I watched a BBC documentary on Amazon a few days ago and learnt about the company’s 14 leadership principles. These principles were crafted to build a strong organisational culture within Amazon. An organisation’s long term success is based on its culture. The ones with strong cultures thrive while the ones with weak ones die. Every Amazon employee is expected to adhere to these principles or find a new employer.
I believe that the sustainability of a strong organisational culture is dependent on effective organisational leadership. The documentary stated that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, is the number one internal champion of these leadership principles. He insists that these principles influence every strategic management decision made at Amazon.
I have listed these 14 leadership principles below. All of these principles may seem commonsensical. They are principles that you would expect any ambitious organisation to hold. It is however one thing to have commonsensical leadership principles and another thing to follow them.
(1) 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.
(2) Ownership: 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.”
(3) 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.
(4) Are Right, A Lot: Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts.
(5) 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.
(6) 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.
(7) 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.
(8) Bias for Action: Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
(9) Frugality: We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.
(10) Vocally Self Critical: Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
(11) Earn Trust of Others: Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.
(12) Dive Deep: Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. No task is beneath them.
(13) 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.
(14) 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.