Leadership

The What, Why, and How of Amazon Leadership Principles

16 leadership principles helped Amazon go from a garage to a global powerhouse. Learn how to apply these powerful principles to your hybrid and remote team.

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Future Work

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There are 16 leadership principles that Amazon uses daily. 

They enabled Amazon to become the powerhouse it is today, going from a garage (literally) to employing over 1.5 million people. 

That’s some serious growth!

But what are these principles, why do they work, and how can you use them to help your remote team members? 

That’s what I wanted to find out.

So, I researched and answered these questions and many others in this article. 

Let’s jump in with the first principle: Customer Obsession! 

1. Customer Obsession

Amazon-leadership-principle-customer-obsession

"In the long term, there is no misalignment between shareholder and customer interest," Jeff Bezos said in a 1999 CNBC interview, five years after founding Amazon.

Fast-forward twenty years, and Customer Obsession is still the #1 Amazon leadership principle — the "first among equals."

Take Amazon Prime as an example; people didn’t explicitly demand that Amazon create such a service. However, the relentless customer obsession was the seed that brought that service to its creation. 

Action for remote leaders: host customer appreciation days 

Remote team members (if they're not salespeople) may feel disconnected from customers because they lack direct interactions.

Host a monthly video call meeting where your team members can share and read customer feedback (the good, the bad, and even the ugly.)

This way, people will see their positive effect on the customers, where there’s room for improvement, and even spark new ideas.

Make it interactive by having employees discuss takeaways and ideas to delight customers. 

For example, if multiple customers mention a pain point, brainstorm ways to improve. Facilitate discussions on applying feedback to offer better remote customer service.

This collaborative reflection will remind people their work matters by real-world impact and reinforce the positive behavior (Customer Obsession) you want to see in the team.

2. Ownership

Amazon-leadership-principle-ownership

Amazon thinks of leaders in the company as owners. 

Working at Amazon doesn’t allow you to tunnel-vision your job description and ignore everything else. 

For you to succeed, Amazon needs to succeed. 

That’s why Amazon has a special decision-making mechanism built on ownership— Weekly Business Reviews (WBR.) 

During these brief meetings, metric owners present data analysis and insights, explaining reasons for exceeding or missing KPIs.

Taking ownership means instilling a sense of responsibility for everything your team does. 

This should be present in all team leaders and employees. 

If you win, but your team fails, did you really succeed? Effective team dynamics means winning only if we win together. 

Action for remote leaders: write impact statements

Ownership and company goal alignment can take more work with limited face time. 

That's why it's important to intentionally build a culture of collective ownership.

One way to do this is by having each team member write their impact statements

In it, they should articulate how their work directly contributes to team and organizational success.

Then, facilitate a sharing session (in your team meetings) for people to present their statements. 

This builds an understanding of how everyone's roles fit together, even from afar. It reinforces that success is interdependent, not isolated. And the team can see how everyone takes ownership (one for all, all for one).

Link it with Amazon-type KPI review meetings, and you’ll be on your way to true ownership in no time.

3. Invent and Simplify

Amazon-leadership-principle-invent-and-simplify

It took Amazon so long to upload products to the online store — employees had to upload the spreadsheets manually! 

So, they invented and simplified the process. 

Today, vendors and partners can automatically add the products to the store. 

The leadership principle of "Invent and Simplify" is about looking at the processes in place and finding ways to make them more efficient. 

As Einstein said in the "Principle of Simplicity," "Genius is making complex things simple, not the other way around." 

You want your remote team members to look at the processes in your team and the company and always think about how they can upgrade, innovate, and simplify them. 

Action for remote leaders: streamline Mondays 

The ability to innovate and simplify is invaluable for hybrid and remote teams who don't have the “luxury” of impromptu in-person collaboration.

“Streamline Mondays” (or any other weekday of your preference) is like a standing meeting dedicated to optimizing processes. 

Identify an internal or company-wide process you want your team to work on. 

Then, have them think about ways to simplify, optimize, and make that process more efficient.

Encourage imaginative thinking – If anything were possible, how could we revolutionize this process to be radically simpler? 

In the meeting, allow constructive debate and build on each other's ideas.

More meeting ideas to let your team engage and share their thoughts? Check out our 23 unique team meeting ideas (with facilitation instructions).

