Leadership Success Comes from a Clear Vision

By Gary Clayton

Your leadership depends upon you attracting followers and that requires that you have a vision of a better future. You make that vision seem attainable to your followers through the messages you deliver, including your mission. Recently, we looked at vision and mission in Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and in the context of evangelical religions and the US manned space flight program. How about for your company or organization? Can you identify a moving vision and mission for it?

I have already presented my opinion that the real for-profit corporate mission is to “create wealth for the owners”, but let’s look at an example of how an operationally oriented “every day vision” can provide more purpose to the activities of the corporation.

Can creating a corporate vision be as simple as visiting an Italian espresso shop?

Can creating a compelling corporate vision be as simple as visiting an Italian espresso shop?

Starbucks Vision and Mission

When Howard Schultz purchased a small chain of retail stores selling coffee beans and paraphernalia, he had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish. His vision was built upon the coffee shops he had seen while visiting Milan, Italy:

Some were stylish and upscale; others attracted a blue-collar clientele. What struck Schultz was how popular and vibrant the Italian coffee bars were. Most had few chairs, and it was common for Italian opera to be playing in the background. Energy levels were typically high, and the bars seemed to function as an integral community gathering place. Each one had its own unique character, but they all had a barista who performed with flair and exhibited a camaraderie with the customers.
Starbucks, he decided, needed to serve fresh-brewed coffee, espresso, and cappuccino in its stores (in addition to beans and coffee equipment). Going to Starbucks should be an experience, a special treat; the stores should be a place to meet friends and visit. Re-creating the Italian coffee-bar culture in the United States could be Starbucks’ differentiating factor. [1]

Is there a clear vision contained in the second paragraph? You bet there is. Given what Schultz had seen in Milan, do you think he needed an expensive marketing study to create his vision? Did it take great leadership skill to develop that vision?

What about a mission statement, something that would identify what needed to be accomplished? The Starbucks website identifies the corporate mission as, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit— one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” [2]

I believe this statement would be a lot more difficult to create than the vision statement. I wouldn’t be surprised if some consultants were involved. It extends far beyond Shultz’s vision. Why would that be? Probably because the business had grown to encompass other sales avenues besides the Starbucks cafes and it was to be used to unify several principles strategic and operating principles listed with the Starbucks mission. In fact, if you read these three principles:

Our Customers
When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers— even if just for a few moments. Sure, it starts with the promise of a perfectly made beverage, but our work goes far beyond that. It’s really about human connection.
Our Stores
When our customers feel this sense of belonging, our stores become a haven, a break from the worries outside, a place where you can meet with friends. It’s about enjoyment at the speed of life—sometimes slow and savored, sometimes faster. Always full of humanity.
Our Neighborhood
Every store is part of a community, and we take our responsibility to be good neighbors seriously. We want to be invited in wherever we do business. We can be a force for positive action— bringing together our partners, customers, and the community to contribute every day. Now we see that our responsibility—and our potential for good—is even larger. The world is looking to Starbucks to set the new standard, yet again. We will lead. [2]

Don’t these three principles take you right back to Schultz’s vision for the cafes?

This is what a really sophisticated marketing operation can do with a vision that originated with someone experiencing the Italian espresso café culture for the first time. Yes, I’m sure a lot of money was spent on this and a lot of skill was required. But did it start that way? No. Schultz started with no more money than the average store owner. His advantage was that he was clear on his original vision – and his mission was to make his dream come true.

So this is what one man could do to the world of coffee in the United States. He used his vision to become a leader not just in marketing and selling coffee, but in creating a haven for his customers. It may not provide the sense of exclusivity that a country club or social club provides, but it provides something unique for every man and woman. I’ve had CEOs request that I do coaching sessions with them at a Starbucks along their commuting route and I’ve met there with small project teams. For a few minutes or an hour or two, it can be a nurturing refuge against the outside world. I say that is vision and mission accomplished.

Visions and missions for commodities

Most Americans thought of coffee as a commodity, not a specialist drink. Schultz changed our beliefs about coffee. Is there another example of what can be done to a commodity? Absolutely, there are many of them – and in my next post, we’ll see visions and missions developed around the lowly chicken egg.


  1. Starbucks Corporation: Background 1971-87. From Thompson, A. & Strickland, A. Strategic Management, 11th Ed., The McGraw-Hill Companies. Retrieved on May 7, 2009 at
  2. Starbucks Mission Statement. Retrieved May 2, 2009 at

Gary Clayton is a leadership coach who works with leaders and those who wish to become leaders in business and life. He has worked on many vision and mission efforts.

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