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10 leadership principles that never go out of style, from Amazon's Jeff Bezos

10 leadership principles that never go out of style, from Amazon's Jeff Bezos

Posting in Technology

'Be willing to fail. Be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.'

George Anders, writing in Forbes, makes the astute observation that Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos has now supplanted the late, great Steve Jobs as our prime philosopher-entrepreneur-CEO. As is the case with Jobs' Apple, Bezos' Amazon has been a huge, huge disruptor of markets, not only altering the way we conduct commerce, but also the way companies recognize the value of data as the keys to market domination. (Amazon Web Services is disrupting the information technology space big time as well, which is another whole story.) Amazon lives and breathes data every day, in fact.

The following are 10 key leadership lessons that Anders gleaned from his recent conversations with Bezos. Interestingly, most of these are tried-and-true pieces of advice that any company could and should have followed at any time over the past two centuries, and aren't necessarily dependent on Bezos' or Amazon's incredibly savvy technology prowess. The key takeaway here is that a company may have all the latest state-of-the-art technology in the world, but all those devices and hardware do not make a great company -- it takes enlightened, forward-looking management.

1. Base your strategy on service, not gadgets. Products and technologies will always change. What never goes out of style is a commitment to "wider selection, lower prices and fast, reliable delivery."

2. Obsess over customers.

3. Be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time. Bezos tends to take a long-term view on innovations that don't pay off right away.

4. Work to charge less. Many companies try to charge as much as they can, when they can -- Amazon's culture emphasizes frugality.

5. Determine what your customers need, and work backwards. "Specs for Amazon’s big new projects such as its Kindle tablets and e-book readers have been defined by customers’ desires rather than engineers’ tastes," says Anders.

6. “Our culture is friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove we’ll settle for intense.” Data -- not social cohesion -- rules Amazon.

7. Be willing to fail -- often. Amazon recognizes that failure is a natural part of the innovation process.

8. “In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.”

9. “Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.” Perhaps a page borrowed from the US Marine manual, in which every marine, regardless of rank or specialty, is a rifleman first. All Amazon managers are expected to be trained as call center representatives.

10. “This is Day 1 for the Internet. We still have so much to learn.” Bezos first said that in 1997, and still believes it.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure