starbucks howard shultzA few years ago one of my mentors was telling me about a story at Starbucks.  He was a Senior VP at Starbucks reporting into Howard Schultz.

Years earlier, Howard had called my mentor on his cell phone and asked ‘Why is the letter B not working on the signage at the 50th & Wallingford location’ in Seattle.

My mentor laughed out loud and responded ‘Really?, Howard is that really the question you should be asking me when you’re CEO?’

Howard frustrated replied ‘Yes, why isn’t the sign working?’  And my mentor replied ‘I don’t know. I’ll check. And I’ll get it fixed. However, if we’re really going to grow this brand our leadership team needs to ask leadership questions.’

‘Howard, instead of asking why isn’t the letter B working we need to be asking questions like this instead…’

‘I noticed the letter B on a sign at 50th & Wallingford isn’t working.  What systems do we have in place to ensure that all letters, on all signs, at all locations, in all countries, are always working?’

My mentor was right.

Entrepreneurs all too often ‘Major in the Minors’ and get stuck asking questions about the details.  And yes, the details matter.  And the details will always get fixed.  However, instead of just asking the question about something specific like a letter on a sign not working, try using the details as specific examples to ask larger more systemic questions. People don’t fail, systems do.  Look deeper in the systems that need to be fixed or created.

As a business coach and mentor, I suggest that you start asking the right questions and you’ll grow your company too.

Cameron Herold is the founder of and former COO of 1-800-Got-Junk?. You can follow him on twitter @cameronherold and visit to get his new book to double your revenue and profit in less than 3 years.