When you think of great leaders, the standard fare of Steve Jobs, Indra Nooyi, Richard Branson, and Oprah come to mind (Oprah doesn’t need a hyperlink!). They are brilliant and have many leadership traits us mere mortals can learn from. And even though there are so many lesser known leaders to learn from and be inspired by, I just gotta do it…talk about Jeff Bezos that is. You cannot deny that the man has some creative and provocative ideas about leadership. Here are my five personal favourites.
1. Three Pizzas Are Too Much
Bezos’ philosophy is that smaller teams (5 to 7 people max) are more efficient, more nimble, and allow for a better flow of ideas. Originally reported in the Wall Street Journal, Bezos introduced a tactical concept of the “two-pizza team” — that is, any team should be small enough that it could be fed with two pizzas.
2. Three Powerful Words
All managers say they have a ‘bias for action.’ But how many times have you sat in a meeting where the conversation spins because the room simply cannot reach consensus? Bezos offers advice for leaders to keep things moving in this situation: Disagree and commit.
“This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?”
This signals to the team that the leader is willing to take a calculated risk, to trust their team, which in turn helps the team build confidence. This is the difference between leadership and management.
3. A Handstand Reframes Your Thinking
In an annual letter to shareholders, Bezos shared an anecdote about a friend who wanted to learn to do the perfect handstand. This friend hired a handstand coach and that coach gave some sage advice:
“Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.”
The important lesson here is that effective leaders set realistic expectations of how difficult it is to accomplish some things. Unrealistic scope means standards suffer, setting the project up for failure.
4. The Empty Chair
This idea is probably his most famous one. Bezos places an empty chair in the room during each executive meeting to remind the team to make decisions in the context of the customer. It confronts our natural tendency to get caught up in our own preconceived notions and personal biases. It’s a great tangible reminder for leaders to put themselves in their customer’s shoes on the way to making better business decisions. Great leaders focus on creating great customer experiences.
5. Dress for Success
This is all about high standards. And I love it particularly in the context of a high performing team. Think you’ve got it nailed? Bezos would disagree.
“One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary.” “How do you stay ahead of ever-rising customer expectations? There’s no single way to do it – it’s a combination of many things. But high standards (widely deployed and at all levels of detail) are certainly a big part of it. “
We need to really take to heart that yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary,’ and never stop striving for better. We need to always plan for change.
These five simple concepts are five different ways to grow your brand by putting the customer first, of being truly client-centric. They are great words for great leaders to live by; for themselves, for their team, for their company. Thank you, Jeff.