Lessons in Leadership from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

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April 19, 2017 by Paul Dughi

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“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”

That’s how Jeff Bezos started out his annual letter to shareholders. While the text talks about what he’s been trying to instill into the culture at Amazon, the message applies to any business and its leaders.

Bezos has been reminding people that’s it’s Day 1 for Amazon and has been for a couple of decades.

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.” — Jeff Bezos

His call-to-culture boils down to two specific questions:

1. How do you fend off Day 2?

2. How you keep the vitality of Day 1 within a large organization?

Customer Obsession

Of course, you knew he would focus on Customer Obsession. Day 1 thinking created the Amazon Prime membership model. It was something customers didn’t ask for, but signed up for in drove.

“Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.”

Resist Proxies

Focus on outcomes and not just process. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want, Bezos says. It’s easy in a large company to focus on the process, and miss the boat.

“It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, ‘Well, we followed the process.’ A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process.”

Embrace External Trends

Bezos rightly points out that big trends aren’t hard to spot, but hard for large organizations to embrace.

“The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.”

High-Velocity Decision Making

When you’re starting out in business, it seems like you’re making decision at light speed. The larger you get, the slower the process seems to take longer.

“Day 2 companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly. To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions.”

Speed matters in business. Bezos says companies often wait until the 90% of the information they want to make decisions. Most decision, he says, can be made with 70%.

“If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow if going to be expensive for sure.”

If you’re wrong, so what? Fix it and move on.

“Recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately.”

In Closing

He closes with a copy of his 1997 letter to shareholders. It remains Day 1, he says.

You can read the full text of the letter and the 1997 original here.

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