Howard Behar On People First Leadership | Bridge Blog

Image for post
Image for post

Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee Company, business leader, author, speaker, and mentor, joins us to share some valuable lessons on people-centred and value-based leadership.

He emphasizes the importance of being a Servant Leader and staying true to your values and mission. Readers can glean treasured insights on how to lead your organization to soaring heights by putting people first.

He is the admirable part of the team who built Starbucks into one of the most esteemed companies in the world. He is passionate about educating future leaders and has authored “The Magic Cup: A Business Parable About a Leader, a Team, and the Power of Putting People and Values First” and “It’s Not About The Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks”.

He is known for some notable messages like: “The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom” and “Only the Truth Sounds Like the Truth.” Here is the excerpt from the interview we had with the ultimate ‘Servant Leader’.

1. What are some of your principles of business growth and brand development?

It’s all about people. Instead of thinking in terms of brand, you need to start thinking about people. For any business, the development of people should be the core focus. People are at their best when they are who they are. Give them space to grow primarily as people first, and then as employees within the context of achieving the goals of the organization.

Companies grow because of the quality of the people, and we get quality from these people when we treat them well. When we treat them well, they will serve the company well. It all begins with the way we treat people.

2. It is a well-known fact that you have instilled a unique culture into the DNA of Starbucks transforming it from a local coffee shop to a global brand. What kind of values that Starbucks follow and how does the brand sustain this culture throughout its zooming growth?

It’s about what you are focused on when you are focused on helping people. It doesn’t matter which country you are operating in, you have to focus on the people 24/7.

With regard to Starbucks, my number one focus was people and number two was coffee…We sustain the culture by refocusing and emphasizing our values and focus. People may get tired and bored with our message…But, we should never get tired with the message. We should always be reinforcing the message. An absolute commitment to your values is what is needed. Constant reinforcement of values and living up to them help the organization enhance its culture.

The organization could lose its value if you don’t take care of it…if you don’t reinforce it…it’s like how a good relationship works. It’s the same in any organization. Nurture it and it stays healthy. It’s up to the leadership to show the way.

3. As a long-time advocate of the Servant Leadership Model, do you think people can be trained as servant leaders? Is the attitude of servant leadership an inherent trait, or can it be taught?

You are not born a servant leader. You learn to be a servant leader. You learn from your family, bosses, friends, and everyone around you. There has to be a desire to serve others. A servant leader has to understand that irrespective of his job description or titles, they are here to serve one another. When we learn to give back to people throughout life…we not only enhance others lives we enhance our own

4. It is true that a servant leader should be humble. But traditionally humility is not a character that is associated with a leader People may perceive a humble leader as a weak person with low self-esteem. How can a servant leader overcome this challenge?

Humility is not a sign of weakness but of strength. We can tell the difference between servant leaders and other leaders by observing the world. Unfortunately the world today is gravitating towards autocratic leaders, not servant leaders. They think they need to be served. It goes in cycle and hopefully, there will be a resurgence of leaders wanting to serve.

5. We are a completely Agile company following a self-organized model of working. Do you think servant leadership is good for an Agile organization like us?

You have a way of acting. You do things together. You have a team, and everybody in the team should be a servant leader irrespective of the title each one bears.

6. What keeps you going when things get tough?

Staying focused on my values and staying focused on my mission keeps me going. My mission reads like this: “Every day I want to nurture and inspire the human spirit beginning with myself first and then others”. I try to stay people-focused and values-focused. After all it’s all about people and values …and that’s how I have chosen to live my life.

7. Can you tell us about some of your current engagements?

I am on 5 Boards; on 3 profit boards and 2 non-profit boards. I do a lot of public speaking around the world. I have two children, six grandchildren, and a wonderful partner to share my life with. I always have something going on and am always trying to add value to the world I live in.

8. Advice to modern day organizations like Bridge Global?

It’s not about the software…it’s about the people. The software needs to serve the people…if it doesn’t, you are not doing anything worthwhile.

The leaders in your organization should recognize that it’s the people that make the company strong. You need to be honest and stay true to your values. That’s your responsibility as humans. Authenticity, truthfulness, and clarity about your values are the most important principles in order to run a business successfully.

Originally published at on May 14, 2019.

We Are A Self-Organized Squad of IT Experts

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store