The Amazon Way: 14 leadership principles behind the world's most disruptive company
Updated: Mar 11, 2021
As a teenager, I was extremely driven towards entrepreneurship.
And clearly, because of this same drive, I was always interested in learning from the best.
I remember coming across this quote from Jeff Bezos “I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying”.
Just pause for a second and try to understand the deeper meaning behind this quote.
How often have you thought of pursuing your dream business idea but stopped mid-way worrying about the success?
We have multiple obstacles coming our way when we think of taking risks.
But imagine, if Jeff Bezos thought the same way we do, would Amazon turn out to be successful?
So what was different in his case, that most of us lack?
The determination, the passion, the need to achieve the best!
A lot of times, people try looking out for some checklist, to become successful,
But come on!
If such a thing existed, the word failure would be redundant.
However, what we can do, is learn from the best.
Learn about not only those things that helped them but also those that didn’t.
I am a strong believer in the fact that you learn the best from your mistakes.
The Amazon Way was also my means to learn from the most disruptive company in the world.
What is it that made Amazon what it is today?
The book’s author John Rossman worked at Amazon between 2002 and 2005.
From the introduction itself, he talks about his stories and experiences with Jeff Bezos.
The first impression that I got, was Woah! He was totally a badass boss
But further throughout the book, the author talks or explains why he is the way he is.
In brief, the book is divided into 14 principles and unlike other books, this one is more elaborate concerning each of the principles.
So without further ado, let's dive into the 14 principles.
I am also including my understanding, my point of view for each of these principles.
14 leadership principles from the book
“Leaders at Amazon start with the customer and work backward, seeking continually to earn and keep the customer’s trust. Although leaders pay attention to their competitors, they obsess over their customers.”
So far, whatever Marketing books I have read, this is considered to be the most important part, keep your customers at the heart of everything you do.
But, a crucial point to note is the difference they are trying to highlight here between ‘paying attention’ and ‘obsessing over’.
This clearly puts forth what’s more important.
In the book, this same principle covers the concept of ‘The Holy Trinity’ followed by Amazon.
Have a look at the image below-
1. Price: "Jeff Bezos believes that he is willing to make less on an item initially if it promises long-term returns."
What we learn from this is that it’s important to have a long term view in mind at the start itself.
Focussing on the money in the short-term doesn’t always work out for you.
2. Selection: "From the beginning, Jeff Bezos’s goal was to make Amazon a source for virtually anything a customer might want to buy"
Today, even in India the tagline they work with is ‘Apni Dukaan’. It is portrayed as a place where you can buy anything and everything.
Make your customers, spoilt for choice is the focus!
3. Availability: "Any time Amazon takes a customer order; it offers a projected arrival time for the package using the Amazon-speak term “the Promise.” Why the heavy language? Because Jeff knows that in business, there are heavy consequences for those who don’t have an item or can’t get it to a customer quickly."
I have always believed, an opportunity not tackled sooner is an opportunity lost.
I personally love shopping from Amazon for this precise reason, their promise of on-time delivery is unmatched!
“Leaders at Amazon are owners. They think long term, and they don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They never say, “That’s not my job.” They act on behalf of the entire company, not just their own team.”
As a working professional myself, there have been several times when I have said to my boss, that’s not my job!
But I believe that has a lot to do with the company culture, if ownership of results is propagated well, we won’t worry about who is doing what, but rather focus on the end goal.
“Leaders at Amazon expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify the processes they touch.”
This makes a lot of difference, people working at Amazon do not believe in the concept of ‘not invented here’.
They are always on the lookout for what new can come up?
How can I simplify a lengthy and troublesome process?
“Leaders at Amazon are right—not always, but a lot. They have strong business judgment, and they spread that strong judgment to others through the utter clarity with which they define their goals and the metrics they use to measure success.”
Now the point I want to highlight here is the part that the leaders spread their judgment.
I believe, being good at something is just one part of it, but its something different when you work that extra mile to inculcate that in others.
“Leaders at Amazon 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.”
No wonder it’s so tough to get into a company like Amazon :P
They take nothing but the best and are willing to make changes to ensure individual as well as overall organizational growth.
“Leaders at Amazon set high standards—standards that many people consider unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver an ever-increasing level of quality.”
I honestly believe this can also backfire.
How hard we push our people is what makes the cut, but does setting unreasonably high standards work in the long run?
Maybe they do, as can be deciphered by Amazon’s success
“Leaders at Amazon create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for big new ways to serve customers.”
What good is an organization without a bold direction?
You need to constantly be on the lookout for new and better ways to work with the customers.
“Leader at Amazon value calculated risk-taking. Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. So when you are in doubt, try something—and take advantage of the opportunities that being the first in the field can offer.”
Risks I believe are the first step towards both success and failure.
I have also highlighted a similar point in my blog- The 22 Immutable laws of marketing
Calculated risk-taking can lead to tremendous advantages including a first-mover advantage.
“A leader at Amazon tries not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers.”
We are talking about a company that keeps its customers at the forefront.
And, this is done to the extent that anything and everything that doesn’t matter to customers, is straight away chucked out.
“Leaders at Amazon do not consider themselves, or their teams, above criticism. They benchmark themselves against the best, and they are proactive about revealing problems or mistakes, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing.”
I feel this is not just a leadership lesson, but a generic life lesson as well.
Criticism is your best chance to learn and grow.
Mistakes are a part of every task you do, but when you learn from it, there’s nothing better you can ask for
“Leaders at Amazon are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and examine their own strongest convictions with humility. Their openness enables them to trust those around them—and to earn the trust of others in turn.”
I personally associate this word with Amazon, and I am not just saying this because it’s a part of the blog post, but I genuinely believe so.
Earning the trust of others, when it comes to an organization, is winning your battle halfway already.
“Leaders at Amazon operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit them frequently. No task is beneath them, because they know that only a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of a process can really uncover opportunities and solve problems before they become insurmountable.”
From my personal experience, it’s always the junior-most person in the team who handles the work.
The manager only steps in for final delivery, and trust me, this has created a lot of problems for me and others around me.
It makes so much more sense to involve the leaders right from the start before it reaches a stage where the damage is irreversible.
“Leaders at Amazon have conviction. They are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting; they do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. But once a decision is made, they commit to it wholeheartedly.”
The number of times, you are sitting in a meeting room and agree to what the majority believes is right!
Even if one person disagrees, you can make all others think differently.
Commit to what is decided, don’t contemplate mid-way
“Leaders at Amazon focus on the key outputs 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.”
This proves that delivering the right quality may not always require more time.
Time + Quality can go hand in hand.
But the most important part that I take away from this principle is the part of ‘Never settle’
Strive for more, and work hard towards it.
Note: The italicized content in the blog post is directly taken from the book. The author reserves the copyright for the same.