You are here

Think Independently

14 December, 2015 - 15:22
Available under Creative Commons-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Download for free at

The title of this section references It's Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks authored by Howard Behar, former President, Starbucks International. Another non-school publication perhaps having significant, relevant, and powerful implications to those of us who lead schools and their personnel.

Howard Behar shares:

Everybody wants to experience fulfillment in the work they do and in their lives. Without the engagement and creativity of their people, organizations cannot succeed. Successful organizations require these qualities. Yet it is in the very nature of organizations to stifle their people, to order them around, to tell them what to do. It's all to easy to get caught up in the rule book rather than meeting the true needs of the people we serve (Creighton comment: "Behar may not be talking about schools and personnel, but I say, Oh yes he is....").

Behar continues: There Is No Rule Book for Being Human

In order to run a successful business (or school -Creighton emphasis), guidelines are necessary. You need to set quality standards for products. A good example of this is a recipe for a Starbuck's drink. A double tall vanilla latte has to taste the same in Tokyo as it does in Baton Rouge. It's also important that some things are done in certain ways in order to maintain safety. Stores might have a specific protocol that needs to be followed during closing to help protect the partners against theft or injury. These instructions can be viewed as tools that people can use for the good of the customers and themselves, instead of rules that rob them of their ability to think and act independently.

I prefer to think of the guidelines we need as a set of standards or expectations. Explain to people what you expect of them, and they will surprise you and go beyond what you could have ever imagined. Rules drive me crazy. When things are rule bound, people stop pleasantly surprising you, and more, they stop trusting themselves. The truth is, it's not possible to train every person by breaking down every possible task or situation into totally prescribed tasks. It's a worthless investment. Instead of writing manuals that lock people into dehumanizing behavior (Creighton comment, "sound familiar?"), we should focus on outcomes we want and the reasons behind them. At Starbucks, it doesn't take a rule book to know that our goal is to enthusically satisfy the people we serve (Behar, p. 51).

This approach doesn't just apply to everyday tasks. It is an enormously valuable concept that can be applied to the way people work together in every kind of organization. In my experience, when you gain agreement on what needs to be accomplished, the people on your team will always find a way to do it. This is especially true when we talk about human issues all the things people do with other people, like serving, negotiating, planning, and dealing with colleagues. Creating tool books instead of rule books grows people's spirits. It allows us to be productively human. As Studs Terkel, the social historian and workers' philosopher, said in quoting one of his interviewees, Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Leaders have an obligation to grow peoples' spirits for the good of the organization and for the good of the individual. In other simple yey equally powerful terms, the poet Marge Piercy wrote, The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real. (Behar, p. 52)

People Are Not Assets

Contrary to common business-speak (and education leadership-speak, emphasis added), people are not assets. You don't own people. Assets are buildings and trucks (and busses) and supplies. Assets are things. Every second or so many minutes, a machine spits a product out. Or you flip a switch, and the lights go on. Assets ALWAYS give us what we expect unless a piece of equipment breaks down. People NEVER QUITE give us what we expect. People surprise us because it’s in the very nature of being human. We even surprise ourselves (Behar, p. 52).

The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom

It’s not only executives and managers who should feel empowered to make their own decisions, but all people throughout an organization. After all, who is better equipped to choose the broom than the guy or gal who sweeps the floor? Many organizations (e.g., schools) are so bogged down with management and organizational layers that decisions directly affecting the day-to-day of an individual's job are often made without his or her input. Ideally, everyone who will be affected by a decision or change should be involved in the process at some level or should have their views taken into consideration. Once everyone comes to an agreement about what needs to be accomplished, then the people with the hands-on experience can follow through in the most effective way.

In the case of brooms, the people who know about things like getting the best price for brooms and how many the whole company will need can enter the picture and perhaps select five brooms that make sense from a purchasing perspective. But why in the world would you want to leave the final selection to the person sitting back in the purchasing department, when he or she will never touch it? The person who uses the broom should decide which one to buy.

In your own sphere of influence and relationships, you can practice independent thinking and encourage others to think independently. Rather than experiencing a loss of control, you'll experience an immediate gain in the commitment of people around you and increased satisfaction and productivity in the work you do together (Behar, p. 55).