Starbucks' Howard Schultz and how to Restore Confidence

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's message about finding common grounds for action has nothing to do with coffee grounds. Shultz is on a campaign to restore confidence in America and the American economy. He wants to ignite a contagious upward spiral of confidence. He has called for a national call-in conversation on September 6.

Having devoted an entire book to the topic of Confidence — upward spirals, downward spirals, and turnaround — I applaud Schultz for courage and leadership. He has taken out full-page ads in the New York Times and spoken out to rally others behind the cause, and the first 200 major business leaders have joined him. His ideas are exactly what's needed to rebuild confidence, an expectation of good times ahead that propels economic growth.

First, stop the things that seem to be undermining the system. In this case, Schultz wants to end contributions to politicians until they again put citizenship above partisanship. Divisiveness, in-fighting, finger-pointing, blame-shifting, and narrow self-interest are characteristics of downward spirals and signs that a losing streak will get harder and harder to reverse.

Second, invest. Schultz has encouraged the hundred CEOs to pledge to invest in jobs and hiring. The hallmark of all great turnarounds is that leaders have the courage to build confidence in advance of victory, which then makes victory possible. It always requires new investment to start the upward spiral of initiative, collaboration, and venture-building that produces inventiveness and innovation. People who are working start believing in themselves and their country again. That gives them money to spend and the faith that there will be a positive future. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Third — and this is implicit in Schultz's message — focus on the value of the underlying assets and invest in them, too. America is rich in brainpower and potential brainpower. There are many ways to invest in a work-ready population and the bright hope of entrepreneurship by vastly increasing internships, mentoring programs, entrepreneurship training, "middle skills" education through community colleges meeting the needs of employers.

National service programs such as AmeriCorps should be increased, not cut, because they deploy young people — especially in communities where they can do meaningful work that leaves the community better off, while increasing their own skills as leaders who can solve problems. Infrastructure investments to make needed repairs to roads, bridges, schools, and storm-damaged areas can put many thousands to work, building their own confidence while restoring confidence in local areas.

One of the first things I found that great leaders do to turn around businesses, communities, nations, and sports teams is that they invest in the infrastructure — whether better offices, cleaner streets, or new sports stadiums with the best fittest equipment (important to the turnarounds that started upward spirals for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots football teams 17 years ago).

Downward spirals start to spiral out of control because the decline of confidence turns into negativity, pessimism, and passivity. It seems like no one can do anything. The system is too broken to fix. That public mood can be dangerous.

Howard Schultz shows that it doesn't have to be that way. Individuals can take action. People can find a common cause even when they disagree on specifics. Business leaders can commit to hiring and growing jobs showing that they believe in America and are confident that national fiscal matters will be resolved. Schultz shows another great American strength: leadership that can emerge from citizens. Especially citizens that join the conversation and act in concert.

So tip your cup to Howard Schultz. Starbucks sells tea as well as coffee, but right now the "Coffee Party" might be offering the positive vision for a future of confidence in the American Dream.

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