Category Archives: To Be A Partner

Trust: A Leader’s Responsibility

This month I asked an esteemed friend and colleague, Heather Russell, to make a guest appearance on my blog. While she doesn’t profess to be a writer by trade, she is a self-proclaimed rock star (@rockstar_fac) and one of the smartest cookies I’ve had the privilege of working with. Her sweet spots include telling it like it is, sparking new ideas, and pioneering genius approaches to solving problems. I think you’ll find all three of these things reflected in her thoughts on the responsibilities and challenges that come with learning to trust yourself, as a leader and a human.


In all aspects of our life, we as humans deal with getting input. Sometimes we seek it, sometimes it is unsolicited, but input is rarely in short supply.

In my experience, asking people for their input gets you two things:

  1. A whole lot of opinions (that often go sideways on you and have nothing at ALL to do with what you asked for feedback on in the first place) and
  2. An expectation that you will take each and every person’s input as the gospel truth.  Ok, so maybe not that extreme.  But close.

Input is a wonderful and glorious thing; it gives you perspective you might not have had prior to asking and allows you to see all angles of the situation.

But (and this is a big one here), too much input or input that’s too loud or coming from someone who has authority over you can erode YOUR voice.  Your opinion.  Your instincts.  

Ok, so maybe your boss won’t whack you over the head but they certainly can influence your performance rating, yes? This is the kind of authority I’m talking about.

I’ve seen it often in my career and personal life.  Especially when someone is trying to grow their career and is working on a highly visible project or temporary job.

Has this happened to you? Have you ever wanted to be successful so badly that you think you have to take all of the opinions of anyone who has ever lived?  Ever?

What winds up happening is possibly the worst outcome of all. You lose trust in the one person you should trust more than anyone else on the planet:


I just saw this happen.  A wonderfully smart person in a temporary job was trying to prove that she’d had an impact, and was faced with a championship game moment…the last meeting.  The last big opportunity to show what she had learned in this temporary job.

I watched her ask person after person what she should do.

I heard her say things like “maybe I should just do what x said” or “y keeps saying that I should do this, I think I should listen to y.”

She was circling the decision-making drain and couldn’t see how to get out of it.

As an outside observer, I could see clearly that she just needed to trust herself.

She had answers and input and observations that NO ONE else had.  She had the exact insights the leaders she would be meeting with wanted to hear.

But in her panic, in her well-intentioned decision to solicit input, she lost sight of that.

She forgot to trust herself and follow the guidance of her inner voice.

But she’s not alone. We all do this.

We get so wrapped up in the input, feedback, and perspective that we spend countless hours trying to make all the Jenga ™ pieces fit and make everyone happy.

But guess what?

If you always make everyone happy you aren’t being innovative.  You aren’t being creative.

You’re simply taking the dregs of someone else’s ideas (that incidentally they never acted on, ever wonder why that is?) and trying to marry them to another person’s recycled ideas.  Dregs and recycling.  Is that what you want?

Probably not. So why do we do this?

Because trusting yourself enough to hear what’s being shared, to examine it for what it is (one person’s perspective), and to consider if it has a place in your work is harder than it sounds. 

When you care a lot, when you are working with people in positions senior to yours, when you are going through a change yourself, it is challenging to have this kind of perspective.

And yet, when you trust our own ideas and lean forward on them, shouting out to the world, “HERE IS MY IDEA AND ITS AWESOME!” that is when you have the chance to succeed in ways you’ve never seen before.

Or fail.  (Yes, that’s always a looming possibility, isn’t it?  But it’ll still be YOUR failure and isn’t it pretty?!)

The point is to go be a unicorn, and follow your own sparkle-covered ideas straight into awesomeness.

Maybe we can’t all be unicorns all the time. Maybe we can’t all be awesome all the time.  And maybe we can’t all be awesome.

But we can believe in ourselves.

We can investigate the input we receive, examine it objectively and determine IF it has a place for our work.

When it does, we can take it and run with it. When it doesn’t, we can practice the art of politely thanking the person who provided it, and letting it go.

But only if we stay true to our sparkle-tastic unicorn selves.

