Starbucks Coffee and a Leadership Lesson

By | June 28, 2018

[June 28, 2018]  The best way to learn a lesson is by a) observing others making mistakes and then b) taking it to heart.1  In the news just a few days ago, a restaurant owner at the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia refused service to the U.S. White House press secretary and her family.  Other commercial enterprises, like Starbucks Corporation, have also been hit hard with leadership lessons involving politics.

The lesson for Red Hen, Starbucks, and a long list of legitimate and successful groups is very simple; stay away from politics.  It will cost you money and the goodwill of customers, vendors, and clients.  Leaders who have allowed politics to influence their organizations have also seen the loss of their own credibility.

We are all aware that the leadership of Starbucks is liberal politically.  For most folks that is unimportant because their coffee is very good, the atmosphere at their locations is great, and the customer service is outstanding.  No one cares about the political affiliations of its leaders … that is, until it begins to infect the mission and values of that organization.

When that happens, as we recently saw at the Red Hen and at Starbucks, the leadership will be seen as immature, self-serving, undisciplined, and as members of an ideological echo chamber that leads to perverse decisions.  In the case of Starbucks, they closed all their stores one afternoon “to educate employees about racial bias.”2

There are five publically professed core values of the Starbucks Corporation.  See an earlier posting by me (link here) about these important values and how they helped make them one of the most successful commercial enterprises in the world.  The very first value they list is “creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.”  But by professing their political biases, Starbucks has violated their own time-honored value.

Starbucks remains an exceptionally successful organization with great people.  The “scandals” of their treatment of blacks and others not of their political bent has marred them a little.  It is up to the company senior leadership to take action to ensure their values are upheld and not just occasionally.

The leadership lesson Starbucks learned after an incident at the end of April this year and for the Red Hen restaurant, is that politics and good business practices do not mix.  If the senior leadership doesn’t get the message, the time for Starbucks is over.

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  1. “Best” in this context means that it is an advantage to never pay a price for making a mistake; let others make the mistakes, observe them, and then adjust your behavior.
  2. http://money.cnn.com/2018/04/17/news/companies/starbucks-store-closings-racial-bias-education/index.html
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

45 thoughts on “Starbucks Coffee and a Leadership Lesson

  1. Edward Kennedy III

    What a wonderful post that lays out some simple advice to leaders. In the U.S. military, it is already against regulations to introduce politics into what they do. I’m not saying that is the way to go in the private sector but at least people should recognize that you will make a lot of people mad; unnecessarily. It’s one of those “lose-lose” situations. Gen Satterfield has done us a favor here. Leaders … pay attention!

    Reply
    1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      Good to see you on, Edward. I look forward to your next guest-blogger post; coming out soon. I know you have a lot of fans here and some have written to me to say “hurry up.”

      Reply
  2. Watson Bell

    Socialism/progressivism/communism is about hate and envy. Christianity is about love and acceptance. Need I say more?

    Reply
  3. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    What the heck is going on lately with all the HATE and VIOLENCE against people here in the United States? I’ve seen it grown enormously over the past two years. I also see a few politicians, acting irresponsibly, by adding to the problem. Two examples are Maxine Waters and the other Hillary Clinton. I like them both for the good they have done but now are a major distraction away from the US solving some of its problems. We focus now on personality rather than problems. We need to stop it.

    Reply
  4. Albert Ayer

    On the other hand, don’t say anything that is insensitive:
    Tigers fire pitching coach Chris Bosio for insensitive comments

    Reply
  5. Eddie Ray Anderson,

    Sounds like the owner of Red Hen Restaurant needs to get out of town for a while and hear what other folks have to say. Living in your echo chamber rarely results in anything worthwhile.

    Reply
  6. Danny Burkholder

    I would have hoped by now that large, complex organizations would simply abide by the rule of “respect” for others. This means doing things to avoid politics and other hot-button issues that drive away customers. I guess that Starbucks has enough customers for now and don’t care about losing a few. How sad.

    Reply
  7. Len Jakosky

    Wow, lots of comments today even before I logged onto my computer. I think this leadership post is more about Starbucks (which is a large corporation & extremely successful) than about the Red Hen Res (small but presumably good). The idea that we can learn lessons from others is a function of the maturity of a person than anything else. I wonder sometimes when people do things they regret. We haven’t yet heard from the woman who owns the Red Hen Res if she does regret her decision or not.

    Reply
  8. Gil Johnson

    Apparently the owner of the Red Hen restaurant is morally superior to us all. /sarc off/

    Reply
    1. Jerome Smith

      Nothing worse than a person who sees themselves as superior to others. How do you think ethnic racism got started with the Japanese and Germans leading up to WW2?

      Reply
  9. Jonnie the Bart

    I’ve been a fan of this leadership blog for a long time and liked what I read. Here is a great example of what “not to do as a leader.” General Satterfield has shown us that it never pays to inject politics into your organization. Unless, of course, you live in a bubble like your panty-waisted, live-in-your-parents’ basement, socialist friends.

