A View from Blue Grotto

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some light reading

I am currently reading Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbuck’s. I enjoy reading about Schultz’s passion – for coffee, the culture of his company, and leadership. So, I found a March 2006 Harvard Business Review interview, Leadership in Literature, with Joseph Badaracco, Jr., the John Shad Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School, of particular interest.

There is growing concern that today’s business students receive far more training in the quantitative elements of business and less of the soft skills of leadership – emotional intelligence, judgment and a moral compass. Badaracco teaches a business course in literature, hoping to engage students in an analysis of the complexity and often very personal nature of challenges facing managers and executives.

One point, that most managers can relate to, is the clash between individuals based on a deep, personal commitment to their own values. Using the Greek tragedy of Antigone as an example, Badaracco explains: “We see the same thing today in organizations when leaders are unable to see beyond their own agendas for truth, change, and human development.”

Acknowledging the complexities of characters in literature helps executives to acknowledge the basic flaws of human nature. Conflicts, both personal and professional, will arise throughout a person’s career. How an individual chooses to learn from those conflicts can be a deciding factor in their success as a leader.

Part of what we do at Blue Grotto is to encourage clients to frame information into narratives, allowing a better understanding of principles and values. Bullet points, pie charts and graphs lack the ability to convey what went into the decision-making process to get you beyond the second quarter slump - or sales goals. While some information requires a visual vehicle, like a graph, I challenge you to augment that graph with a narrative that articulates the choices and outcomes that were considered.

Though Schultz’s tale of turning a commodity like coffee into the worldwide phenomenon that is Starbuck’s is laden with protagonists and antagonists, with lots of shelf space at stake, I might also need to brush up on my Shakespeare. Email me with the book titles crowding your nightstand.

Note: Joseph Badaracco writes frequently for Harvard Business publications on ethics and character in leaders. You can search by his last name at -http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu - for additional article titles.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.