Staying true requires vigilance. It requires awareness.

How do you know if you’re staying true?

1. Recognize the symptoms of eroded self-reliance. You’ll know you’re in it when you feel like you can’t decide. You can’t make a move.  You have the hardest time making the easiest decisions (like what to wear to a meeting or what to eat for dinner.)

You are in a really bad place and need to ask for help when you find yourself driving around in circles, hungry and confused about what to pick up for dinner.

Call a friend, they’ll tell you you’re ridiculous (if they are a good friend) and tell you to stop at the first place you see.  Ever had gas station burritos for dinner?  Mmmm…. (I’m not at all speaking from experience here.  Shush.)

2. Define and stick to your personal values. It’s hard to trust yourself without a touchstone, a “true north” that resonates for you.

Identify your personal values.  Keep em close.  Use them to make decisions.  Reflect at least annually if they have changed.  If you live by your values, you will always trust yourself.

3. Keep yourself in check. When it comes to effective leadership, self-reliance and self-trust are a fine line, my friends.  Too much trust in your own instincts can make you seem arrogant.  Can make you arrogant.  So trust.  Trust a lot.  But keep yourself in check.

These three things have worked for me. But don’t take my advice – there are a million books out there on building trust and building relationships with those people you lead.

Go out and find what works for you – what keeps you connected to your ability to trust yourself, and enables you to be the best leader you can be.

Then tell me all about it at


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I just turned down my dream job

You’re probably thinking “what the hell is wrong with me?” and “am I f-ing crazy?”

And actually, I’m not.

Bear with me, here. There’s actually a huge lesson in all of this.

But first, the story.

When I say I turned down my dream job, I’m being a little dramatic. I wasn’t officially offered the job, but I was recruited for it. And based on my credentials and years of networking, there was a very good possibility that I would have ultimately received an offer.

But I turned it down. I turned down the option to even pursue it.

And for probably the first time in my life, I chose to honor timing over desire.

Like many people, I have a clear vision and some big life goals and plans I’m working towards. These are not dreams far off in some distant land, these are dreams that I am actively working towards, each and every day.

Writing a novel (and in general embracing my destiny as a writer) is something I work on every single day, by sitting down at my computer or notebook and putting pen to paper – words on the page.

Create a sense of inner peace and unwavering self-awareness is also hugely in focus for me. And I work on this every single day, by cultivating my meditation practice, spending quality time with my horse, and and creating time alone…even when it’s hard.

Career goals are also a part of this. There are specific things I want to have a chance to learn and explore, departments I want to be a part of at Starbucks, and far-away countries I want to work in. I network actively, develop myself personally and professionally, and make my intentions known every single day, so that I can slowly make my dreams a reality.

All three of those things are clear, active dreams. They’re in progress. They’re happening right now. And they’re all important. Each one is huge priority for me. And each one is sacred.

That’s why when my colleague called a few weeks ago to tell me about a job that’s opening up – one that would fulfill everything on my wish list – I felt that sense of excitement bubbling up in me, followed almost immediately by a sense of dread.

“Basically, you’re telling me you desperately need me, aren’t you?”


My heart leaps, and then sinks. Despite how perfectly it fits the picture of what I want in my career, I know the timing isn’t right for me.

It makes me think of an old quote. “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

My preparation had clearly met my opportunity, but this phone call didn’t feel like luck. It actually felt like a slight bit of torture.

While the career compass pointed to “yes,” every other compass in my life pointed to “no.”

That’s when I realized that there is something missing from that favorite quote of mine. What’s missing is a piece about honoring timing. And gut feeling.

Sure, my preparation had met and opportunity. But was it THE opportunity? Though it sure looked shiny and awesome, the timing was off. Jumping up and grabbing at this seeming stroke of luck and the fulfilling the requirements of the job would have choked out everything else in my life, and wouldn’t have felt lucky at all.

It would have torn me away from my senior-citizen horse, who has devoted 16 years to me and shows me every day how his final wish in life is to enjoy his time on the trails with me as much as possible. To dishonor that would feel anything but peaceful.

