A recent HBR blog podcast interviewed the CEO of Amazon who, in a major study reported in the Harvard Business Review’s Jan/Feb issue, was ranked #2 of global CEO’s. The late Steve Jobs was #1. Jeff Bezos is an intriguing guy. He permits interviews sparingly and is somewhat of a contrarian around some commonly held business beliefs.
In the short audio, Bezos makes three points that I think are worth CEO’s and managers hearing about.
- He sees the DNA of Amazon as that of an explorer, vs. a conqueror. They invent things and consider new opportunities that will differentiate Amazon from its competitors. Hence the Kindle. Hence their taking a look at a brick-and-morter presence for Amazon. He guesses that the culture there would probably be boring for an employee who is looking for a more overtly competitive company in which to operate.
- You must focus on long-term results. He shares two wonderful characterizations of the stock market. “In the short term, the market is a voting machine. In the longer term, it is a weighing machine. We want to be weighed, not voted upon.” This calls for courage from your C-suite players. But longer term is the only time frame, according to Bezos, in which you can create and bring to market anything of consequence.
- Inventing and pioneering (i.e. being, strategically, an explorer) requires “a willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time.” For example, people have often asked him, incredulously, why Amazon allows disgruntled customers to post negative comments next to a product. His reply, “We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.” Part of the challenge of a pioneering leader is to get your employees to continue to have faith that providing a new seemingly counterintuitive product or service will, in fact, prove to be a good decision.
Sometimes as a CEO you have to “sit in the fire” while people confront you with established wisdom that says you are wrong. For this it takes a thick skin but, more to the point, it takes a deep, strong and abiding confidence in your own ability to envision something different.
This jibes with my leadership development roadmap of choice, the Leadership Circle (LCP). According to this model, three competencies found in more advanced, outcome-creating leaders are Purposeful & Visionary, Courageous Authenticity, and Composure. Does that sound at all like Mr. Bezos? I think so.