Employees need to know that you’re on their side

Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson is known by both his peers and those he leads at the $22 billion coffeehouse chain as a passionate servant leader.

Throughout his career at Microsoft, Juniper Networks and now at Starbucks, he has earned loyalty from his employees simply by demonstrating empathy.

While he is grateful for their efforts at work, Johnson is also aware of the daily challenges of life that will occasionally follow his employees into the office.

It’s an approach that was driven home years ago when Johnson was diagnosed with skin cancer.

“It was almost a year that I continued to work as a CEO,” Johnson said in an interview posted on the Starbucks website. “I was having to cancel or reschedule doctor appointments as I was dealing with that issue. And I thought, ‘Why am I doing that? Why am I wired to the point that I’m going to prioritize some business commitment over a health priority that could be fatal?’ It prompted me to step back and say, ‘It’s not the right priority for me in my life.’”

Part of servant leadership is understanding that we all have moments that distract us from our work. When employees feel like they have to hide these concerns, it can easily lead to diminished productivity, mistakes and a very unhappy employee. However, if we foster an environment where these issues can be discussed in an appropriate manner, it creates an opportunity to confront the situation and then find a way to move forward.

We should all take the time to build stronger bonds with our people and support open lines of communication that lead to a more close-knit culture. As leaders, we spend most of our day meeting with customers, vendors and people on our management team. We simply need to bring the same focus to the conversations we have with our most valuable resource — our employees.

When we find opportunities to make more meaningful connections and learn more about their personal and professional goals, we might identify steps that move them closer to meeting these objectives. 

The bottom line is creating a workplace that employees feel good about and a team that they are proud to call their own. When they see work as an integral part of their lives, those challenges don’t seem quite so big.

Fred Koury is president and CEO at Smart Business Network