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With a New Apology, Starbucks’s CEO Just Taught an Important Lesson in Leadership

(Source: www.inc.com)

 

Many are criticizing Starbucks for the way it handled a recent incident in which two African-American men ended up getting arrested at a Philadelphia store.

The story, according to The New York Times:

Two black men walked into a Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon and sat down. Officials said they had asked to use the restroom but because they had not bought anything, an employee refused the request. They were eventually asked to leave, and when they declined, an employee called the police.

According to the Times, the men were arrested on suspicion of trespassing but were later released, since Starbucks did not wish to press charges.

Since then, the incident has gained viral exposure, and sparked yet another national conversation on the topic of race relations.

Yesterday, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson delivered a personal apology for the company’s role in the incident, via a video posted on the official Starbucks website. (This was actually the CEO’s second apology, following a written statement that appeared on the website the day before.)

There’s a lot to unpack here. Johnson begins by “offering a personal apology to the two gentlemen who were arrested in our store,” as well as to the Philadelphia community and fellow Starbucks partners (employees). He includes a promise to learn and improve the way stores handle similar situations in the future.

But as I listened to Johnson speak, it was the following sentences that truly stuck out as noteworthy (italics mine):

Now certainly there are some situations where the call to police is justified. Situations where there is violence or threats or a disruption. In this case, none of that existed. These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened, and we are accountable.

I am accountable.

…Now there’s been some calls for us to take action on the store manager. I believe that blame is misplaced. In fact, I think the focus of fixing this: I own it. This is a management issue, and I am accountable to ensure we address the policy and the practice and the training that led to this outcome.

In an incident like this, it’s easy to place blame on the employee or manager of the store. But firing one or two employees will probably do more harm than good. It can easily be seen as an attempt to create a scapegoat and push larger issues under the rug. Further, the general public doesn’t care about the names of the employees; they will only remember how Starbucks got two black men arrested for sitting in their store.

That’s why Johnson’s expressed desire to assume responsibility and to take the lead in immediately moving the company forward is the right thing to do. Because that’s what true leadership is all about–taking ownership, in both good time and bad times.

Of course, saying and doing are two different things. Here’s hoping that Johnson follows through.

Here’s a transcript of Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson’s full statement, via the company’s newsroom:

Hi, I’m Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks.

I want to follow up on the letter I published yesterday to all Starbucks customers and my Starbucks partners regarding the incident that occurred in a Philadelphia area store last Thursday.

I want to begin by offering a personal apology to the two gentlemen who were arrested in our store. What happened in the way that incident escalated, and the outcome, was nothing but reprehensible–and I’m sorry. I want to apologize to the community in Philadelphia, and to all my Starbucks partners. This is not who we are, and it’s not who we’re going to be. We are going to learn from this and we will be better for it.

Now certainly as I’ve been reviewing the situation, understanding that with 28,000 stores around the world, that in certain circumstances, local practices are implemented. In this particular case, the local practice of asking someone who is not a customer to leave the store–and unfortunately, then followed by a call to the police.

Now certainly there are some situations where the call to police is justified. Situations where there is violence or threats or a disruption. In this case, none of that existed. These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened, and we are accountable.

I am accountable.

Now, going through this, I am going to do everything I can to ensure it is fixed and never happens again. Whether that is changes to the policy, in the practice, additional store manager training, including training around unconscious bias, and we will address this.

Now there’s been some calls for us to take action on the store manager. I believe that blame is misplaced. In fact, I think the focus of fixing this: I own it. This is a management issue, and I am accountable to ensure we address the policy and the practice and the training that led to this outcome.

Now, today I’ve been on the phone–with the mayor, with the police commissioner, and other leaders in the community. I’m looking forward to spending the next two days meeting and visiting with them personally. And you have my commitment: We will address this. And we will be a better company for it.

Thank you.

 

More Info: www.inc.com

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