Coffee Talk

Posted on Mar 17, 2011 | 4 Comments

In last weekend’s New York Times piece exploring how Howard Schultz has changed his management style, the Starbucks CEO was paid one of the highest compliments we can think of.

He “has become . . . a better listener,” the article asserted.

For Peter Drucker, listening was among the most important things that a boss can do. To be effective, Drucker explained, executives must learn to listen to their staffs rather than settling into a habit of always communicating “downward from management to employees, from the superior to the subordinate.”

By listening more, Schultz has invariably invited differences of opinion, which has meant a steadier flow of good ideas throughout the company.  “What leadership means is the courage it takes to talk about things that, in the past, perhaps we wouldn’t have, because I’m not right all the time,” acknowledged Schultz, who will be speaking on April 5 at the Drucker Business Forum.

Starbucks employees have certainly noticed the difference. “There’s been more arguing, challenging and debate in the last two to three years than there’s ever been,” said Troy Alstead, the chief financial officer of the coffee purveyor.

This too would have garnered approval from Drucker, who expressed great admiration for the way that former General Motors Chairman Alfred Sloan encouraged healthy dissent. “The effective decision-maker… organizes disagreement,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 book The Effective Executive. “It gives him the alternatives so that the can choose and make a decision… And it forces the imagination — his own and that of his associates.”


What about where you work: Does management listen enough? Is there a sufficient amount of constructive disagreement?


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