Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, grew up in the Bayview housing projects in Brooklyn, New York, and as a young man, he witnessed his father’s physical and emotional decline.
Schultz’s father, a deliveryman, slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk and broke his hip while on the job. With no company health insurance or workman’s compensation available—and very little formal education to fall back on—he did not have the financial resources to support his family. They quickly went broke, and Schultz formed a negative opinion of his dad. Their relationship suffered.
It wasn’t until his father died in 1988 that Schultz began to understand that his father was not a failure, but a hardworking man who was let down by the system. His father had qualities that were never expressed because he was so busy trying to make money for his family, Schultz realized. He carried the somber memory of his dad with him and, when he had the chance to start Starbucks, he aimed to build a company that his father would be proud to work for.
Schultz reframed that original, unfortunate image of his father into a respectable one—recognizing his strengths, such as his honesty, work ethic and commitment to family. Remembering his father’s struggles with no insurance drove him to make Starbucks the first American company to provide access to health coverage for qualified employees who worked as little as 20 hours per week.
He might not have gotten a chance to understand his father until he passed, but Schultz did not miss the opportunity to acknowledge and respect his father’s sacrifices.
Another person who has framed his relationship with his parents the right way is Jack Lanigan Sr., founder of Mi-Jack Products Inc., a heavy crane and intermodal equipment manufacturer. Lanigan has used his parents’ influence as a guiding light to his success in his industries.
Recently I’ve been helping Lanigan with his autobiography, and he’s consistently fascinated me in how he credits his parents—poor immigrant workers—with instilling in him the keys to success that allowed him to build a multimillion-dollar company. Though they had little education and few resources, his parents taught him values, ethics and, simply, to treat people fairly.
Lanigan used that model to build one of the most successful companies in the country. This year, his family-owned company will celebrate its 60th anniversary and will have become the standard for engineering, quality service and expertise in their industry.
After looking at these experiences, I decided to re-evaluate my own relationship with my parents, and I saw a few things in a new light. When I was a young boy, my father lost his job and was unemployed for 11 months. This seminal moment altered my perceptions on life and hard work, because as I grew up, I realized the employment difficulties that my father faced could easily happen to anyone. My father’s experience gave me the drive and determination to be successful in my pursuits. For me, failure was—and is—not an option.
Think of a decision your parents made that you disliked when you were growing up. Why did this decision bother you? Take a sheet of paper and record your response to the memory, along with any emotion you might feel. After you are done, take some time to engage your parents this week. Ask them about their decision, and really listen to their explanation. You may gain some insight that you never had on their reasoning.
If your parents are no longer living, try to consider the circumstances of the situation from their point of view, and see if you can’t come to a more empathetic understanding of their best efforts and limitations. Like Schultz, you may learn something that you were unable to recognize before.
“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” —Stephen Covey