Onward (book review)

A few weeks ago I saw Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, interviewed about his book Onward. He and his book’s message intrigued me, so I downloaded a copy. Plus, I needed to check off a book on leadership in my 2018 reading self-made requirements.


Onward did not disappoint. It was even more than I expected. A bottom line summary is the book tells the story of the transformation of the company in 2008-2009. This transformation involved many things which required excellent leadership by Schultz and the partners he empowered to lead at various levels in the company.

The writing is strongly narrative without too much direct leadership application. However, here are a few leadership principle highlights:

  1. Communication is always important, but it is even more essential when things are not working. Ensuring that communication is narrow, clear, and repetitive to set expectations wins people’s trust.
  2. A core capacity of leadership is the ability to make right decisions while flying blind, basing them on knowledge, wisdom, and the ability to stay wedded to an overriding goal.
  3. People have to stay true to their guiding principles. To their cores. Whatever they may be. Pursuing short-term rewards is always shortsighted.
  4. How leaders embody the values they espouse sets a tone, an expectation, that guides their employees’ behaviors.
  5. Growth for growth’s sake is a losing proposition.
  6. Every enterprise and organization has a memory. And those memories create a path for people to follow.

Besides the narrative of the New Orleans conference, worth the purchase of the book alone, this is the quote I most liked:

Wherever the location, the best beans – the ones with enchantingly complex flavors and compelling characters, known as arabica – grow under some degree of stress, like high altitudes, intense heat, or long dry periods.

This truth exemplifies the story of Onward. We can all learn from these beans. We can all be on the mission of moving onward.

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