You can also organize a simplification challenge across your team to leverage diverse perspectives. This strengthens a sense of ownership over continuously improving how work gets done.

Innovation happens incrementally through regular small tests. 

So, turn the best suggestions into prototype experiments and check in on their impact in future meetings. 

4. Are Right, A Lot

Amazon-leadership-principle-are-right-a-lot

At Amazon, people have two types of decisions: One-way and two-way doors.  

The two-way door is applied for decisions that can be easily undone (with a little time and effort). You don't have to live with the consequences for long. You can always reopen the door and go back through.

Therefore, you should act fast on it. 

You get to "Are Right, A Lot" by making reversible mistakes. Learn from it, fix (or improve) it, and never screw up like that again. 

On the other hand, one-way door decisions are difficult to undo. You should take your time making these decisions. A hiring decision would be an example of a one-way door.

Then, "Are Right, A Lot" is about presenting your opinion and ideas to your team and seeking their disagreement to see if the idea holds. 

It’s not about the person being right; it’s about the idea of being right!

That’s how the "Are Right, A Lot" principle works in Amazon.

Action for remote leaders: review your decisions with the team

Decision-making is not a skill you’re born with. It’s built through time and experience. 

Learning from each other’s decisions and mistakes is such a great (and faster) way to level up the whole team. 

It’s especially true when we have less time to hear the behind-the-scenes.

Have each person in the team note the 1-2 decisions that impacted them most in the past month, whether the outcomes were positive or negative.

Have them present their context, reasoning, and results in a Zoom call.

Were assumptions valid? What factors may have been overlooked?

The goal is collective growth in approaching decisions wisely. It's all about making the best decision possible with the available information, not individual egos.

Intentional reflections sharpen your team's decision instincts over time and build trust in each other's judgment, which is critical when working apart. 

And collectively, you will become Right, A Lot!

5. Learn and Be Curious

Amazon-leadership-principle-learn-and-be-curious

Amazon started as an online bookstore. Today, they are an online giant that even has a movie production studio.

It’s because of the "Learn and Be Curious" principle. 

Amazon constantly pokes around. They seek ways to learn new things and determine what would be most beneficial to their customers. 

Your people can do the same. 

They want to learn, grow, and be curious. You, as a leader, can empower and create  space for the magic to happen.

Your team can improve miscommunication problems, solve challenges, and simplify complications if they're encouraged and guided to do so.

Action for remote leaders: Book Club or TED Together 

Beyond dedicated days, nurture ongoing curiosity. Curiosity will compound over time into innovation.

When preparing for new projects, encourage the team to probe questions before diving into solutions.

A Book Club may sound old-school. But it works!

You can ask your people to read related business/educational books or articles and present key ideas to the team (like at Mindvalley.) 

Or have quick learning sessions like TED-together as icebreakers.

The social nature of group learning gives more motivation and fun for remote team members who risk work-from-home loneliness. Bond over shared discoveries, debates, and growth. Treat failures and mistakes as progress by dissecting what was learned.

6. Hire and Develop the Best 

Amazon-leadership-principle-hire-and-develop-the-best

As a people leader, you’re constantly creating new leaders in your team. 

You want your team members to grow into the best possible leaders and take on new, challenging roles. 

This is what Amazon’s "Hire and Develop the Best" is about. 

You’re finding the right talent during the hiring process. Then, you’re taking the time to develop those people into their best versions—the leaders of tomorrow. 

Action for remote leaders: gamify learning

A dream team must include self-motivated, autonomous talents. 

Once hired, ongoing development is essential, especially without organic in-office interactions.

And learning is addictive when it feels like playing!

To gamify the learning process, use:

  • Micro-learnings - short, focused training modules delivered through your employee intranet or in a Slack channel. People will absorb it quicker and easier with small digestible chunks.
  • Add gamification with Instant feedback to the micro-learnings through quizzes, discussions, or quick challenges to apply the skill. They will immediately know if you’re doing the right thing (the experience bar.) Design games to give your team feedback as soon and frequently as possible.
  • Badges and shout-outs. Small milestone rewards and leaderboards can give the dopamine hit of progress tracking and a sense of friendly competition.

