Chairman and CEO of Starbucks
Warren Bennis is one of the most respected scholars on leadership. And I was under a lucky star one day -- I heard Warren speak at an event, and I was so impressed by what he said that I sought him out for advice. This was in the late 1980s, long before we were a public company.
Over the years, Warren has been a valued advisor and mentor, and he has become a trusted friend. It's hard to pinpoint just one piece of advice that he gave me, because his guidance was valuable on so many levels. Early on, I remember his words -- he said this many times -- that I needed to invest ahead of the growth curve and think beyond the status quo in terms of the skill base, the experience, and the quality of the people around me. He also told me that the art of becoming a great leader is in developing your ability to leave your own ego at the door and to recognize the skills and traits you don't possess and that you need to build a world-class organization.
This was harder than it sounds, because I wanted to build a different kind of company -- a company that had a conscience. So it wasn't only that I needed people with skills and discipline and business acumen that complemented my own qualities, but most important, I needed to attract and retain people with like-minded values. What tied us together was not our respective disciplines, and it was not chasing an exit strategy driven by money. What tied us together was the dream of building a company that would achieve the fragile balance of profitability, shareholder value, a sense of benevolence, and a social conscience.
What happens when you ask 21 luminaries from all walks for the one piece of advice that got them to where they are today?
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