    Reply
  10. Wesley Brown

    I think things are going to get worse for the Red Hen Restaurant. Startbucks! Are you listening?

    Reply
  11. Dale Paul Fox

    Lexington KY, a city of intolerance. No, I don’t think so. Just because one idiot is a radical doesn’t mean the whole town is full of political flakes. Now I hear the restaurant will be closed for at least a week to let the protests die down. Workers there are losing money and people are getting threatened. This is what happens when you do something unnecessary to piss people off with contentious politics.

    Reply
  12. Mr. T.J. Asper

    An important lesson for us all. It’s not just commercial establishments but anything that has good leadership as its core value. I teach High School and would never inject my thoughts about politics. That would be counterproductive in many ways.

    Reply
  13. Joe the Aussie

    I’ve never seen this happen in Australia before and I hope they don’t.

    Reply
  14. Dennis Mathes

    Great comments here on the leadership blog. I read it every morning when I can and shoot out links to some of the best articles. My two cents worth is that anyone who injects politics into their business will need their head examined for stupidity.

    Reply
  15. Andrew Dooley

    I personally don’t think any of these folks think they did anything wrong. Remember, they think they are superior to us who live in “flyover country.”

    Reply
  16. Shawn C. Stolarz

    STARBUCKS corporate leaders. Look at Red Hen Restaurant and learn. You’ve already made stupid decisions based on politics. Want to lose even more customers? Keep up what you’re doing. The problem is that these customers rarely come back even after you stop being political.

    Reply
    1. Anita

      Shawn. Do they even care? I doubt it.
      They live in a liberal bubble … a danger regardless of political persuasion.

      Reply
  17. Eric Coda

    Simple lesson often ignored. The Red Hen Restaurant website has been hacked and stupid stuff posted on it, their Facebook Page is unavailable, and so it goes. Local people, who have nothing to do with introducing politics into their town are getting frustrated by one person’s views which come about due to a lack of tolerance and respect.

    Reply
  18. Georgie M.

    This article by Gen Satterfield needs repeating occasionally because people get too wrapped up in themselves and forget that one of the key principles of great leadership is selfless service. If you are kicking people out of your restaurant like the Red Hen’s owner, you are no longer interested in leading people but being a part of a gang of extremists.

    Reply
  19. Ronny Fisher

    Leadership means to have influence. You destroy influence when you show your partisanship through politics. Simple lesson.

    Reply
  20. Army Captain

    Advice to stay away from politics if you want to provide valuable leadership to everyone is sound advice. Those leaders who ignore it will have a hard time.

    Reply
  21. Doug Smith

    I brew my own coffee because to me, buying coffee at a store is a waste of money. Starbucks broke that cycle because they provide a great place to sit and talk with my friends. But, they are getting a bit annoying lately with their anti-American values.

    Reply
  22. Wilson Cox

    I admit that I like the coffee and I like the company. Why? Simple, they are very successful and that is a measure of good leadership anywhere. True, they are a little nuts at the corporate level but generally, at the local stores, they are just fine. Don’t talk politics with them if you don’t like what they think.

    Reply
  23. Darryl Sitterly

    Another “stupid is as stupid does” for a once great business. Starbucks is on its way down to simple humility.

    Reply
  24. Joe Omerrod

    Starbucks! Once my favorite coffee but now I’m making it at home and taking it to work. Why? They got too political for me. For the average Joe like me, the leadership at Starbucks corporate have gone bonkers. I won’t buy their coffee anymore because of their politics. All they had to do was keep their mouths shut. Oh, they probably don’t care anyway.

    Reply
  25. Jerome Smith

    Thank you Max and others for your sage comments on some really simple advice. Gen. Satterfield has repeatedly given some truly great advice to us. Now, if you were me (haha) you likely already knew this. Anyone who is anyone that has a brain knows that politics and business are not compatible partners. Stay out of it when it comes to your livelihood else you will not be a happy person.

    Reply
  26. Max Foster

    You would think that it is obvious that a commercial enterprise should stay as far away from politics as possible. You alienate a large portion of your customers with immature and often irrelevant issues that only piss people off. And for no good reason that you are trying to show your superiority. If losing customers is okay with you, go right ahead and “experiment” with being stupid.

    Reply
    1. Dennis Mathes

      You would have thought that successful people had figured out that certain things, unrelated to their company, should be avoided. Appreciate you reinforcing this point.

      Reply
    2. Nick Lighthouse

      Max, I don’t think they are experimenting. In their ideology, it’s a feature.

      Reply
    3. Danny Burkholder

      Yep, fully agree with Max that pissing people off rarely serves a good purpose.

      Reply
    4. Tomas C. Clooney

      I thought all grown-ups knew this. Apparently, I was wrong … again.

      Reply
  27. Yusaf from Texas

    I have a cup of coffee in my hand (not Starbucks) and my old dog at my feet. What a great way to start my morning here in Texas. Thanks for giving us the lowdown on why organizations should stay out of politics.

    Reply

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