Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles

I have worked closely with Amazon associates across various business units for well over a decade. One of the core aspects that has been consistent is how Amazon employees embody the 14 Amazon Leadership principles.

These 14 principles are also key when Amazon evaluates prospective employees. These principles are not just applicable to Amazon, they are great reminders for teams and organizations to re-center thought and focus towards being customer-centric, having a bias for action, innovation, growing talent and so much more.

Below are the 14 Amazon leadership principles and how I have personally applied the principles in my own career.

1) 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.

TOM: Every organization talks about being customer-centric, but there is a difference between having a vision of customer centricity and instilling customer obsession through teams. When business is lost it comes down to a few key factors. Poor execution, poor communication and focus on self vs. client’s business. This goes beyond simply focusing on the relationship.

You have to deliver and in today’s environment that includes living and breathing your customers business. This includes tracking quarterly earnings, proactively analyzing trends in the marketplace, conducting primary research, leveraging tools and solutions such as machine learning industry domains to track shifts and changes over time, predictive models to project zero spend impact models and a constant focus on how to future-proof their business while delivering the expected returns for today.

Customer obsession is a great way to think about it whether your customer is an internal stakeholder or the CMO of a Fortune 100 corporation.  

2. OWNERSHIPLeaders 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 their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”

TOM: I have worked across multiple holding companies, consulted with some of the world’s largest brands, developed products and had ownership of various organizational functions and teams. The one thing that has always been consistent is working to be a “value-add” across the organization, not just within a single team or department. Being a good citizen pays off in the long run as you are able to build support for cross-departmental initiatives.

So many organizations that I have consulted with over the years were focused on short term goals and returns. Looking back, those organizations that did not adopt a roadmap for the future nor did they take steps to future proof their business. Those organizations are struggling or no longer in business today. Ownership includes not sacrificing long-term value or opportunity for short-term gains.

3. INVENT & SIMPLIFYLeaders 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.

TOM: This has been the lifeblood of my career in the interactive space. The one constant has been change and having the ability to create first of its kind use cases for the application of technology is critical to keep pace with exponential change.

This is what started my passion and desire to become a futurist and solution evangelist. Predicting how technology was going to evolve, the triggers and signals gleaned from consumer behavior and having the entrepreneurial ability to actually build and deliver new solutions as well as seamlessly integrate new and emerging technologies into highly linear organizations has been a key success driver.

4 – ARE RIGHT, A LOT  –  Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs

TOM: The challenge I consistently put forward to my strategy and creative technology teams is to build a strong POV and then a month or so later completely deconstruct it. The pace of technology and experiences shifts so quickly, it’s less about disruption and more about exponential acceleration, so having the ability to make a call based on deterministic and sometimes probabilistic data, then evaluating and changing course is key. You have to be able to completely deconstruct your views and refine them based on market and situational indicators.

5 – LEARN & BE CURIOUSLeaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

TOM: As a keynote speaker I cover emerging technology and consumer behavior on a regular basis. I am always looking for patterns for how experiences will evolve. This requires constant learning and curiosity and this is a passion area of mine.

I am constantly reading, tracking industry discussions, looking at developer documentation, following the release of new patents, and attending developer conferences so I can get a first glimpse at potential new use cases.

This is also the #1 trait I look for in prospective employees. It’s a continual desire to discover, learn and solve problems that may not exist yet.

6 – HIRE & DEVELOP THE BEST TALENTLeaders 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. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

TOM: Talent is everything and I look for certain characteristics in individuals that are consistent and foundational. This includes individuals who exhibit an entrepreneurial mindset, are naturally inquisitive, constantly learning, have the ability to “connect the dots”, formulate a point of view and are really good presenters.

Some of the best hires I have had over the years were individuals I met while speaking on panels or industry events. I lean towards original content creators and those that go above and beyond their day job. I look for those who have the ability to articulate a point of view, are strong presenters yet humble in their approach and focused on solving problems that may or may not exist yet.

It’s not just about sharing links about technology or trends, curation is only part of the equation. It’s having the ability to craft a unique point of view. Natural curiosity is very important to me. I look for these attributes in potential hires has led to individuals from incredibly diverse backgrounds but there is a consistency in their abilities to be strategic, autonomous and incredibly high performers. This led to recruiting some of the best talent in the industry as well as serve on multiple tours of duty with high performing team members such as Ian Beacraft, Mike Zeto, Courtney Caldwell, Candice Gilzean and countless others.

7 – INSIST ON THE HIGHEST STANDARDSLeaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive 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.

TOM: My approach is to set a vision for my teams, empower them, enable them but also hold them accountable to agreed-upon MBOs. It’s important to have a team vision and mission that aligns to the broader organization and then deploy a team of team’s approach to scale across the organization.

This ensures that the teams are adaptable, stay in close communication and are empowered to make key decisions and solve problems without the typical command and control model. This also builds mutual respect and trust within the team as everyone has a key role, is empowered to make decisions and works together to accomplish cross-departmental goals.

8 – THINK BIGThinking 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.