It would have torn me away from my carefully-cultivated writing practice, and my fledgling novel, both of which are still in a fragile, infantile place. To jeopardize that would feel anything but satisfying.

It would have thrown me back into learner mode, stressed to the gills with learning the ins and outs of a new job, a new set of coworkers, clients, and politics. To give up the incredible client and coworker relationships I finally have after a year and a half in my current role feels completely counterproductive.

As I looked at this shiny copper penny of an opportunity, I saw very quickly the tarnish that was waiting to form, at least for me, and at least for right now. I saw how this job would have left no time for peace. It would have left no time for writing. It would have left no time for me.

Worst of all, it would have left no chance for an even better opportunity to come along one day, at the right time.

And so I thanked my lucky stars for the opportunity – not for the job opportunity, but for the growth opportunity – for the chance to grow by saying “no.”

And then I sent opportunity sailing back again on the winds of preparation, because next time she makes port and calls on me…I’ll be ready.

And until then, I bid her a fond farewell, and say “better luck next time.”


Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Reflection, To Be A Partner




The date on which an event took place the previous year.

At least that how Webster’s defines it.

It’s astounding how quickly anniversaries usher themselves in each passing year.

At Starbucks, people hear “Anniversary” and they think one thing.


…or something along those lines.

I’ve never been sure if it’s the cedary, spicy notes of the coffee contained within that draws us near, if it’s that beautiful, earthy-brown Siren that is always etched on the bag, or if it’s the impending arrival of Autumn. Maybe it’s a combination of the three.

When you work in retail, living a season ahead is just part of the scenery. Each holiday, each theme, each featured coffee or beverage flavor seems to arrive a little too early.

You spend so much time planning and preparing and learning about what’s coming, that by the time it actually gets here, you feel like you’ve already lived it. Pumpkin Spice planning begins in May or June. Christmas is a hot topic before July is over. It can be a little jading.

It’s a bit like the way that August, though a thoroughly heat-ridden and beach-bathed component of summer, is a month that signals the end of a season. (Writer Jana Eleanor explores this idea quite eloquently in her post “Read ‘Tuck Everlasting’ This August”. Seriously – you should read it. The post. And the book).

This August, summer came slamming to a close for me when I sat in a regional meeting a few weeks ago and took those first, glorious sips of this year’s Anniversary Blend.


It was bitter-sweet.

The moment. Not the coffee.

The coffee was spectacular. A heavily spiced, complex body that dazzled with layers of flavor, each a unique expression of the impending season. It reminded me of the multitude of colors that Autumn paints the leaves of one single tree. It’s a single cup of coffee, with many colors to her story.

Our partners are what color those stories.

You brew up this coffee, you bring out this bag – everyone starts talking.

What stories does Anniversary Blend stir out of you?

Join the conversation and tell me what your Anniversary story is all about.

Special thanks goes to @cyndidrapeau for hosting the incredible Anniversary Blend tasting that inspired my post. Image courtesy of


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Feeling inadequate about things that are not important

It’s the same as not being invited to the party that you don’t want to go to.

Why do we WASTE such precious ENERGY over these things??

This concept has come up for me a lot lately. A LOT.

Maybe it’s a product of my 20s. Maybe it’s just a product of life. But I have a feeling I’m not the only one who gets struck by these sentiments, or who wastes energy on these feelings.

It’s that feeling when you find yourself chasing something down, changing something about yourself, questioning something about yourself, or coveting something because somehow, intentionally or unintentionally, other people’s priorities and stack-ranked importances have rubbed off on you.

Suddenly, your wardrobe isn’t good enough and doesn’t have enough summer dresses, just because your best friend always looks like she walked straight off of the Jackie Kennedy catwalk. Forget the fact that summer dresses tend to look ridiculous on you, that you’re way more comfortable in shorts, and that all you happen to own are things in the less-than-runway-ready category. Suddenly her priorities, and subtle judgments of your style, have you wasting your energy on wishing you could update your wardrobe. Or, worse yet, have you spending your money on clothes you can’t afford that you’ll hardly wear because at the end of the day, they’re just not you.

