Jeff Bezos is the founder and current CEO of Amazon, that brought himself great success from the idea of online shopping. Forbes (2013) reports his current wealth to be around $25.2 billion dollars making him the most successful internet retailer. Jeff Bezos’ leadership of Amazon can be examined using the Skills approach. Northouse (2013) describes leadership skills as the ability to use one’s knowledge and competencies to accomplish a set of goals or objectives and these leadership skills can be acquired or that leaders can be trained to develop them. Bezos developed a knowledge or understanding for the needs of customers and with this acquired knowledge he was able to transform Amazon to focus on these needs of the customers.
Jeff Bezos’ success at Amazon can be explained using Katz’s Three Skills Model of leadership. In Katz’s Three Skills Model there are three basic skills important in leadership which are technical skill, human skill, and conceptual skill (PSU, L. 4, p. 5).
Technical skill is knowledge about and proficiency in a specific type of work or activity, such that would include competencies in a specialized area, analytical ability and the ability to use appropriate tools and techniques (Northouse, 2013). Bezos demonstrate how to use the appropriate tools and techniques to succeed.
His techniques focus on the long term, “I always tell people if we have a good quarter it’s because of the work we did three, four, and five years ago. It’s not because we did a good job this quarter” explains Bezos in an interview (Newsweek, 2009). Bezos techniques also include, “We start with the customer and we work backward. We learn whatever skills we need to service the customer. We build whatever technology we need to service the customer.”
Another skill in the model, human skill is knowledge about and the ability to work with people, which means being aware of one’s own perspectives on issues and, at the same time, being aware of the perspectives of others (Northouse, 2013). This CEO strives on the customer’s needs. Figuring what customers want before the cash register rings and then making those insights pays off (Forbes, 2012). Bezos being aware of the perspectives of the customers, is able to shape the goals and needs of the company to meet these needs of the customer.
The skills from Katz’s model demonstrated the most by Bezos would be conceptual skills. Conceptual skills are the ability to work with ideas and concepts and are central to creating a vision and strategic plan for an organization. A leader with conceptual skills is good at putting the company’s goals into words and can understand and express the economic principles that affect the company (Northouse, 2013). Bezos’ work ethic and roots of pushing himself while working hard to succeed builds learning of self-reliance. The respect for that ethic explains why Amazon screens its job candidates for a strong bias to action and an ability to work through ambiguity (Forbes, 2012).
Forbes (2012) saluted Bezos’ ability to push massive changes through the organization, in particular the initiatives that led to Amazon Web Services. Providing the most insight of Bezos as a leader can be gained from “Jeff Bezos: Top 10 Maxims decoded” a list of concepts relating to the CEO’s leadership.
Jeff Bezos: Top 10 Maxims decoded (Forbes, 2012)
1. “Base your strategy on things that won’t change”
2. “Obsess over customers”
3. “We are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time”
4. “There are two kinds of companies: Those that try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second.”
5. “Determine what your customers need, and work backwards.”
6. “Our culture is friendly and intense, but if push come to shove we’ll settle for intense”
7. “If you want to be inventive, you have to be willing to fail”
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.”
10.“This is Day 1 for the internet. We still have so much to learn.”
Anders, G. (2012, April 4). Jeff Bezos reveals his no. 1 leadership secret. Forbes. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2012/0423/ceo-compensation-12-amazon-technology-jeff-bezos-gets-it.html
Lyons, D. (2009, Dec 20). The customer is always right. Newsweek Magazine. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/12/20/the-customer-is-always-right.html
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice. (6 ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publishing.
The World’s Billionaires. (2013). Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.forbes.com/profile/jeff-bezos/
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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.