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What Leaders Can Learn from Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles

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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.

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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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