Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Jeff Bezos and his enormous global impact. While Bezos is one of the most recognizable figures in modern business, you may be unfamiliar with his story, and how his leadership style has set the foundation for many of today’s most effective work practices.
Let’s take a deeper dive into who Bezos is, review key leadership takeaways from his time as Amazon’s CEO, and learn how we can implement elements of his style into our own everyday work.
Who is Jeff Bezos?
Jeff Bezos is the founder and former CEO of Amazon and current CEO of Blue Origin, a space company that aims to one day provide public spaceflight. With an astounding net worth of nearly $200 billion, Bezos is often coined one of the world’s most innovative business leaders. The billionaire entrepreneur first acquired degrees in computer science and engineering before launching Amazon—the world’s first e-commerce giant—in 1994. Bezos’ tenacity and emphasis on solving global problems allowed him to build the world’s highest-valued company from scratch.
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The significance of Jeff Bezos’ leadership style
As the creator of one of today’s top-valued companies, Bezos is considered a truly transformational leader. He used a “customer first” approach that helped transform his small startup into the household name it is today. His principles are what set him apart from the rest. Throughout his tenure with Amazon, Bezos generated ideas and creative approaches that helped him and his team navigate challenges and ultimately, rise to the top.
In today’s business landscape, Bezos has paved the way for a new generation of leaders to embrace the entire process of success and failure, and build a meaningful relationship with stakeholders.
Leadership tips from Jeff Bezos
- Host weekly business reviews
- Use the concept of the flywheel
- Follow the two-pizza rule
- Seek out effective leaders
- Learn from your mistakes
- Consider what’s best for the customer
- Have a deliberate hiring process
- Use multiple decision-making processes
- Adopt the “Day 1” philosophy
1Host weekly business reviews
Weekly business reviews are dedicated time to think about the past week, reflect on what went well and what didn’t, and plan for the week ahead. These reviews are also part of the process that Bezos used during his time at Amazon to coordinate the company’s ever-growing operations. Colin Bryar, former vice president of Amazon and Bezos’ one-time right-hand man, told Fellow in an episode of Supermanagers that weekly business reviews give managers “the power to have a consistent end to end look at the activities within the company or organization.” By conducting weekly business reviews with your team, you will be able to effectively adapt your operations as needed, measure change, and regularly make improvements to your work.
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2Use the concept of the flywheel
Bezos regularly spoke about the flywheel effect that helped him leverage Amazon’s framework to drive sales during his time as CEO. By definition, a flywheel is a heavy revolving wheel used to increase a machine’s momentum to provide greater stability and reserve available power. During our interview with Bryar, he mentioned that Amazon tied the flywheel metaphor to their customer experience vectors to yield the correct output metrics for business. Put simply, if you plan to grow your team or business, use smaller wins to gain enough momentum that growth seems to happen on its own. Before you know it, your own flywheel will be in motion!
3Follow the two-pizza rule
During the early days of Amazon, Bezos set a rule that every team within his company should be small enough that it could be fed with two pizzas. In saying this, he wasn’t commenting on the price of catering, but professing his disdain for organizational bureaucracy. The key takeaway for the two-pizza rule: smaller teams will spend less time managing and more time getting work done. If you’re a manager with a team that spends more time communicating than working, it may be time to reevaluate how your organization’s teams are structured.
4Seek out effective leaders
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Bryar noted in his interview with Fellow that Bezos taught him to seek out leaders whom he admired to emulate. Bezos stressed that you must already have similar traits with these leaders or else you’ll risk coming across as inauthentic. Additionally, you can use your management to reward patterns of behaviour you want other teammates to copy. Bezos’ leadership style at Amazon revolved around high-velocity decision-making. If you want a team of high-performers, you should be coaching and developing new leaders regularly to continue the cycle.
5Learn from your mistakes
In a 1997 letter to shareholders, Bezos expressed that Amazon would strive to learn from both their successes and failures. As a manager, you’ll experience major wins and losses. The ability to maintain a healthy perspective in spite of the circumstances will be what sets you apart from the rest. Aim to have a growth mindset and believe that your successes will improve with continued resilience, effort, and constant learning. When something doesn’t go as planned, create a constructive plan and adjust your course to avoid future setbacks. Treat all mistakes as learning opportunities.
6Consider what’s best for the customer
At Bezos’ Amazon, the customer always came first. In fact, one of his five key decision-making principles was constant innovation in relation to customer satisfaction. He once compared his customers to guests that were invited to a party that Amazon was hosting. If you’re leading a team at a company that sells products or services, ask, “what is the best decision for our customers?” each time you make an important business decision. Bezos was even known to make choices that harmed Amazon’s bottom line if it meant that the customer would benefit. By directing your focus on consumers rather than competitors, you can build a loyal customer base that will support you through your businesses’ highs and lows.
7Have a deliberate hiring process
When everyone on the team is a leader, your subordinates will be able to make decisions in your absence. Aim to hire employees who are prepared to make calls that align with the company’s values, even in the absence of senior leadership. In his episode of Supermanagers, Bryar mentioned that Amazon’s consistent behaviours over Bezo’s tenure could be traced back to each team’s top-notch decision-making capabilities. Bryar also credits Amazon’s hiring process. Amazon uses behavioural interviewing to determine if candidates possess qualities that can be found amongst other company leaders. Then, the company uses a data-driven interview process to make careful hiring decisions that indicate future success.
8Use multiple decision-making processes
You can’t make progress without making decisions. Amazon transitioned from a small 100-person organization to a multi-billion dollar corporation by using multiple decision-making processes. During his tenure with Amazon, Bezos often spoke about making high-quality decisions early in the day. Take your usual energy levels and emotions into account when making plans for your workday. Perhaps that brainstorming session with your employees will be most productive in the morning, rather than during your typical mid-afternoon slump. You should also strive to avoid decision-fatigue. Bezos once said that making three good decisions per day was enough, as long as they are thoughtful ones.
9Adopt the “Day 1” philosophy
The phrase “Day 1” appeared 22 times in Bezos’ shareholder letters from 1997 to 2018. The last line of his last 10 letters remained the same: “As always, I attach a copy of our original 1997 letter. Our approach remains the same, and it’s still Day 1.” In saying this, Bezos meant that his goal was for Amazon to function with the same risk-acceptance mentality and speed as it had when it first launched. The takeaway is that rather than accepting the usual rigidity that comes with business growth, aim to remain agile as you scale up.
Bezos leadership tactics for better business
When you’re hiring thousands of people per month at a place like Amazon, you have to act fast and make decisions with the best information at your disposal. Bezos and his team created an array of systems and processes that allowed the company to make smart hires, dissolve inefficiencies, and constantly improve their operations. Additionally, Bezos put the customer first, hosted weekly business reviews, utilized the flywheel concept, and kept his “Day 1” philosophy to ensure the company always preserved the vitality of a scrappy startup. If you’re hoping to run a more efficient team, look no further than Bezos’ leadership style. Whether you’re starting a small business or running a multi-billion dollar company, you’re bound to discover a tip or two that will help you make better business decisions today.