What Makes Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Such a Visionary Leader

Apr 14, 2017

Investors, executives, and anyone who merely wants to be good at their job hang on the words of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com. He published 1,782 of them Wednesday in his annual letter to Amazon’s shareholders. I recommend reading each one of them.

Bezos’s pearls of wisdom are repetitive, by design. He discusses similar concepts year after year, tweaking them for new realities. Delighting customers is a constant. The importance of being willing to reverse direction is another hearty Bezos perennial.

I particularly liked two of his themes this year that constitute fresh material in the Bezos oeuvre. The first is his insistence that managers monitor and adopt important external trends. “These big trends are not that hard to spot (they get talked and written about a lot), but they can be strangely hard for large organizations to embrace,” he writes. “We’re in the middle of an obvious one right now: machine learning and artificial intelligence.” He goes on to discuss the visible and less obvious ways Amazon is utilizing machine learning and AI. But his notion that the important trends aren’t hard to spot is non-trivial. Too many organizations spend too much debating if something is going to be big. If you’ve spent that much time debating it, it’s probably too late.

Bezos also shared his thinking on how high-performance teams should work together—including with their bosses and also when they disagree with each other. “Recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately,” he writes. “Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision.”

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For escalation to work, of course, a team’s manager has to be good and also has to be willing to be overruled. Bezos gives an example of his being overruled, though one senses his example is the exemption rather than the rule.

The point is that he demands fast action and quick resolution when people disagree. Exhaustion with disagreement is something anyone who works in a large organization can understand all too well.

Have a good weekend.

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