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Published on June 12, 2020

What Leaders Can Learn from Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles

What Leaders Can Learn from Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles

If you’re a leader, you’ve likely heard of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles. If you haven’t, now’s the time to the look into it. What exactly can you learn from those leadership principles? A lot. 

It’s difficult to go wrong with being a leader who is obsessed over customers, thinking long-term, and embracing new challenges even if the task isn’t “their job,” finding ways to simplify, recognizing talent and developing them, along with thinking big.

What if I told you these qualities are only a handful of principles implemented by Amazon. Clearly, Amazon isn’t your average organization, especially in what they do best: lead. No wonder the Wall Street Journal has labeled Amazon America’s CEO factory[1]

Forbes contributor Peter Cohan believes that Amazon is the world’s best business[2]. He goes further and states that “Amazon has a sustainable competitive advantage.” Amazon has an efficient supply chain able to handle and fulfill orders with ease yet maintains a stellar level of customer support, he adds.

Remarkable, isn’t it?

Associate Editor for the Leader To Leader magazine, Peter Economy, goes further to say that Amazon’s 14 leadership principles can help a business to achieve remarkable success[3] because Amazon’s DNA has a desire to innovate and deliver results and earn customer trust in the process.

In this article, you will learn how leaders can leverage Amazon’s 14 leadership principles[4] to become better leaders themselves and act as a catalyst in their organization.

What Are Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles?

According to Amazon’s website, they are:

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1. Customer Obsession

Amazon pays attention to other retailers, but they obsess over their customers. Customer trust is important to Amazon’s leadership.

2. Ownership

Amazon encourages its employees to act like leaders. The team needs come second to the needs of the organization at large.

3. Invent and Simplify

It’s an expectation for Amazon employees to invent and simplify. Being misunderstood is part of the process of greatness for them.

4. Are Right a Lot

Amazon looks to hire leaders with diverse perspectives, with good judgement and instincts.

5. Learn and Be Curious

Improvement and exploration is encouraged.

6. Hire and Develop the Best

In short, Amazon recognizes exceptional talent and creates mechanisms to discover the very best.

7. Insist on the Highest Standards

Amazon insists on continuously raising the bar in order to achieve a sustainable degree of excellence. Problems are solved ahead of time and are rarely repeated.

8. Think Big

Leaders are encouraged to create and think outside the box.

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9. Bias for Action

Risk-taking and speed is encouraged by leaders at Amazon.

10. Frugality

Accomplishing more with less is Amazon’s way of constantly reinventing their operation and increasing their rates of self-sufficiency.

11. Earn Trust

Treating others with respect, speaking their minds, and listening are three ways in which Amazon builds trust in their organization.

12. Dive Deep

Amazon’s leaders are detail oriented and pay close attention to the reaction between the actual numbers and anecdotal data.

13. Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Disagreement is welcomed. Social cohesion isn’t a practice that Amazon leaders adopt.

14. Deliver Results

Amazon leaders are expected to always rise to the occasion.

How to Put the Leadership Principles into Practice

In order to develop your leadership skills, experiment with the following combination of Amazon principles and pay attention to which one works best for you in your organization.

1. Think Big, Create, and Simplify

Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is more important than knowledge.”

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When I served as an Interim Department Chair at Jackson State University, we were able to create a document arguing for why the department needed to be a school of journalism and media studies in the state through a “think big” mentality and simplification of delivery. We made it simple for the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) of Mississippi, which is the governing body that approves and rejects proposals for turning departments into schools and more, to understand our petition by taking out language complexity yet showing a bold proposal for the creation of the third school of journalism.

Six months after our petition was submitted to IHL, the department was approved to start operations as a “school” by the organization. By thinking big and creating a simple yet persuasive document with hard data proved to be effective in the creation of a new school of journalism in the south.

By applying the same tactics in your organization, you can leverage these principles to achieve your own success and create something new.

2. Invent, Earn Trust, Deliver Results

Great leaders invent, earn trust, and deliver results. Ford invented the assembly line in 1913 and changed the way we produce cars today. Percy Spencer revolutionized our society by introducing the microwave oven in 1946. Jonas Salk invented a vaccine that reduced the number of polio cases in the world from a bit over 28 thousand a year in 1955 to 22 in 2017. More recently, Apple invented a tech gadget that can make phone calls, surf the internet, take photos… they called this device ”the iPhone” in 2007. We can now print in three dimensions with 3D printing, thanks to invention!

It’s no accident that many of us drive Ford cars, have a microwave in our homes, don’t have polio, have an iPhone, and perhaps own a 3D printer. Leaders who invent eventually earn trust if they deliver the results promised. As a leader, you must do the former religiously.

In 2010, my wife and I decided to invent a company called “I Do Therapy.” It is still a company that offers massage therapy services in a post industrial northern town in Pennsylvania. Our actual invention wasn’t the techniques that my wife used to treat clients with head and body aches but a completely new system of customer service that allowed everyone to get a massage for a reasonable price in a luxury spa environment — “I Do Therapy: For EVERYbody.”

Our innovation was our strategy. We invented our way of doing business that was foreign in that town. We ended up earning the trust of a large number of townspeople because we delivered what we promised. Three years after I Do Therapy’s inception and almost 300 clients in our books, we sold the business for a profit in 2015.

The business lives by its name and is still operational to this day.

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3. Frugality, Ownership, and Curiosity

Jeff Bezos once said, “Frugality drives innovation just like other constraints do.” I want to start this section with this quote because I’ve seen the former working wonders in a recent organization that I lead here in Tennessee.

Although my presidency at the Cleveland Media Association (CMA) has been cut short due to a recent job offer, CMA is now in much better shape financially because of my insistency on frugality. At the beginning of this year, I inherited an organization with a very low cash position. Under my leadership, the board immediately took a look at our fixed expenses, membership, and resources, and in a semi-crisis mode, we decided to reinvent our operation and cut non-essential expenses in order to bring the organization to a better monetary position.

In a period of a few months, new members joined our organization and old members renewed their yearly memberships. The organization now has a healthy cash position and is growing again. The thought process I used to bring back organizational stability was literally based on Amazon’s 14 leadership principles.

By encouraging an enthusiastic VP and other members of the executive leadership team to be curious about operating to capacity and by looking at CMA as something bigger than ourselves, we found a solution to our financial challenges and helped the organization to get on its feet gain. Through an exploration of possible ideas and curiosity, CMA is a better organization now than yesterday.

We were able to accomplish more with less with our diversity of perspectives.

Final Thoughts

Amazon didn’t become a Fortune 5 company by accident. The leadership principles introduced by Jeff Bezos has made amazon.com what it is[5].

“You can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions,” said Einstein[6].

Leaders have much to learn from Amazon. Focusing on the customers’ needs, encouraging invention, creativity and simplification, along with the need to be frugal and develop trust are a must in the current landscape of our modern economy. Thinking big, developing curiosity, and allowing a team member to disagree freely are principles that should be incorporated into every organization.

Higher standards emerge from such principles, and success follows the results. Amazon’s 14 leadership principles will make you into a stronger leader if you take the time to implement them.

More Leadership Tips

Featured photo credit: Perry Grone via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Luis C. Almeida

Dr. Almeida is a college professor and department chair who has taught over a thousand students with questions relating to technology and leadership.

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Last Updated on April 22, 2021

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation Is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

4 Steps to Define a Win
  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines

    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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