures” that boost productivity, innovation and performance. September 13, Michael Lee Stallard will be speaking with Admiral Vern Clark in Washington, D.C. at breakfast and lunch events sponsored by the Wharton Club of D.C. This Fall both will be speaking and teaching workshops on the topics of leadership, connection and character at the Connected Church Conference, the NASA Johnson Space Center, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Scotiabank, Texas Christian University and the Young Presidents’ Organization.