It happens at work, too. Especially when you work on a team of seven other highly talented people who do exactly what you do. Only the job that you each do is not carved in stone, has no right answers, and a no one right way of doing anything. It’s a breeding ground for feeling inadequate. You hear about how someone did this or that, made this impact or that, and you think to yourself “Wow, why haven’t I done that?” which quickly turns into “What is wrong with me? I must suck!” Forget the fact that you’ve been rocking the job in your own unique ways, making headway and having a positive effect on the things that you deemed important to you – the things that play to your strengths, or the needs of your specific clients, or that you just plain have fun doing. Suddenly, someone else’s priorities and areas of success have you wasting your energy wishing you could be better at things you have no reason to focus on. Or, worse yet, have you feeling paralyzed and doubting yourself, your abilities, and what you ARE good at, even though at the end of the day, their strengths are just not yours.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s a wastee.

It’s a reality.

And the only thing I have working in my favor is awareness.

It doesn’t make it any easier to overcome these little thoughts and feelings that creep into my head. But it does give me a fighting chance.

And if you catch yourself thinking these things, you have a fighting chance, too.

So talk about it when it happens. Share it. Because it takes courage to overcome it. And when you share your story, you’ll not only help yourself overcome what is challenging you, but you’ll be helping someone else along the way.

Like when you tell me you own tales of how you’ve struggled with this concept, and you tell me the kinds of things that have helped you overcome feeling inadequate about things that are not important to you.

What’s worked for you? What’s helped you? What’s hurt you?

I’m listening.


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What is a Miracle?

As a writer, I sometimes find myself compelled to create things, to put words down, even though I’m not exactly sure why. I’m not exactly sure what it is I need to say so badly, what it is I am trying to express – there are simply words there, somewhere deep inside, asking to be written. And so I write them.

I find this often happens to me in life as a whole. In moments I don’t quite expect, when I can’t quite be sure why, I will find myself compelled to make a particular decision, go to a certain place, talk to a certain person.

And what I’ve learned is that, if I obey the calling, if I listen to my heart and follow her lead, I find myself directly in the middle of a miracle.

What is a miracle?

I will ask you to tell me.

When you look out into the world, what miracle is it that you see?

In your day? In your life? In your week?

For me, on Tuesday night, it began when I sat in my hotel room at the Marriott San Jose at a ridiculously late hour. I had been fighting a headache most of the day, brought on by the disruption to my normal coffee routine (you never mess with a Starbuckian’s coffee routine). I had taken a few pain killers, and yet still no relief. Later that evening, while mingling with the other partners who had recently arrived here in Origin with me, I half jokingly said I would write another blog post if my headache cleared up.

A few hours later, it did. Apparently my heart wasn’t kidding when she asked me to start writing…

And so despite the late hour, despite the looming arrival of an early morning and a full day, I sat down and wrote.

I wrote because of that voice, that little intuition inside had been pestering me all day. “Write some fiction, it’s been too long, you know,” she said. “Just a short story, it will hardly take you any time. Tonight you have the freedom, the liberty, to tell any story you want about the farmers. No truth, just imagination. Write.”

My mind protested my heart’s encouragement. “But I have no idea what I am even writing. What story am I supposed to tell?” I asked her.

“Don’t you worry about that, just write. I promise you, you will know what to say,” she responded.

And so I did. I sat in my hotel room, in the heart of this beautiful country, and I sunk into the moment; into the breeze floating through the terrace window, into the sounds that color the darkness of the night, into the ten years of imagination and coffee knowledge that has been brewing in my mind. I called the words forward and I wrote.

What emerged was a story about a fictional character named Romero, an expression and an illustration of the love that I imagine a coffee grower has for his trees, for his farm, for his living.

It was two days later, that I realized I had mis-named my fictional character, and that in fact he was not fiction at all.

I stood at the Chacon family farm on Thursday while Ernesto, the owner, told us the details of his life. As he explained about the terrible impacts of the coffee leaf rust fungus, his son, Alonzo, heir to the family’s 10 acre farm, pulls a branch off a nearby tree to show us the disease.

He holds it up on display, eager to share about his family’s hardships and realities with the group of 50+ onlookers. Ernesto then continues talking about the farm, and all attention turns back to him. But I am still watching Alonzo.