7. Insist on the Highest Standards

Amazon-leadership-principle-insist-on-the-highest-standards

Amazon’s definition of an MVP is a Minimum Lovable (instead of Viable) Product. Even when putting out a beta product, they still want it to be 99% done. 

This is just one example of high standards in the organization. 

Remote leading has caused many managers to go into micro-management. This isn’t a good idea! 

High standards don’t mean micro-managing your hybrid and remote employees until they break down. 

High standards are about setting expectations and goals and trusting your team members to rise to the occasion. 

Action for remote leaders: write one "hero" performance metric

Sit down, zoom out, and revise one "hero" metric that summarizes overall performance expectations!

Cognitive load can lead to fragmented attention and decreased focus when people are overwhelmed by cognitive demands. Too many KPIs can similarly dilute your team member's energy and ability.

Instead, determine the single most critical outcome that indicates success for each one. This hero metric should tie directly to broader team goals while being specific enough to drive focus.

In your next round of one-on-one meetings, review the proposed hero metric. Get their input to refine it into something motivating yet achievable.

With just one unified success measure, you can keep the standards high and let your people channel efforts appropriately without micromanaging. 

And don't forget to recognize those who went above and beyond expectations. (We have some great employee recognition ideas if you need them.)

8. Think Big  

Amazon-leadership-principle-think-big

Amazon thinks big, and you can see it. 

Just look at Amazon Web Services (AWS, now one of the largest web hosting providers globally) and Amazon Studios (a serious movie and TV production operation.) 

Amazon’s "Think Big" principle helps them go beyond what they thought was possible. 

They look at this principle as a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

If you think small, you’ll get small results. If you think big, you’ll get… well, AWS and Amazon Studios. 

So think big and set the direction you want your team to go. Be bold. Inspire them. Give them autonomy at work. Help them think differently and go big. Because the leaders that help their people think big get back big results. 

Action for remote leaders: host innovation challenges 

One of the most interesting one-on-one questions (created by the AI generator) I recently received was, "What's one unconventional idea you have that you think could significantly improve our business?" 

Although I couldn't come up with one then, it was an inspiring conversation that ended with encouragement: "Try to think about it!"

Hybrid and remote settings may hinder bold vision, audacious thinking, and fearless ideas.

Try hosting a virtual innovation challenge with your hybrid and remote teams. Prompt the team to brainstorm transformational ideas that take the business to the next level.

If resources and feasibility weren't constraints, what would they be eager to test out tomorrow? 

Or start the "Us in the Future" workshop to think about how your company would look in the next 2 or 5 years. What would you do then? And what would you do now to take the team there?

Read more on the "Us in the Future" workshop (with instruction) and other fun, innovative team meeting ideas.

9. Bias for Action

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"Bias for Action" is a close relative of the "Are Right, A Lot" principle. 

Calculate the risk and then plunge ahead—that’s the Amazon way. If it's irreversible, spend more time on it, but don't forget to act. 

Analysis paralysis doesn't exist at Amazon, and this principle proves it. 

They have A/B tested their website multiple times because taking action provides more data than theorizing about it. 

Even the best ideas mean nothing if they’re not realized. 

Great people leaders know this. That’s why they urge their team members to take action and prove the idea's merit by making it happen. 

Action for remote leaders: set weekly goals

People have ambition and drive. But, for many reasons, procrastination can seep in when working independently.

Nip analysis paralysis in the bud and encourage action by setting up agile sprints for your teams.

On Monday, have each employee share 1-2 specific accomplishments they commit to achieving that week.

These should be challenging but realistic goals that demonstrate tangible progress. For example, launching an initial prototype, completing research for a project, or resolving X customer issues.

Then, on Friday, have the team reconvene (virtually) to present what they achieved that week. Celebrate wins, troubleshoot obstacles, and set new weekly goals.

An action-focused culture thrives even in remote teams.

This cadence creates accountability to move key priorities forward versus stagnating. It also fosters team camaraderie in striving towards concrete milestones.

For more significant initiatives, break key results down into weekly incremental targets. AI-powered action plan generator can help you break down tasks into small steps easily!

10. Frugality

Amazon-leadership-principle-frugality

The "Frugality" principle goes hand-in-hand with the "Invent and Simplify" principle. 

"Frugality" in Amazon is doing more with less. 

How resourceful can you be? What can you invent with limited resources to improve this process or product? 