TOM: I am a futurist in my spare time. This requires thinking bigger on a regular basis to piece together how we will shift from mobile-first to multi-modal interfaces at scale. This includes making foundational statements such as the shift of the virtual assistant to the center of the operating system, the role simulation and data will play and helping organizations to future proof their business while meeting the business objectives of today. This is the basis for my Innovation to Reality speaking platform.

From a business perspective, part of my role over the years has focused on aligning bigger thinking with clients to go beyond the short term and discuss challenges on the horizon and how to future proof their business.

This includes the potential impact of artificial intelligence and the need to not only prepare for shifts in modernizing systems but also the impact on culture and how to build towards intelligence augmentation.

This will be one of the biggest areas of disruption over the next few years as the workplace will drastically shift based on intelligent systems and those organizations that can capitalize on integrating technology, align data assets to fuel systems and prepare their workforce for intelligence augmentation vs. disruption will be the organizations that either maintain a leadership position or challengers will leapfrog established organizations.   

9 – BIAS for ACTIONSpeed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

TOM: Balancing action vs. analysis is critical in today’s rapidly evolving environment. It’s important to place strategic bets while still maintaining the focus and hitting short term goals. I use the 70/20/10 approach to bias for action.

70% is focused on the core aspects of driving the business or campaigns and is 100% measurable. 20% is emerging but a bit less quantifiable yet needs to be explored for possible new opportunities and 10% should be solely based on emerging solutions based on trends and affinity signals from consumers.

Finding early-stage start-ups and having an established ecosystem across solution types is critical to reducing time to analyze and moving to action. If you already have the eco-system, it’s easier to activate.

What I have seen over the past few years is a lot of talk about the importance of AI, evolving experiences and the need for innovation. The reality is there is a hesitancy to actively take steps to ensure that the business is preparing in parallel for short term and long term success. There is a bias towards data curation vs. analysis and action. This is going to cause major issues for organizations that will not be prepared for the major shifts that are coming.

10 – FRUGALITYAccomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

TOM: This is where I value individuals with entrepreneurial backgrounds who are used to wearing multiple hats and have a feeling of ownership towards the business. This allows the unit to operate lean yet go above and beyond in terms of output.

Leading innovation practices across many organizations, I have become very accustomed to accomplishing more with less. I coach youth football and my approach to team building is similar to the offensive style of the University of Oklahoma’s football team.

OU focuses on keeping the same personnel on the field. They operate out of similar formations but have incredibly adaptable skillsets based on the down and distance. Meaning any given player on the field can shift into multiple positions and flex out of their natural spot.

This is how I approach the development of a team. Team members have a primary area of subject matter expertise and secondary responsibilities and have the ability to flex across various aspects of the business. This leads to cost savings for the organization but the creation of significant impact.

11 – EARN TRUSTLeaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfurme. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

TOM: Coming from a military background trust is the key to completing whatever the mission objective may be. As a leader, you have to listen to your teams, provide them with a platform to showcase their skills, always treat each with respect and most importantly empower your teams.

I have prided myself on earning the trust of my teams by demonstrating subject matter expertise, attention to detail, and most importantly empathy for not only their work but their lives. This then translates to those that we support both internally as well as our end clients.

Trust is THE currency in today’s fast-paced world. Technologies and solutions come and go but having the trust of the team and clients to know that they can be led in a direction that benefits all are key.

US Army Parachutist Badge

12 – DIVE DEEPLeaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

TOM: For the last 19 years, I have focused on being as detailed oriented as possible. This applies to diving into technology and development use cases, evaluating opposing constructs and frameworks, executing campaigns and testing 3rd party technology on a regular basis.

This also requires working closely with team members to truly understand and competently discuss their areas of domain expertise. It’s no longer feasible as a leader to just be at 30,000 feet. In order to operate at the speed of business today, it’s incredibly important to be as detail-oriented as possible and hold teams accountable while empowering simultaneously.

13 – HAVE BACKBONE; DISAGREE and COMMITLeaders 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.

TOM:  Within my teams I created an environment of equal rank, meaning we can speak freely and disagree with a decision without the fear of overstepping based on rank/title.

The ability to challenge decisions is key to constantly innovate. The ability to deconstruct a point of view or have a differing opinion can be critical to overcoming a challenge.

During my various leadership tenures, I have focused on providing the forum for constructive disagreement and also respectfully challenged some decisions that may not fully align with the company vision or client’s best interest. 

14 – DELIVER RESULTSLeaders 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.

TOM: Over the past few years my teams and I have focused on delivering results in various forms. This could be in the form of delivering a viable v1 of a product, providing a go-to-market strategy, or creating an analytics model that provides visibility into ongoing impact. The key is a constant focus on delivery and execution while maintaining a strategic position simultaneously.

Over the past two years, I was focused on taking a theoretical concept and creating a completely new product offering. There were setbacks at every step of the way but by building key relationships across the organization, empowering team members, identifying the right talent, having tough discussions around limitations of current team skill sets and ultimately pulling in the right teams to complete the product we were able to deliver an elegant v1 of the product that will impact the organization for years to come.

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