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Howard Schultz’s Servant Leadership at Starbucks

Howard Schultz’s managerial style at Starbucks is admired and analyzed by many scholars. As the corporation’s chief executive officer (CEO), he applied servant leadership efficiently in order to empower his followers. This practice resulted in a positive culture that continues to drive the company’s performance. The presented discussion uses a number of examples to explain how Starbucks implements the major principles of servant leadership. Several lessons that can be learned by other organizations are also described.

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Principles of Servant Leadership at Starbucks

Servant leadership is a powerful approach that supports Starbucks’ business model. This managerial style has been augmented by the existing organizational culture. Leaders guide and mentor their employees in order to add value to the corporation. Consumers are also considered and empowered by using high-quality products and services (Ng, Choi, & Soehod, 2016). The major principles exhibited at this company include empathy, commitment to employees’ needs, development, awareness, openness, and sensitivity. Such attributes are applied efficiently to meet the demands of its employees and customers.

The concept of openness has made it easier for Starbucks to achieve its goals. The organization introduced open forums several years ago to improve the level of communication between employees and managers. This practice created the best environment for motivating workers and promoting creativity (Ng et al., 2016). It also encouraged employees to use their competencies to support the changing needs of different customers. Another principle taken seriously at this company is that of collaboration. Employees and managers communicate efficiently, share ideas, and make evidence-based decisions (Ng et al., 2016). Workers are encouraged to ask questions and identify new resources that can add value to the targeted customers. Consequently, Starbucks continues to achieve most of its business goals.

A relationship-driven approach is embraced at Starbucks to establish a positive connection with members of the community. The corporation’s human resource (HR) model ensures that individuals from different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds are guided and supported. Its anti-discrimination policy also supports this practice. The strategy creates a powerful organizational culture that promotes diverse ideas (Coetzer, Bussin, & Geldenhuys, 2017). The existing culture supports effective programs and policies that borrow a lot from the concepts of servant leadership. For instance, Starbucks’ managers offer adequate guidance to their subordinates and customers. Opportunities are also available to more employees. Emerging issues are addressed within a short time.

Implementation of Servant Leadership

The leaders of Starbucks are always ready to address the needs of its stakeholders, including employees, communities, and customers. The company also supports an effective culture that seeks to promote diversity and employee empowerment. Motivated workers find it easier to offer superior services to their respective customers (Ng et al., 2016). Community members are motivated with the help of numerous opportunities and programs that can address their needs.

From the above analysis, it is evident that the implementation of servant leadership at Starbucks delivers several results. The first one is that the company has established a positive organizational culture that empowers employees from diverse backgrounds. This achievement explains why the corporation’s profits have increased significantly within the past two decades (Ingram, 2016). Secondly, Starbucks has transformed its organizational culture by introducing superior policies and programs that can promote performance. The existing relationship between Starbucks and its stakeholders has created the best working environment (Gelles, 2018). The company has managed to open new stores in different parts of the world within a short time. This is a clear indication that the leadership style exhibited at the corporation is efficient.

The community has also benefited significantly from the above leadership model. Gelles (2018) indicates that many employees are hired from different regions. Starbucks also focuses on the best initiatives to improve its corporate social responsibility (CSR). This approach has led to production of superior products and services that meet every customer’s needs. The company also provides scholarships and medical services to different community members (Ingram, 2016). Organizations that want to emerge successful should, therefore, consider most of these approaches or practices.

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Conflicts and Operational Challenges

The introduction of servant leadership in an organization can become a source of conflict and even create operational challenges. For example, the initiative can cause numerous challenges whereby every employee wants to be recognized. The level of morale might also reduce when some individuals feel that their rights or demands are ignored. Ng et al. (2016) go further to indicate that people tend to have diverse needs and expectations. This means that servant leadership might create conflicts when some individuals are not supported accordingly. Additionally, the leadership model is usually associated with the employees-first approach (Gelles, 2018). Employees who are not supported will disorient every operation aimed at promoting business performance. Such issues can create challenges and make it impossible for the company to achieve its potential.

At Starbucks, appropriate measures were considered in order to address the above issues. Howard Schultz introduced a superior culture whereby attributes such as collaboration, diversity, and inclusivity were taken seriously. The leaders went a step further to encourage their followers to be aware of the needs of different customers (Ng et al., 2016). Appropriate working environments and resources were also introduced at Starbucks. A proper communication strategy was implemented to address emerging challenges before they could affect the company’s operations.

Servant Leadership as an Operational Model

The case of Starbucks indicates that companies that adopt the major principles of servant leadership can attain numerous benefits. The first one is that such corporations will hire more employees from diverse backgrounds. The second one is that an organization using this model will have a positive culture whereby different workers focus on the changing needs of their customers (Gelles, 2018). The third benefit is that such a leadership style creates room for competitiveness and profitability.

Several examples can be presented to support the above argument. For instance, the leadership model explains why Starbucks’ workers are always encouraged to treat their customers in a friendly manner. The company also uses an open approach to hire individuals whose values and principles resonate with its organizational culture (Coetzer et al., 2017). Additionally, Southwest Airlines’ servant leadership model results in increased customer satisfaction and profitability. These examples should be embraced by every company that wants to make servant leadership its operational model.


Servant leadership is a style that explains why Starbucks has become a leading competitor in its industry. Its managers focus on the principles of this managerial strategy to guide and motivate their followers, meet the needs of different stakeholders, and provide quality services and products to the targeted customers. Companies should, therefore, embrace such an operational model in order to emerge successful and achieve their objectives.


Coetzer, M. F., Bussin, M., & Geldenhuys, M. (2017). The functions of a servant leader. Administrative Sciences, 7(1), 5-36. Web.

Gelles, D. (2018). The C.E.O. of Starbucks isn’t leaving. Only Howard Schultz is. The New York Times. Web.

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Ingram, O. C. (2016). Servant leadership as a leadership model. Journal of Management Science and Business Intelligence, 1(1), 21-26. Web.

Ng, X. L., Choi, S. L., & Soehod, K. (2016). The effects of servant leadership on employee’s job withdrawal intention. Asian Social Science, 12(2), 99-106. Web.

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "Howard Schultz’s Servant Leadership at Starbucks." December 12, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Howard Schultz’s Servant Leadership at Starbucks'. 12 December.

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