Growing headcount and budget often isn’t a possibility. So, teams need to be frugal and do more with less. 

Action for remote leaders: use Parkinson’s Law for working and planning

Work expands to fill the allotted time, no matter the task.

With frugality, you must consider budget, time, and people.

So, when your people ask for something, push back constructively. As a leader, you must know what it takes to make things happen. Ask them to identify the true non-negotiable core needed to deliver baseline results.

Then, only provide 50-70% of what they originally asked for. See if they can creatively stretch those limited resources to succeed.

This constraint does nothing with pressing and exploiting BUT forces innovation and discernment of what's truly essential. Present it as an engaging challenge - if you had half the resources, how could you make this work?

Bring the team together virtually to brainstorm clever solutions. Leverage existing tools in new ways. Streamline mercilessly. Distill to the vital few priorities.

This way, you and the team can focus on what truly matters and "do more with less," like Amazon.

11. Earn Trust

Amazon-leadership-principle-earn-trust

"Earn Trust" is a principle at Amazon that you mostly see in action when things go wrong.

"Earn Trust" means being trustworthy and admitting your mistakes, internally and externally. Also, after you realize the mistakes, you ensure they don't happen again. 

With this principle, Amazon "kills the monsters while they’re still small." No problems get overblown, and everything gets fixed in a short timeframe. 

As a leader, you need to listen to your people, speak honestly, and treat each of your team with utmost respect. 

Create a safe space for your people to tell you when they make a mistake. Work with them to ensure that the mistake doesn’t repeat itself. This way of doing things will create trust among team members toward you (and vice-versa). 

Action for remote leaders: host a f*ckup night

Psychological safety builds mutual trust and cohesion in hybrid and remote teams. 

But it's easier said than done.

Defeat fear of failure by hosting a f*ckup night

During a f*ckup night, you’ll encourage fun and genuine sharing amongst your team members by presenting the biggest mistakes you made.

Then, let others follow and see psychologic safety created before your eyes.

12. Dive Deep 

Amazon-leadership-principle-dive-deep

The "Dive Deep" principle is about finding the root cause of something. 

When a problem happens, Amazon’s leaders ask the "Five Whys" to find the root cause of the problem. Once you apply a remedy to the cause, you will solve the problem (once and for all). 

If you try to alleviate the effects, that will buy some time and nothing else. Amazon leaders know this, so they are adamant about diving deep and getting to the root cause of a problem. 

As a people leader, when you encounter a problem, you need to get to the bottom of it. 

Otherwise, the situation will repeat itself endlessly. Pulling thorns from a plant does nothing because it will grow again. But if you pull the entire plant, that's a different story.

Action for remote leaders: apply "Five Whys" for your next arising issues

Metrics tell half of the story. The anecdote tells the other half. 

Quantitative data and measurements (metrics) may only provide a partial understanding in some cases. 

Qualitative information and personal experiences (anecdotes) offer another, often more nuanced or human, perspective. 

This can help fill the gaps, providing context to the overall picture.

Next time an issue arises, dig into root causes with "Five Whys" in your team meeting.

Gather your team, and let people present their challenges one at a time.

Firstly, ask, "Why did this happen?" and state the first reason.

Ask "Why?" again about that explanation, peeling back a layer.

Repeat asking "Why?" five times total, digging into each previous answer and documenting the chain of reasoning.

Have the team challenge each other's logic to test the validity of the explanation chain. You can also turn this into a team ritual to build analytical muscles for hybrid and remote teams.

13. Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Amazon-leadership-principle-have-backbone-disagree-and-commit

The "Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit" principle means that people at Amazon challenge ideas no matter how uncomfortable they can be. 

Disagreeing with the idea should be done based on data, not just your personal opinion. However, once the decision is made, everyone needs to stand behind it.

People leaders should provide room for disagreement about ideas and let each side tell their arguments. 

But, once the decision’s in place, everyone must respect it. This solves the "I knew it was gonna fail" attitude that can creep into teams. 

This leadership principle was recently in the news when Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said people should Disagree and Commit to the decision to mandate three days in the office.

Action for remote leaders: use the BIO Feedback method

Giving feedback (especially negative) is difficult, even with good team dynamics.