I am watching Alonzo, off to the side, as he begins to turn the branch over in his hands, examining the stems and the leaves, lost in a world of his own.


Time stands still as he stares down at the branch, twirling it quietly between his two calloused fingers. I look at him and I see only one thing:


On Tuesday night, I thought I had written a work of fiction.

It turns out I had written a work of truth; I just hadn’t met the main character yet.

And that, my friends, is a miracle to me.


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Make Solutions

Earlier this year, when I spent a few days gathering magazine clippings to make my 2013 vision board, I stumbled across a fantastic quote, amongst an article centered around things to do instead of making the standard New Year’s resolution.

This quote was two astonishingly simple words, that came to life today in a way that I never could have imagined:


Don’t make resolutions, make solutions.

Don’t push things to the future, take action now.

Be a doer. Be a mover. Be a shaker.

Get out there and just DO something already.

Make. Shit. Happen.

Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce you to Orlando and Carlos, two agronimists who are doing exactly that for our farmers here in Costa Rica:


They are doing something that nobody else in the world is doing; something that is helping to solve problems, and better secure the livelihoods of the coffee farmers here in Costa Rica. And they can do it because they have the backing of such an incredible company as Starbucks.

They are making solutions.

For the past seven years, these two have worked tirelessly to develop a new hybrid of coffee plant, that can stand up to the various diseases that plague farmers here in Costa Rica, such as a fungus called coffee leaf rust. A plant that requires no irrigation and no shade. A plant that grows hearty and thick, and with incredible consistency. And most of all, a plant that produces the incredible quality coffee that Starbucks demands in the cup.

While other companies throw money into research, and testing soils, and more fungicides and fertilizers, Starbucks has two agronomists on the ground, out there doing.

It may sound like a simple thing, but this is big. Very big. One quick Wiki search and you can begin to understand the impacts that coffee rust has on farmers across many, many growing regions.

And here Starbucks is, making a difference. We are enabling two partners, two of the most knowledgeable minds at the forefront of coffee, to change the face of the industry. To develop a better quality plant that can address the unique needs in this country, that can achieve the quality in the cup that we will purchase, and ultimately, that will better secure a future and a livable life for our farmers.

Is your mind blown yet? Mine is.

What solutions did YOU make today?


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Telling a Story

Up, down, around and sideways.

That’s a lot of directions. It’s about how many directions I feel pulled in lately. Admittedly, it’s led to me to have a hard time in nailing down a most recent blog post. Instead of one, clear, crystiallized idea that I want to run with, I’m feeling a lot of noise and chatter take over my head, with a million fleeting ideas and thoughts, but none that really stand out.

There’s some fantastic blogs out there I’ve been reading that I want to shout out to, and engage with, continuing the conversation with their writers. There’s some fantastic partners out there that I want to connect with further, understanding their passions and interactions with coffee, inviting them to continue growing and expanding their knowledge.

And today I’m going to acknowledge for myself that those posts will come. But they are not the posts I am writing today.

Today, when I quiet the noise in my head, there’s one story that’s been bubbling up over and over again, for weeks on end that I haven’t addressed. It’s the story of Phil. Phil’s story doesn’t have a lot to do with coffee, except that he lives at the Starbucks Support Center among many coffee enthusiasts and neighbor coffee trees. But Phil’s story does have to do with reflection. So that’s the story I’m going to tell.

Phil is a ficus tree that lives in my cubicle at the SSC in Seattle. Phil has been through a lot in his time in this building, including some unintended abuse and neglect.

But Phil has also been through a remarkable transformation. And that’s why I feel such a strong connection to this plant, and such a strong need to tell his story. Yes, you heard it. I’m telling a ficus tree’s story.

One afternoon in the depths of last winter, about mid-December, I wandered past the 6 Northeast copy room, headed for the kitchen and a late-day snack. At the SSC, as in most offices probably, it can be worthwhile to glance into the copy rooms to see what treasures have been left for others to claim – a good read on leadership or other corporate topic, a piece of artwork, a wireless headset. You just never know.

