Over the weekend, something catastrophic happens in another part of the world – an earthquake, a tsunami or other tragic events with many lives lost.
The story is all over the news and yet when you show up to work on Monday, its business as usual.
You and your colleagues may talk about the events, but only briefly. The people you work with are more interested in talking about their kids, where they’re going for vacation, or complaining about something at work. So you put your head down and keep working away.
I’ve always wondered – why are we so preoccupied with the mundane details of our lives? Why are we not more concerned about the profound events around us?
One explanation may be that our leaders are not all that interested in the world outside their own organizations. If leaders do not seem to care about suffering, injustice or tragedy, why should we?
Of course, not all leaders are like that. Take Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks for example.
Schultz has never been a leader to ignore the world around him. In fact, he is an executive who is constantly looking at events and trends and speaking out when he sees something wrong.
Schultz’s “open letters” have become the stuff of legend. From hyper-partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., to an open letter warning gun activists to please leave their guns at home when stopping for a Grande Latte, Schultz has always shared what is on his mind. Even when it is controversial.
Schultz’s latest missive, however, may have been his most important to date.
In mid December, Schultz wrote a heartfelt letter to his employees on the issue of racism. He also convened an impromptu open forum at the Starbuck’s head office in Seattle for 400 staff and partners.
In Schultz’s words, he had become very concerned about the violence and unrest that was erupting across the United States, from Ferguson, Missouri, to Oakland, California. Schultz asked: “What are our individual and collective responsibilities to our country, as well as to our own company?”
“Last week, one thing became clear: we cannot continue to come to work every day aware of the difficult and painful experiences facing our nation, and not acknowledge them, together, as a company,” Schultz wrote. “Indeed, despite the raw emotion around the events and their underlying racial issues, we at Starbucks should be willing to talk about them internally. Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are.”
In Schultz’s world, the company he founded is not separated from the surrounding world. He uses his profile as one of the world’s most famous executives to preach greater understanding, tolerance and progressivity. He is not only acknowledging these problems, he is contributing to the conversation about solutions.
It makes you wonder what the world would be like if other powerful business leaders took the same approach.
It has always been my observation that far too many organizations, and their leaders, try to ignore the events and trends around them. They think that somehow they can just go on making this or selling that without having to stop and consider broader social, economic and political challenges.
However, as Schultz is showing, not only acknowledging but also speaking publicly about societal challenges is becoming the new norm for business leaders.
Speaking publically on societal challenges becoming the new norm for business leaders.#CEO
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I believe we all benefit when our CEOs and executives demonstrate an understanding and sensitivity to social issues and events.
Schultz seems to understand that those social challenges – racism, violence, and gun control – are issues that their employees live with every day. Even though they may not be pervasive problems in the workplace, they are very evident in the lives of employees outside work hours.
Leaders who shut their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears will ultimately lose credibility with their employees, who do not have the luxury to ignore these problems. Conversely, nothing builds loyalty and engagement like a leader who takes steps to show her employees that she sees the same problems they do.
This week’s Gut Check question: Are you only concerned about what happens to your company?
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro