Some time ago I watched a presentation by former Goldman Partner and current HBS professor, Rob Kaplan, on leadership.
Having built an incredibly successful career and been a trusted advisor to some of the world’s top leaders, Kaplan surprised the audience (and me) when he began his presentation with an interesting twist.
Recounting a conversation he had with one of his peers, although he had spent decades surrounded by top leaders and being a leader himself, he said, when he took up the role at Harvard he stepped back and wondered: What is leadership?
If you were Eric, the concierge in my building who delivers a constant stream of packages to my apartment, you would know I do almost all of my shopping online. Beyond that, you would know I do almost all of my online shopping from one store: The Everything Store.
There are many reasons I am a loyal Amazon shopper. From the one-click ordering to Amazon Prime to two day delivery, but what keeps me loyal is I like to surround myself with leaders. I don’t have any interest in doing price comparisons and I have too little time to shop around, so when it comes to getting what I want, I like to go straight to the industry leader.
In The Everything Store, Brad Stone gives a fascinating account of Jeff Bezos and the business practices and culture that has made Amazon the industry leader. There are many fascinating ideas in the book, but what immediately jumps out at you is the absolute focus on leadership.
At Amazon, the customer comes first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and so on. The entire business is built around providing exceptional customer service, which Bezos has groomed through building a culture of leadership, empowering every single employee to lead.
At every level his employees are leaders of themselves and the business, and I wonder how many of the following Amazon Leadership Principles you find apply to leading you and your business.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Earn Trust of Others
Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. 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.
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.