As I walked past on this particular day, a huge, sad-looking potted plant was poised in the corner, with a post-it note wedged between its branches.


My heart sank for the plant. Really?! Someone wanted to compost this big beautiful tree?! Sure it was in sad shape, it’s leaves were sparse, it was clearly suffering and in need of some TLC. And, while I could appreciate the sentiment that it at least be composted if it was to be put to death, something didn’t sit right with me. In my book, it’s a karmic crime to kill a tree. If it dies on it’s own, so be it, but I’ve rehabbed enough sad, misbegotten plants to know that it ain’t over till it’s over…and even often when you think a plant is done for and gone, it will often emerge with new life and surprise you. This “Please Compost” plant was sad, to be sure, but it wasn’t dead. And though someone was apparently willing to let it go, I couldn’t watch this thing be trashed.

I immediately grabbed the note out from the branches and scribbled a new one. “Please do not remove! This tree has been adopted,” with the intent to drag it out from the copy-room and over to my cubicle later that day. Assistance would be required to get the job done – as I mentioned, it was a big guy – probably 6′ in height accompanied by a 25+ gallon pot, and though I was slightly embarrassed to be asking for help to save tree, I believed in my mission enough and I let that give me the courage to ask for a few pairs of hands later that day. My coworkers were willing, and that evening the ficus tree claimed his spot outside my cubicle walls.

As different partners wandered past, one of the exclaimed “Phil! Oh, you’ve adopted Phil!” And that’s how I learned that this tree had a name. Phil the Ficus. I asked a few questions and learned a bit about his history, but that still didn’t shed any light on what had brought him to the terrible condition he was in presently. Nothing really explained it.

I observed him in his new home for the next several days, his condition wasn’t improving. And in fact, his health seemed to continually decline. Each day that I came into the office, another pile of yellowed leaves had fallen to the floor. The skepticism and comments from my coworkers flooded in.

“You seriously think you can save that thing?!”

“It’s a lost cause.”

“Would you just put it out of its misery already?”

I acknowledged each comment, and told the partner thank you, I know I’m crazy, but “You’ll see. He just needs some TLC. I have some ideas.” And I did. As I watched the leaves continue to yellow and drop each day, despite thorough waterings, I started to suspect radical action was going to be required. The ficus was going to get one helluva haircut.

On Christmas week, I brought a pair of heavy-duty cutting shears into work and late one night, the day before I left on vacation, I performed surgery. I wasn’t quite sure when I started how far I would take it – I knew that often for plants in disrepair, being cut back and allowed to re-grow was the best possible thing. But despite hours of research, I couldn’t find one single bit of information about how well a ficus tree would handle such action, and I hesitated to be so extreme. So I started gently – trimming back the vacant sections and dead branches so there was much less the plant had to sustain. But as I continued to cut, he still didn’t look happy. I knew what I had to do.

I cut him down to the stump, leaving only a few, tiny, green shoots that were growing from some of the lowest nodes and points on the trunk.

“Are you crazy?! You totally killed that thing!” At least ten people must have told me so.

“Just wait. You’ll see.”

If Phil had any chance of recovery, I knew this was it. Radical transformation. And in the process, I discovered the cause of all Phil’s problems. Unbeknownst to anyone, the holes built into the pot for drainage have never been cracked open. He couldn’t get oxygen, the soil couldn’t flush. He was suffocating. And, being intimated by the size of the plant, the size of the problem, nobody had bothered, or even thought, to check such a thing.

So, life for Phil began again from the ground up. A trimming of the old branches, and a few holes cut for proper drainage, and Phil was ready to begin his transformation.

Today, this is Phil.

You see, in many ways, his story is my story. A story of personal transformation from a point in life that felt much like being abandoned to a copy center for composting. A story of not giving up, despite the comments of others, or in my case, my own heart and mind. And last but not least, a story of second chances…and new beginnings.

And so I must find Phil a new home this week, my last week in the SSC before I move full-time to the Regional Office in Boston. But before I go, I had to tell Phil’s story – a story I take with me, along with lesson that he tought me:

Never give up, because there are no lost causes.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Reflection, To Be A Partner


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