[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.
- “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.