You can use the BIO method to guide and coach the team on how to give constructive feedback. BIO stands for:

  • Behavior - Objectively state what was said or done, with no judgments
  • Impact - Explain what kind of an impact it had on the person or the team without accusation
  • Options - Suggest what the person can do differently next time

Model giving BIO feedback in meetings to demonstrate. Teach your team members how they can disagree respectfully focused on solutions. Then, hold them accountable so that they will act like that.

14. Deliver Results 

Amazon-leadership-principle-deliver-results

"Deliver Results" is more about checking KPI boxes. 

The "Deliver Results" principle means that successful teams must understand and reverse engineer why they did so. 

Also, the teams that missed the mark should analyze why it happened and ensure they avoid repeating mistakes to improve employee productivity

As a leader, you hold your people accountable.

You expect them to achieve the set goals. 

You know that they will have obstacles and challenges on the way. 

However, you expect them to overcome those and achieve their goals. 

Action for remote leaders: try goal-oriented check-ins

Simply checking boxes on KPIs doesn't guarantee remote teams are achieving meaningful progress. Take a coaching mindset in goal reviews.

Focus on goals and objectives when checking work progress in weekly team meetings or one-on-ones. 

Some insightful questions are:

  • What accomplishment are you proudest of this week?
  • What obstacles arose, and how did you navigate them?
  • How can I better support you in achieving your goals?
  • What lessons did you learn that could help the team the next time we do this?

Frequent coaching conversations build capability muscle by muscle.

Show interest in their development beyond metrics. Share constructive advice and resources where you see opportunities.

If done right, the person in charge will feel more empowered and eager to take ownership of progress, uncover their solutions, and outperform any metrics.

15. Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer

Amazon-leadership-principle-strive-to-be-earth-s-best-employer

In 2021, Amazon added "Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer" and "Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility" principles to their core principles.

The "Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer" principle means that Amazon’s leaders raise the bar every single day. 

They invest in becoming a more productive, diverse, and safer workplace for all their people.

People don't leave their companies; they leave their managers

Think about all the ways you can become the "Best Employer" for all your team members, whether for traditional, hybrid remote, or remote teams. 

As a leader, you have so much impact on your team members. Strive to create the best possible workplace for them. 

Action for remote leaders: focus on Millennials and Gen Z, as they are the current and future workforce. 

What do these two generations want in the workplace? 

According to Gallup, they want growth! 

If so, invest in your teamsters by providing them with growth and development opportunities. Assign them new projects, offer them the chance to lead a project, and give them access to educational platforms such as Coursera and Udemy.

Reports show that Gen Z and Millennials employee stress is higher than ever. 

Then, listen to them carefully, even when it comes to the basics, and provide them with targeted solutions to improve all aspects of well-being.

16. Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

Amazon-leadership-principle-success-and-scale-bring-broad-responsibility

Amazon started in a garage, but it’s no longer a business in the garage. Today, Amazon employs more than 1.5 million people

If Uncle Ben from Spiderman taught us anything, it’s that with great "size" comes great responsibility. That’s why Amazon created this principle. They want to ensure that they leave the world in a better place. 

Your team members are people, and you want them to be better and do better for themselves and the company’s customers. 

Leaders such as yourself need to create more than they consume and ensure the sustainability of future generations that are yet to come. 

Action for remote leaders: launch "Be Better" initiatives 

Regular "Be Better" virtual meetings can focus on increasing team mindfulness. Talk with your team members about being more responsible toward the environment, society, and the planet.

It's not about being better at work or being better employees.

It's being better individuals together.

Brainstorm creative ways to expand impact. Look for opportunities to apply skills for good, even in small ways. Discuss the ideas with your team; you might be surprised by what they come up with.

In Conclusion

Amazon’s 16 leadership principles helped the company go from a garage to a global powerhouse.

People leaders need to take care of their team members. And these 16 principles pave the way for doing awesome at managing remote teams

Principles aren’t just nice-to-have words on a wall; they’re how people behave when it matters. And that behavior will determine if the team succeeds or fails. 

It’s essential that you adapt your workplace principle to today’s generation of employees. You should first know how to approach your team members to create these policies. 

Explore more in-depth insights in our latest research report, "What hybrid and remote employees really want."

Welcome to
Future Work

Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.

Not a member yet? Join over 10,000 people-centric managers and subscribe here.

Rather listen? The spoken version will be available tomorrow on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

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