Amazon’s Leadership Principals

I challenge you to take a leadership role within your company or organization. Systems are constantly evolving, no matter your position there is always opportunity to take charge and lead some type of meaningful change.

Part of being a leader is formulating your own vision, designing your own culture, and your setting own guiding principals, while blending to those of the organization that employees you.

During a leadership program I was taking at Washington University in St. Louis; one of the instructors sent along a link to the Amazon’s Leadership Principles. I was impressed by its simplicity, message, and guidance that I felt the need to share it. Read it, study it, modify it, add to it, and share it; here you go:

Our Leadership Principles aren’t just a pretty inspirational wall hanging. These Principles work hard, just like we do. Amazonians use them, every day, whether they’re discussing ideas for new projects, deciding on the best solution for a customer’s problem, or interviewing candidates. It’s just one of the things that makes Amazon peculiar.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”

Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards — many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Learn and Be Curious
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

Earn Trust
Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

Slow Down

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller

There is a never-ending dialogue of information swirling around within my head; the next idea, the next task, the next big project, the next lesson learned to be put into practice. The list of things that demand some amount of attention never seems to end. Finding the time to focus on a single task seemed like an arduous battle that could not be overcome, until I realized that I need to do one simple thing, “slow down.” In hindsight, this seems both obvious and simple, but for me it was neither. It took a long time of self-reflection and critical feedback, to realize there was a problem. I could no longer sustain the multi-tasking, context switching, never-ending-list lifestyle.

Understanding and implementing this simple concept, opened up time to spend thinking of ways to refocus priorities, solve the important issues, acknowledge the accomplishments, and thoughtfully plan for the future.

What follows are a few of the lessons, in no particular order, I believe have evolved since making a conscious effort to slow down:

  • Information Technology (IT) is a very important function, but not the core mission of the university I work for. I believe this is true for many organizations and IT professionals need to realize this as we strategize and prioritize what is important within our departments. We need to (re)Focus on the things that matter most to the core mission of the organization. I refer you to this article to illustrate what I mean. It is about Steve Jobs and how he was relentless on making sure to focus only on the core parts of the company and eliminated the distractions.
  • Don’t try to boil the ocean all at once. Start by setting small realistic goals that can be seen through to completion. When working on large issues, these small goals should build upon one another, as a way to break the project into reasonably sized tasks. Using the calendar to block out dedicated working sessions can be a valuable time management tool.
  • Going for a walk or run helps clear the mind for great ideas. Some days I like to go out with an idea to ponder, other times I like to let my mind wander. Great ideas come when uninterrupted thought and the rhythm of movement are working hand-and-hand.
  • It is OK to pause mid-sentence and collect your thoughts. Pausing for one or two seconds feels like an eternity when there are dozens of people looking at you during a presentation. It took me quite a while to understand this is not the case. From speaking in public to speaking one-on-one, I have to remind myself to slowdown. I still struggle with this, but at least I am conscious of it now.
  • Life is short; family matters. Spend quality time with those who you love.