As the founder of the global online retail giant Amazon, Jeff Bezos is easily one of the world’s most well-known and successful entrepreneurs.
Many of us wonder what Jeff Bezos leadership style is.
Even if you disagree with some of his choices, you can’t deny that he’s done some things right in his career. Below, you’ll learn some fundamental tenets of the signature Jeff Bezos leadership style and discover how to implement them in your approach.
Jeff Bezos’ entrepreneurial background dates to his high school years when he opened The Dream Institute — a summer camp for fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade students.
He went on to attend and graduate from Princeton University in 1986, after which he landed a job on Wall Street. A few years later, in 1990, he became the youngest senior vice president at DE Shaw, an investment firm.
In 1994, Bezos quit this job to create Amazon.com, which began as an online bookstore in 1995.
Amazon experienced massive growth right from the start. By the end of its first 30 days, the company was selling books throughout the U.S. and in 45 other countries. By the two-month mark, sales ballooned to $20,000 per week.
In 1997, Amazon went public. A year later, in 1998, it started diversifying its offerings to include other products like CDs, videos, clothing, electronics, and toys.
In 1995, Amazon’s annual sales were around $510,000. In 2011, it grew to an astounding $17 billion.
Amazon continued to expand and reached a $1 trillion valuation in 2018 (the only company after Apple to do so). While Amazon was experiencing tremendous growth, the company was also acquiring other well-known businesses, including The Washington Post and Whole Foods.
Bezos stepped down from his post as CEO in the third quarter of 2021. However, he remains the company’s executive chairman.
Jeff Bezos saw almost instant success after launching Amazon.com, and his company continued to flourish even when many other products of the 90s dotcom crashed and burned.
Some luck was undoubtedly involved. However, Bezos also had specific leadership strengths that helped him set the business up for long-term success. He most likely took Management Training and Leadership Development Training whilst at DE Shaw.
Jeff Bezos has displayed several well-known leadership styles in the way he has guided his team and run his company, including the following:
Charismatic leadership centres around a professional’s strong communication skills, persuasiveness, and charm.
Charismatic leaders are passionate about their mission, feel deeply connected to their work, and know how to help others feel the same. Their enthusiasm encourages others to be engaged and productive. They’re also not afraid to act themselves and find solutions to even the most impossible-seeming problems.
Bezos embodies all these traits in his leadership approach. It takes enthusiasm and passion to leave a comfortable Wall Street job and start a company from the ground up, let alone grow that company into a trillion-dollar enterprise.
Charismatic leadership shares many characteristics of transformational leadership — which Bezos also practices.
Transformational leadership focuses on motivating employees to be innovative changemakers. They understand the importance of connecting with team members, but they don’t micromanage them. They give employees the freedom to transform the company and work toward a larger vision.
Speaking of vision, Bezos also exemplifies aspects of visionary leadership.
Visionary leadership focuses on a long-term plan. Visionary leaders aren’t afraid of the future, nor do they worry that they’re thinking too big.
Even if Bezos didn’t know precisely where Amazon was going to end up when he started the company, he at least knew that he wanted it to be a success — and he stuck with it to make that vision a reality.
In discussions about Bezos and his approach to running a business, the words “Jeff Bezos autocratic leadership style” often come up.
An autocratic leadership style involves the business leader making executive decisions and establishing policies and procedures with little-to-no input from others. These leadership traits show up in Bezos’s work, too.
For example, Bezos has reportedly become frustrated when employees won’t immediately get on board with his “conquer the world” vision. He also has a great deal of confidence, which can make it hard for him to own up to mistakes.
Jeff Bezos demonstrates aspects of the above-mentioned leadership styles in various ways. The following are some specific characteristics that Bezos’s employees have noticed over the years:
Those who have observed the inner workings of Amazon have noticed that Bezos and the company’s other leaders place a significant emphasis on documentation. Everything gets written down, and employees are expected to read all documents, which allows for maximum clarity among team members.
Bezos also abides by the “one empty chair rule.” The empty chair signifies the customer.
He believes that leaving a chair empty encourages him and his team to remember the customer and think of solutions that benefit them and improve their experience.
