A Leader and A Servant: Kevin Johnson
Kevin R. Johnson is the current CEO and president of Starbucks Coffee Company. Johnson has been involved with the Starbucks company since 2001. When Johnson was working for Microsoft, he met former CEO Howard Schultz when Microsoft partnered with Starbucks to introduce wireless internet in their stores. In 2009, Schultz reached out to Johnson to offer him a position as a board member. Johnson worked his way from board member, to chief operating officer, to president of the company, to CEO. Since Johnson became CEO in 2017, he has made great improvements within the company in terms of satisfying both the customers and his employees, who he refers to as “partners” (Starbucks, n.d). Utilizing his background in technology working at IBM, Microsoft, and Juniper Networks, Johnson streamlined Starbucks online ordering, mobile pickup, in-app purchases, and even partnered with food delivery services like UberEats (Ward, 2017). These technological advances set him apart from competitors, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic suspending in-person services, Starbucks was still able to operate through their drive-thru and these online services. Johnson has been described by the former CEO Schultz as an embodiment of servant leadership (Cooper, 2018). This fact is apparent through his actions, in which he always values the people he serves and employs. Johnson recognizes that effective leadership requires being collaborative, sensitive, and being open to new ideas (Truxillo et al., 2016). In the face of conflict, Johnson is approachable and holds himself and his company accountable. Johnson always looks out for the well-being of others, determined to make things right for those he has failed, showing consideration for others which is excellent leadership behavior (Truxillo et al., 2016). An example of this is the conflict that took place in a Philadelphia Starbucks, when two African-American men were waiting to meet a friend and were arrested for trespassing (Stevens, 2018). This resulted in Johnson taking responsibility for the incident, meeting with the affected men to apologize, issuing public accountability statements referring to racial discrimination, and finally implementing new discrimination training to stores across the United States (Dyme, 2018). Johnson leads by encouraging and empowering others to act with integrity and aims to promote equality to all partners and customers.In addition to caring for his customers, Johnson is also incredibly passionate about caring for his partners at Starbucks. He supports and empowers his team by giving the individual Starbucks storefronts room to operate independently, while still being there to support his partners (Truxillo et al., 2016). The reason Johnson is an exceptional leader is because he fosters a relationship with his partners based on trust, mutual liking, and respect, which are all characteristics of high-quality leader-member-exchanges (LMX) relationships (Truxillo et al., 2016). Similarly, Danon Carter and Timothy Baghurst (2014) set out to study how servant leaders at Celebration Restaurants cause engagement in their employees and foster a healthy work environment. Johnson has been described as an extremely passionate and servant leader, as well as being a leader of a highly successful restaurant business. In the study, there was a strong correlation between having a servant leader and employees having a positive outlook on their job, as well as a stronger team, commitment to the company, and morale (Carter & Baghurst, 2014). By having a leader that supports them and presents kindness and humility, it fosters an environment in which employees can grow their confidence. (Carter & Baghurst, 2014). Unfortunately, the effects of servant leadership are difficult to measure and are subject to bias, and therefore needs to be additional studies with a larger study pool. Nonetheless, a servant leader like Johnson is likely to make a real difference to his employees, managers and baristas alike.
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