82: Leaders With Heart Live True Servant Leadership

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks, and author of The Magic Cup and It’s Not About the Coffee. Howard talks about his perspective on servant leadership, his Starbucks insights, his accountability as a leader, and his idea of a “board of directors” in the context of our different mindsets. He also shares his experience when he was not the best version of himself.

Key takeaways:

  • Read about your role models and don’t be afraid to emulate them.
  • You don’t always have to be original; rather, find out how others do it.
  • Focus on conscious competency so that you can learn and teach about it. You don’t have to be an expert.
  • You can practice servant leadership in your small team.
  • Be willing o bet your job everyday on the things you believe in.
This episode is one for the books. Listen and learn!

Howard Behar‘s career in business spans over 50 years, all in consumer oriented businesses covering several industries. After 21 years, he retired from Starbucks Coffee where he led both the domestic business, as President of North America, and was the founding President of Starbucks International. 

During his tenure, he participated in the growth of the company from 28 stores to over 15,000 stores spanning five continents. He served at the Starbucks Board of Directors for 12 years before retiring.

Howard now serves on several boards, including iD Tech, Education Elements and the advisory board of Anthos Capital. He has non-profit commitments to the University of Washington Foundation, UW Business School mentoring program and The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation as a trustee. 

Howard is committed to the development and education of our future leaders and has been a longtime advocate of the Servant Leadership Model. He has also authored two books on leadership titled It’s Not About the Coffee and The Magic Cup.

Always Learning

I am where I have always been—learning and trying to figure out things.

I learn whenever I get the opportunity to talk with people like you and I also gain knowledge from the students I’m mentoring.

But I am sure about one thing: servant leadership is my model. I have grown into it. I’m 75 and I started learning about servant leadership 50 years ago.

I am still on that journey, figuring out what servant leadership really means, how it works, and how to get other people to look at it, adopt it or to teach me more about it. 

At 75, as you continue to learn, you also start to come to a conclusion about what really matters to you and what you believe really works.

I am a true believer in servant leadership. – @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Servant Leadership

The biggest issue is when things get tough. That’s when we fall back to our natural ways, which are autocratic. – @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

My definition of servant leadership is this: Leaders are there to serve their people and their journey of accomplishing the organization’s goals.

The people aren’t there to serve the leader. It’s the opposite of what we might think. Particularly, in the politics of today, the thinking is, the people are there to serve their leader, but it’s not. The leaders are there to serve their people.

By doing that, we allow and help our people grow. We also help our people achieve the things they want in their lives. In doing so, they help us achieve what we want in our lives, too. It’s simple.

Servant leadership is really about growing people. It is about helping our people become all that they can be, so that when they leave your organization, they leave as much bigger people than when they first joined your organization. Not only that, they also go on to change other organizations. For me, it’s the “be-all, end-all.”

At my age, I have worked for a number of organizations and I have reported to an array of different people in my life. So, I will tell you, without a doubt, it works much better than any other system. It’s much better than an autocratic system, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a time for a leader to be autocratic particularly in times of danger. But, 95% of the time we don’t need that.

I have been in organizations that were autocratically led and they blew up. Why? The people didn’t put their trust to their leader because they didn’t feel like they were growing as human beings. They didn’t feel their leadership cared about them.

Back on Board

We make lots of mistakes. 

Starbucks made lots of mistakes along the way. I considered Starbucks a servant leader organization but that didn’t mean we’re always servant led. There were times when we made mistakes, and we had to get back on board again.

We had to figure out where we were headed, and our people held us accountable, which was what has to happen. That’s when you know that the servant leadership model is really working—when the people of the organization have the ability to hold their leadership accountable to servant-leadership; they have the ability to speak up and speak out, hold their leaders accountable, and their leaders listen and take action.

If you look at organizations or businesses around the world, you can tell the difference between the ones that are led by servant style leaders and the ones that are not. It shows up on a daily basis.

Servant leadership is really about growing people. – @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

When the people of the organization have the ability to hold their leadership accountable, that's when the servant leadership model is really working. – @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Now, conscious capitalism is really taking hold. You see it everywhere. – @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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