Jeff Bezos plays the long game — an essential characteristic of visionary leadership.
Bezos’s history as a business owner clearly demonstrates this commitment to long-term thinking. After all, the company has continually raised the bar and found new ways to offer new products and provide exceptional customer service.
Bezos has been quoted as describing failure and innovation as “inseparable twins.”
The billionaire understands that it’s impossible to always get things right on the first try. He also knows that failure can encourage people to think of new solutions and come up with ideas that wouldn’t have been on their radar otherwise.
Stubborn on Vision and Flexible on Details
Bezos also values simultaneous stubbornness and flexibility. He encourages leaders to stick to their guns when it comes to their vision but be flexible when it comes to how they achieve their long-term goals. This approach allows for more creativity and employee input.
The “two pizza” principle states that a team shouldn’t be so large that more than two pizzas are needed to feed all of its members. At Amazon, that means all teams consist of eight or fewer members.
Keeping teams relatively small allows for easier communication, stronger relationships, improved collaboration, and increased efficiency and productivity.
Jeff Bezos has delivered many impressive messages about leadership and entrepreneurship in his decades-long career. Below are some of the most noteworthy:
“It’s not an experiment if you know it’s going to work.”
This quote is an excellent example of Bezos’s visionary, charismatic, and transformational leadership styles. He’s great at motivating his team and encouraging them to think outside of the box. He leads by example, too, and isn’t afraid to take on unique challenges himself.
“It’s perfectly healthy – encouraged, even – to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.”
Although Bezos is known for his confidence and stubbornness, he also acknowledges with the above quote the importance of being willing to change your mind. As a leader, it’s important to focus on ongoing growth and realise that your current ideas might be different from those you had in the past.
“When you receive criticism from well-meaning people, it pays to ask, ‘Are they right?’ And if they are, you need to adapt what they’re doing. If they’re not right … you need to have that long-term willingness to be misunderstood.”
This quote also exemplifies Bezos’s familiarity with the value of personal reflection. As a leader, it’s essential to remain open to feedback from employees while remaining “stubborn on vision.” Bezos knows first-hand that leaders aren’t always understood initially and has shown the importance of standing by your ideas if you truly believe in them.
The apparent impact of Jeff Bezos’s leadership style is his personal success and the profitability of his company. Amazon sells products at affordable prices to customers across the globe after all.
The success of Amazon has also fuelled Bezos’s other ventures, such as Blue Origin, which is developing reusable rockets to explore space’s “limitless resources.”
Additionally, Bezos’s leadership style has also inspired countless other leaders worldwide. Entrepreneurs across all industries have studied his methods and attempted to recreate his approach when launching their own companies.
If you’re a business leader and want to implement Bezos’s approach to leadership, here are some specific ways you can do so:
When overseeing your team, encourage them to be agile and willing to pivot when needed — while remaining committed to the company’s vision. Teach employees about the importance of collaboration and working together to achieve common goals as efficiently as possible.
Even if you don’t utilise the “One Empty Chair” rule, you can still prioritise the customer in your business decisions. Consistently ask yourself how your choices will affect your customers and their experience and encourage your team members to do the same.
As a leader, you’ll be required to invest your time, resources, and talents, whether you’re starting a company from the ground up or heading up a well-known organisation. Much will be asked of you, and you shouldn’t shy away from these requests.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, either, even if you don’t always succeed on the first try. Through failure comes greater innovations.
Create a long-term vision for your company and your team. Stick to that vision and consistently ask yourself if you’re making decisions that bring you closer to that goal. When you reach it, set another long-term goal, and continue pushing yourself and your employees to achieve more.
Great leaders take risks. They don’t always play it safe, and they know that stepping outside of their comfort zones can be worthwhile.
There you have it: Jeff Bezos leadership style revealed.
Bezos’s unique combination of leadership styles — including autocratic, transformational, and charismatic — makes him an interesting case study in running a successful company.
If you’re interested in following in his footsteps and developing your own leadership skills, MTD training offers numerous courses that can help.
Updated on: 15 June, 2023
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