The leadership style and legacy of Jeff Bezos

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Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.
Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Manley Hopkinson is the founder of renowned leadership consultancy Manley Talks LTD and The Compassionate Leadership Academy, author of Compassionate Leadership and a sought-after keynote speaker – and he shared his views on the legacy of Jeff Bezos, following the announcement that he would be stepping down as CEO of Amazon.

I did a talk for a leadership team within Amazon recently. It was illuminating in many ways. They are the same as you and I; passionate people wanting to make a positive difference, wanting to add value, and wanting to be valued.

They are totally driven by a number of leadership principles, some of which, to be honest, I struggle with from a Compassionate leadership perspective. But the two that stood out for me were “long-term thinking” and  “customer obsession rather than competitor focus”. That’s “obsession”, not “focus” or “first” or “customers’ right”, but obsession. These are the differentiators in my view.

Amazon demonstrates the power of aligning the efforts and intent of people around a clear future-focused direction. Think about it. You may say you’re obsessed with serving the customer, but really be driven by short-term shareholder return. Hmm, that ain’t gonna work. But obsessed and long-term? Then everything you do will play out.

Without doubt the leadership live and breathe this but I struggle with our fixation on the outcome and not the journey. I understand that lower down in the organisation it is tough, with many people working long hours on minimum pay (or less).

I was left sobbing after watching “Sorry We Missed You”, a hard hitting film directed by the British director Ken Loach, where, hoping that self-employment through gig economy can solve their financial woes, a hard-up UK delivery driver and his wife, struggling to raise a family, end up trapped in the vicious circle of this modern-day form of labour exploitation.

It is not just Amazon of course, it is the whole system, but Amazon play a big part in this system. I urge everyone reading this, who has ever had an internet-ordered parcel delivered to their doorstep, to watch this film. It has totally changed my attitude to the ubiquitous “white van driver”. I recognise their intent to provide in myself,  and I will go out of my way to help them on their journey.

But surely, we need to challenge the system?

This is where Jeff and his successor, Andy Jassy, could come in and most certainly are able to come in, and leave a legacy of such power and impact that humanity and our precious planet will be changed forever. Their legacy would reverberate throughout the ages with the same impact as the last ice age or the meteorite that did it for dinosaurs.

Amazon is an extraordinary organisation that has fundamentally shifted the way we shop; it impacts us all, even if you may be one of the very few who does not use them.  But what is the real impact of Amazon? What will the future impact of Amazon be?  Could it be not “more” impact. Not bigger impact. But “better” impact? Could Andy Jassy lead Amazon to make a better impact on us all, and could Jeff, as the new Executive Chair, take this further and guide the mighty Amazon to, well, have a better impact on THE amazon, and the rest of our planetary support system too? Smile.amazon is a great start, but don’t stop there.

And here is my invitation to Jeff and Andy.

An open letter to Amazon

Dear Jeff and Andy,

Bloody well done so far, chaps, but what an opportunity you have to become the greatest human beings that ever lived.

Imagine if you now adopted the value and principle of compassion at the heart of Amazon to steer every action, every decision, every investment ? The Dalai Lama describes compassion as “understanding with positive action” and I define compassionate leadership as to “secure the best for all”. Make the new Amazon a beacon of compassion shining brightly across the planet.

Don’t wait until you retire and become a philanthropist, as your impact would be diminished. Now you have an army of 1.2 million “Amazonians” and countless others who supply and work with you – as well as millions, if not billions, more who you would influence by your actions. No other organisation, no other individuals have the same scale and same potential as you do now.

Amazon should not just be about profit. Owning a superlative in richness is meaningless in itself. But, changing the world, wow. That’s a legacy of resonance.

People, Planet, Profit. Perfect!

You can prove to the rest of the world that compassion works. Our current system is broken. It is totally unsustainable and has taken us on a suicidal trajectory from a planetary perspective and, a community and well-being one too.

You two, together,  can show and inspire our politicians, business leaders and communities how we can fundamentally shift the dial and change the course of mankind, and the planet.

You have an opportunity now. You can change the world through the new direction of compassion that you take Amazon. Far and wide. A source of life. Like the river that inspired you to begin with.

Change the world not just by your dream, but through the journey to get there too.

What a challenge, opportunity and legacy.

Go for it gentlemen, and enjoy the journey.

Yours sincerely,

Manley

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