What Are The 14 Leadership Principles That Drove Amazon To Success?

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With an approximate net worth of $314.9 billion, Amazon is one of the most powerful companies in the world. Within just two decades, the business grew from being a Seattle garage bookstore to a major stockist of almost every product imaginable. In 2020, Amazon’s performance rocketed even further, with annual revenues up to 38% to $386 billion

Over the years, Amazon’s unique methods of hiring and developing its leaders, with a sharp focus on its 14 leadership principles, have sculpted the company’s cutting-edge innovation and Darwinian culture, developed and implemented by CEO and founder Jeff Bezos himself. Every Amazon employee is expected to adhere to these 14 principles, established to create a strong entrepreneurial and highly-driven company culture. 

Rooted in the common belief that there’s always room for improvement, the adoption of Amazon’s principles into your business, whether it be just two or all fourteen, can push your company to be even better than it was yesterday.

1. Customer Obsession 

Amazon’s goal is to be the most customer-centric company on the globe. It is driven by relentless customer focus, a drive sustained by the belief that the customer always wants more and always wants better. As a company, Amazon wants to meet that desire. Every action, goal, project, and programme begins and concludes with the customer in mind. This is what Amazon calls “working backwards”. The company works tirelessly to earn and maintain customer trust and satisfaction.

“We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.”

— Jeff Bezos


2. Ownership

All Amazon leaders are also owners. They think on a long-term basis and never rely on short term results alone. Leaders not only act on behalf of themselves and their teams, but for the entire company. Amazon strongly believes that ownership strengthens the employee-employer relationship, boosting accountability, commitment, and motivation toward the company as a whole. Employees want the best outcomes for the company, they want it to grow, and they’re willing to give all they have to help fuel such growth. 

3. Invent And Simplify 

Innovation and invention are expected from Amazon leaders. Amazon frequently does new things, meaning their leaders need to do the same. They should be externally aware and consistently be on the lookout for new ideas and strategies, whether this means new scales, new platforms, or something else entirely. The simplify part of this principle refers to the concept that everyone, regardless of their job title or rank within the company, has the opportunity to simplify something, most typically a process. The need to consistently seek simplification stems from the ongoing need for increased efficiency, be it making something within the company quicker or more cost-effective.

4. Are Right, A Lot 

Amazon leaders should be right most of the time. Leaders need to have concrete decision-making power and strong instincts. They seek a wide variety of viewpoints with regards to innovative products and services to the target audience and work to challenge their beliefs and opinions. Amazon leaders must be curious and keen to learn more at every stage of the business. Bezos states that leaders are mostly right not because the employee always has to follow their direction, but because a leader holds the ability to seek several different perspectives and thus determine the best route forward. 

5. Learn To Be Curious

This is perhaps Amazon’s most important leadership principle: Leaders should never stop learning. They must continue to seek self-improvement at all times, and remain curious about new possibilities and push themselves to explore them. This principle sets the foundation for Amazon’s entire business structure. It is curiosity that helps the company achieve new feats. 

6. Hire And Develop The Best

Every time a person is hired or promoted, a capable leader raises the company’s performance bar. Leaders need to have a keen eye for exceptional talent. At each interview, they’re looking to see whether or not a potential employee can move Amazon toward greater success. Leaders also need to be willing to coach employees, pushing them to be their very best not only for themselves, but for the company. 

“I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.” 

— Jeff Bezos

7. Insisting Highest Standards

Amazon leaders need to have high standards because, without high standards, the company can’t be at the top of its game. Amazon leaders consistently raise the bar and aim to drive themselves and their team to deliver high-quality services, products, and processes. Defects can’t be allowed to let down the line, so leaders always need to be one step ahead.

8. Think Big

Amazon leaders create and communicate boldly to inspire the best results. They think independently and search for ways to maintain high standards of customer service. No task should be too challenging. 

9. Bias For Action 

Timing matters in business, so leaders need to have what Amazon refers to as a bias for action. Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to make decisions and take rapid action when necessary, even when they face uncertainty. Freezing under uncertainty can cost time, money, and customer satisfaction. Amazon leaders need to be able to call the shots, even when it’s tough.

10. Frugality 

Amazon leadership principles encourage achieving more with less. Behind this principle is the belief that limitation breeds independence, creativity, and ingenuity. Being frugal means thinking outside the box. 

“I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.”

— Jeff Bezos 

11. Earn Trust

Trust is vital in any company. Amazon leaders must be attentive, speak candidly, and listen to the advice of those around them. They are honest with employees and aren’t afraid to discuss matters in which they lack knowledge. In this way, Amazon leaders earn both the trust of their employees and their customers. 

12. Dive Deep

Amazon leaders must function at all levels. They need to stay associated with the details, audit frequently, and ask questions when narratives and metrics differ. No task is below an Amazon leader’s standards. 

13. Have Backbone; Disagree And Commit

Amazon leaders must respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree with them, even if doing so is uncomfortable or difficult. Leaders are tenacious, and they have conviction. Compromise for the sake of social cohesion won’t bring desired positive results to the company. Once a leader has made a decision, they should commit to it fully.

14. Deliver Results

In any business, results matter. Amazon leaders should focus their energy on key inputs and deliver them promptly and to a high standard. Even when there are setbacks, leaders rise to the challenge and don’t settle for any less than the original desired outcome. 

These 14 leadership principles led Amazon to where it is today. They ensure that only the best are hired and only the best results are achieved, serving as a great example to smaller companies of how immense success can be achieved in a relatively small time frame. 

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