Ubuntu: I am because of you

Amidst a hostile environment of harsh words, shaking fists, toxic hubris and an uncertain future, a message of hope, humility and the possibility of a brighter days ahead.

Recently, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz addressed the 2017 graduating class of Arizona State University. At a time when some in leadership demonstrate their struggle to deal with the challenges of the day and the weight of their positions, Schultz spoke to these future leaders with a true vision that was filled with hope and opportunity. The messages were clear and I share my interpretation of those messages here with you.

Hope abounds. Regardless of your current position, or how desperate you may feel, or how hopeless the circumstances may seem, if you want it, hope is always there. The American Dream is bigger than any one movement, any one person, or any event. The dream is still possible, regardless of the sins of past. This is possible because we have proven we can become wiser with what we experience – it’s the American way. We accept our past and drive forward with a positive perspective to learn and grow.

Hubris is debilitating and damaging.  No matter who you are, how large your position or platform, how far your reach, or even how many followers you may have, hubris will inevitably damage your position. Humility is key to any challenge, ensuring you keep your focus where it needs to be…on your true goal. It’s not about you, but you are integral to the process and should feel accountable or responsible for the results.

Leadership and moral courage is not a passive act. Agency, engagement and most importantly action are necessary to drive any message or outcome. Consistently demonstrate the moral courage to stand for your principles, to support your vision and to lead your teams; decide and act for what is right.

Commit to serve first. Today’s business decisions require sincere analysis and evidence beyond basic economics. Profit for the sake of profit is no longer sustainable. Economic success comes with an expectation from the community you serve, to do so with compassion, curiosity and with sincere commitment to service.

When we leave hubris behind, and realize the impact we may have on everyone around us, only then will we be humble, only then will we be thoughtful, only then will we be courageous.

3 Important questions: Schultz also provided guiding questions for the class of 2017 to help them decide how to manifest their knowledge, skills and energy and to remember they are not an island; they will inevitably affect all they encounter. Honor your footprint:

1.  How will you respect your parents and honor your family?

2.  How will you share success and serve others with dignity?

3.  How will you lead with humility and moral courage?

Schultz’s greatest gift to the class was sharing a word he learned while opening a location in South Africa, ‘ubuntu’. His translation, as provided by the local people was, ‘I am because of you’. What a wonderful word. What a beautiful meaning and more importantly, what a profound reminder to ensure we never forget to be humble.

We are because of those who surround us and whom we surround ourselves with. We are because of everyone who has taught us, those who have led us and whom we have led; those who have oppressed us, those who have motivated us, those who have shown us how to be and how not be. We are because of those who have nurtured us or those who had the courage to challenge us to nurture ourselves. We are not who we are only because of ourselves.

When we are humble, we become thoughtful. When we become thoughtful, we become courageous and when we become courageous, we allow ourselves to truly understand the impact we might have on everyone around us. It is in this space that we will have no time for hubris.

Howard Schultz

I have always had respect for Howard Schultz and have been a willing, albeit outside observer of his management, leadership style and philosophy for years. The company he led, from startup to success, through adversity and back to success, is one that should not be ignored. Starbucks has locations in over 70 countries and employs more than 300,000 people globally. It seemingly runs on strong principles and a strategy that is mutually rewarding to all employees and stakeholders of the organization.

As a leader, Schultz has demonstrated that he has the courage and wisdom to openly admit his errors and then move intentionally to correct course. As the father of a few young adults, I was curious to see what he had to say to such an accomplished group of young, impressionable, intelligent, students that would give them hope as they head out into this uncertain world… I was not disappointed.

Howard Schultz ASU 2017 Commencement Speech

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