Skip to main content

Amazon's Leadership Principles

| October 31, 2017

by Jim Bruce

Several weeks ago, Amazon’s Leadership Principles surfaced in my reading.  I was so impressed by their breadth and scope that I wanted to share them with you, along with a brief summary, focusing on how they might apply in higher education, of each of the 14 points.
In Amazon’s notes on these Principles, the company emphasizes that the Principles “work hard each day” in all phases of everyone’s day-to-day work.  Note that they start first with the company’s customers, the individuals information technology previously called “users,” and more properly today call “clients” – the individuals and offices we work with to provide needed services and solutions.  For Amazon, everything follows from putting their customers first.  And, perhaps, we should more actively think of our clients first as well.
Here are the Principles along with my brief commentary on each:
•  Customer [Client] Obsession – Leaders begin with the client and work from there.  They focus on delivering results and on gaining and keeping client trust.
•  Ownership – Leaders act as if they are “owners,” thinking long term, and not sacrificing the longer term for short-term results.  They act on behalf of their organization, knowing, and owning the impact of their work.
•  Invent and Simplify – Leaders expect their teams to invent, innovate, and to simplify, seeking new ideas broadly.
•  Are Right, A Lot – Leaders are solid, valued members of the staff and most often are right.  They understand their areas of responsibility and question their everything.
•  Hire and Develop the Best – Leaders recognize excellence and raise the performance bar.  They develop their staff and encourage and regularly help them move to positions of greater responsibility as their skills develop.
•  Insist on the Highest Standards – Leaders have high standards for themselves and their team members.  They insist that any problems in their team’s work be resolved and stay resolved.
•  Think Big – Leaders have bold visions for their work.  They think beyond the present into the future, seeing ways to better serve their clients.
•  Bias for Action – Leaders work expeditiously for their clients.  To make progress they are willing to take calculated risks.
•  Frugality – Leaders are routinely expected to do more with less.  These constraints lead to resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, invention, and “doing different.”
•  Learn and Be Curious – Leaders are curious and are continuous learners, always seeking to improve themselves.  They encourage their team members to learn.  They coach.
•  Earn Trust – Leaders earn trust by being credible, listening attentively, speaking candidly, treating others with respect, and doing what they say they will do.  They expect their team members to follow this same standard.
•  Dive Deep– Leaders operate at all levels necessary to deliver the results expected from them.  They willingly perform any of the tasks necessary to do this.
•  Have Backbone;  Disagree and Commit – Leaders respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree and seek for the decisions to be revisited.  Once this is done, whether or not their argument prevails, they fully commit to implementation.
•  Deliver Results – Leaders understand that meeting commitments and delivering quality results on time is their responsibility. 
These then are the 14 Principles that undergird Amazon’s work.  I believe that they can serve equally well as a foundation for the work of leaders in higher education. 
I suspect that you may never have developed and formally set forth a set of principles for your work.  I know that I never did, though I now think that the discipline of developing, following, and regularly revisiting such a robust list of principles list would have been helpful.
That being the case, I want to challenge you to set aside some time – maybe, even putting it on the calendar now – when you will not be interrupted for doing some serious thinking about your principles, the foundation on which your work rests.  You don’t have to have 14, even two or three would be very helpful.
Make it a great week.  .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.