3 Leadership Observations From Starbucks

images-6I am sitting at a Starbucks waiting on some colleagues. I love to observe good businesses and try to discern the principles that make them so good.  There is always a leader or leaders behind every environment-good or bad.  Here are three observed principles from this place of hallowed coffee grounds.

1. Starbucks understands simple.  I know any Starbucks manager would cringe right now at what I am about to say, but the bottom line is Starbucks simply sells coffee.  That’s it.  But they sell this simple product in a multitude of ways so that you get exactly what you want.  As a matter of fact, they shaped our pallets for us to match the customization of their product.  Seriously, would anyone truly admit they had heard of a “skinny carmel macchiato” before Starbucks came along? Howard Schultz has famously said that the key is to “innovate around the core.” Offering simple products or services with custom applications is the reality of the day.

2. Starbucks understands connection.  It is no secret that Howard Schultz first learned the Starbuck’s version of coffee culture from his travels to Milan and Verona, Italy.  He realized that coffee was more than a beverage to Italians. It represented part of the cultural makeup in which every quarter of the city had its own caffe bar where everyone was known and accepted. Schultz saw the power of connection. He wanted to bring that culture of connection back to the States and recreate it in an American way. Soon, there would be a Starbucks in every neighborhood where people could sit for hours to work, converse, meet, and connect–over a cup of coffee.  People actually long for connection and Schultz understood this.  We simply needed the right place.

3. Starbucks understands the value of an experience.  Of course now Starbucks has created many other coffee related products, tried their hand at digital music, and moved more into the food culture. But don’t confuse what Starbucks is really about. It is still about the overall experience.  Howard Schultz has stated, “In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”  Schultz is after the experience.  He hopes that each time you walk into one of his coffee stores that you will experience this authenticity–and will come back!

These are leadership principles worth considering: simple, connection, and experience.  Innovate around your core activities, create meaningful ways to connect, and provide a memorable experience.  These principles could be applied in a number of ways in many different settings.

What are your thoughts?  Lead well!

4 replies
  1. robert bleser
    robert bleser says:

    I use to frequent many Starbucks , and was even a Gold member, until they refuse to speak at the Willowcreek Leaders Summit . Reason was they(Starbucks/ Schultz) felt that willow was against gay marriage and gays in general, because Starbucks supports gay marriage, Therefore I don’t support Starbucks anymore, or as little as I can! They are good at what they do, however they are against what I support. In His Service Bob

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks Bob for your comments. I was living in Italy at the time of the Summit you mentioned-but I do remember hearing something about it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.


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