Six Key Leadership Principles at Amazon

amazon leadership principles interview

Amazon is one of the largest and most successful companies in the world. At its core, Amazon believes that “leadership” has nothing to do with your role; whether the employee is an individual contributor or a manager of a large team, these leadership principles are the guiding principles for every employee and have been the bedrock of the company. Many Amazonians even try to use these leadership principles even in their personal lives.

While there are 14 leadership principles, in this blog we will only discuss the 6 principles which are really really important for any leader in any place, in my point of view.

Customer Obsession

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

What does this look like in practice?

  • Know your customers wants and needs
  • Anticipate your customer’s needs
  • “WOW” your customers
  • Honestly pursue customer feedback, not just to solicit compliments.
  • Remove non-value steps
  • Listen for what your customer wants, before/instead of telling them what they need
  • Ask, “Is what I am working on helping my customer?”

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”.

What does this look like in practice?

  • Ask questions
  • Consider future outcomes of the plans (scalability, long-term value, etc.)
  • Give feedback – coach and develop others
  • Speak up in meetings – question, challenge respectfully
  • Understand the impact of your work on others
  • Understand your role and relationship with other roles
  • Partner with peers across the org

Bias For Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. Amazon values calculated risk-taking. I personally believe that if you have high ownership, then automatically your bias for action will be high.

What does it look like in practice?

  • When faced with a tough decision that will help you and your team move forward, you don’t avoid that decision. You’re not afraid to step up and make the call.
  • You foster an environment of action bias by responding promptly to colleagues looking for information, and always deliver on your promises.
  • You roll up your sleeves and remove obstacles, even when it’s “not your job.”
  • You encourage the same speed for action in your sub-ordinates too
  • You are not afraid to take high-stake decisions

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.

What does it look like in practice?

  • Focus on the inputs for the results
  • Set smart goals, expectations, and priorities
  • Check your progress against goals with the right metrics
  • Your top priority is not only to deliver the result but to exceed the expectations
  • Own big difficult goals and try to exceed on them
  • Not afraid to  work hard and then fail

Dive Deep

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

What does it look like in practice?

  • Deep dive into the data and understand the story in its entirety
  • Critical step by step evaluation of the business
  • Separate anecdotes from metrics
  • demonstrate hustle and a ‘do what it takes’ attitude to get things done, even if that means being hands-on.
  • Be willing to do the dirty work, get your hands dirty
  • Frequently “audit” by drilling down into projects/business, questioning and providing feedback, quickly assessing progress and risk, and hold employees accountable for results

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.

This is one principle that can be a bit confusing. I’ve seen many people not understand this wholly. Essentially what it says is: if you have a counter-argument to the plan, then have backbone and present it to everybody. If it is a serious issue, the group will consider it and act appropriately. However, if the group still went ahead with the plan (which you disagree), then you should still commit to the decision of the group and act accordingly (even if it is against your own mind because you might be wrong).

The ‘Disagree and Commit’ principle has a two-pronged objective:

  • To encourage the team to disagree when making an important decision
  • To unite the team in committing to the decision once it has been made

In Bezos’s own words:

I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with “I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.” Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.

What does it look like in practice?

  • Present counter-arguments to the discussion with data
  • Not be silent when you disagree or agree with what is being discussed, express it.
  • Understand the difference between asking somebody to “be committed” and “be convinced”. One need not always be convinced to be committed.
  • Share your point of view: I disagree with this because of xxx, however if the group goes ahead I will be committed to the group’s decision.
  • Ensure the plan doesn’t fail because it was badly implemented because of some members’ lack of commitment.

“If you disagree with an idea, you should work especially hard to implement it well because that way when it fails you’ll know it was a bad idea. Not bad execution.” — Andy Grove.

Disagree and Commit is about being true to the enterprise on hand and not being true to your own beliefs and thoughts. It can be extremely convoluted sometimes. In my experience, good leaders have an exceptional knack to separate these two.

Hope this is helpful, thank you!