Quarantine Chat: Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks

Quarantine Chat with Howard Behar

Jason Barger is joined for a conversation with Howard Behar while quarantine is in place with the Covid-19 crisis. Howard led Starbucks from 25 stores to 15,000 around the globe. He and Jason talk about servant leadership, innovation, and mindset in these times.

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1:00 – The most important thing in today’s world is our mindset. For Jason, the daily practice of gratitude is important as he thanks the healthcare workers, first responders, and essential service people out there making life possible for us all right now. The purpose of these quarantine chats is to try to spread some positivity into the world, try to connect to people, and keeping care and leadership at the heart of everything we do.

2:55 – Howard Behar is the former president of Starbucks; he was with them when they had only 25 stores. He and his team helped lead that company to 15,000 stores around the globe. More importantly, he is a wonderful person, husband, father, and an amazing mentor to Jason and a friend.

3:35 – Jason welcomes Howard Behar who quickly says, “there are stressful situations, only stressful responses.” 2019 and 2020 were difficult times for Behar as he and his wife suffered health issues. Behar says he is here today to do what he loves to do, “nurture and inspire the human spirit beginning with himself first and then for others.”

6:55 – Right now, Behar is focusing on charitable organizations as well as working with Starbucks through group chats with the company. Behar is also working with The Plate Fund to support hospitality workers right now that need help. Right now humor is so important for people and for Behar. It is a way to connect, laugh, and release the tension of the times.

8:55 – “It’s the organization of one. If you care about your values this is the time when they come out” says Behar.  Now is a great time to focus on your people, many great companies out there are doing this and it’s the right thing to do. Behar goes into detail here about what a company should do in these times and how it brings out the leadership found within. When things are going great and the numbers are up that easy; it’s easy to give when you’ve got. But when you don’t have, that’s when it’s more difficult to do and some companies are now struggling with that.

11:05 – Behar believes that leadership has to take the pain first. You have to do everything you can to get people through this both economically and emotionally. What that means now is absolute truth. Be your authentic self, be vulnerable and it’s OK to show your fear, that you’re no different than anyone else. No secrets, there can’t be any right now, none. Leaders that aren’t doing that now are missing the boat.

13:05 – Servant leadership is easy to talk about when everything is going great. In these times of crisis that is when our leadership is revealed. Jason stresses the process over the results. Right now is when true leadership is shown. One of Howard Behar’s favorite quotes is “compassionate emptiness”. You can’t solve everyone’s problems but you can be compassionate with them.

15:45 – Jason asks Behar, To the leaders out there, what would be your encouragement for their response in the weeks ahead? Behar, without hesitation, says, ” absolute understanding of the pain of others”. What can I do to help you? How are you doing? What are the issues you’re facing? How is your family doing? How are your kids doing? How can I help you in any way? We all have time right now, that is one thing we have. A call to people that you haven’t talked to in a long time that you know might be struggling, out of your daily sphere all matter.

18:15 – People will be laid off from a company and never hear from them again, which is so destroying about one’s feelings of themselves. That’s why it’s so important to stay in contact, to show that you care.

18:40 – Jasons asks Behar, when we do all get back again, whenever that time is, coming out of this social distancing, what are some of the things that you think will be different, and what are some positive unintended consequences that can come of this? Behar says that it is easy to forget quickly but Behar believes that we are in it for the long haul. It is important to not forget that people are the most important thing. Serving others is the most important thing. When you win a game you might think, “man aren’t I great!” but you need to remember it’s the people that helped you when that. Thank the people along this journey and don’t get caught up along the way.

20:20 – Behar’s parents were both immigrants, his father was born in 1895. That means he lived through the great depression, the Spanish flu, the first and second World Wars, and he would always say, “Howard, this too shall pass” when Howard had problems.

Questions from Live Chat viewers

21:20 – Kenny asks, what is one change that you think will hold? Behar says that he thinks Zoom will keep going moving forward or whatever the current tech is for that.

22:20 – There is a lot of fear within teams, how can we lower the level of fear and uncertainty within teams who are uncertain at this time with what is going on? Behar says, communication is key. Whatever communication you are doing now, double it, triple it, make it better. Ask questions and find out what other people think and take it seriously. Individual communication is key during this time also and lots of love and understanding for everyone at this time.

24:33 – People are talking about a green light moment when businesses will get back into things, a lot of businesses thought they were out of the startup phase, they need to assume they are startup again once they hit that greenlight phase. Do you agree with this? What are one or two things a business can do to switch to this kind of thinking? Behar answers, he totally agrees, it isn’t startup in terms of the business but startup in terms of what it takes to rebuild it. Pivoting is important and that some businesses might have to raise capital again and restart the teams and such.

It’s about being as creative as you were when you first started and trying to figure out new ways of doing things. You can do a lot of the things you did before but there may be a lot of new things that you need to do. You might not have to drive an hour to your job every day anymore when you can do that work from home or come in just a few days a week instead. Being open to anything and everything is what we are going to have to do and that’s what startups do.

27:55 – There is power in congregating. After all of this business is will reevaluate how they use their resources, how often they have meetings, and how often they meet all together. We have learned that there is power in community and in being together. We will make an effort to get all of our people together again and how important that is for all of us moving forward.

29:20 – Behar’s son runs a start-up and recently had to zoom meeting where he sent everyone in the meeting a box with all the ingredients to make a special Hawaiian cocktail. On the box it said, do not open until Friday at 3 PM during the meeting. So everyone open their box, added the ingredients, and together, all had the same cocktail during the meeting. Using technology in creative ways is something that we all can benefit from.

30:43 – Howard being the gracious guest he is, offers to take one last question from a grocery store owner who asks, it is becoming harder and harder to keep our associates motivated during this time as customers aren’t as nice and product is lean as they struggle to keep up with needs. Supply chain challenges are real, do you have any unique recommendations? Behar shares some valuable insights about communication and honesty toward the customers and associates. A book recommendation is the Power of Moments. Create moments with your customers and your people.

Be grateful for today, who are you going to checkin with, how are you going to work your body, what beauty am I creating or cultivating today? Have a great day and be well – Jason V Barger

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Conversations and micro-thoughts to engage your mind and heart.

A thermostat is proactive. It sets the temperature in a room. Controls the temperature. Regulates the temperature. But in today’s distracted, fast-paced and digital world, it’s easy for individuals and organizations to act more like thermometers, slipping into reactionary thinking, becoming scattered and inconsistent. The most compelling leaders, teams, organizations, families or collection of humans of any kind operate in thermostat mode. They calibrate their mind and heart to set the temperature for the vision and culture they want to create. Jason Barger, globally celebrated author, keynote speaker, and founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, is the host of The Thermostat, a podcast journey to discover authentic leadership, create compelling cultures and find clarity of mission, vision, and values.