Need some inspirational insights on leadership? Learn from one of the most successful businessmen today: Jeff Bezos. 

Last July 27, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos became the world’s richest man. With a fortune of over $90 billion then, the e-commerce tycoon surpassed Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder, who has held the throne for 18 of the past 23 years. Though Bezos’s streak ended on the same day, there’s one exciting twist: business forecasts say he’s likely to take the number 1 spot more permanently in the coming weeks. And he might also become the richest man in recent history, the first person to reach a 12-figure net worth.

As a businessman, Bezos is known for his “customer-obsessed” approach. We’re talking about someone who leaves the most important seat empty at a conference table – a seat that, according to him, the customer occupies. The same person changed warehouse hours by pushing for same-day international delivery and required managers to attend call center training every year. The goal: To make Amazon the world’s most customer-centric company. Try googling that title and find out how the company has already claimed it.

What’s making Bezos popular recently, however, are his annual letters to Amazon’s shareholders. The shareholder letters do not just tell its intended readers the direction that the company plans to take. They’re also filled with insights on leadership, business, and people management.

As an HR leader or a business owner, you can learn a lot from Jeff Bezos’s shareholder letters. Here are 4 of the most valuable lessons that you can get from reading them.

1. Know the people whom you’re efforts are for and focus on them.

If there’s one thing to learn from Amazon’s obsession with customers, it’s that it pays to deeply know the people whom your work is for. Yes, that’s with an emphasis on the word “deeply.” You can follow Bezos’s footsteps and focus on your customers if you’re a business owner. If you’re a manager or an HR professional, you have your team members and the company’s employees to give your full attention to.

“Knowing,” in this context, means being able to predict needs that people may have but are not yet aware of. The payoffs? Engagement and loyalty. People, be they employees or customers, are more likely to hold onto a brand or a company once they feel that it understands them perfectly.

2. Embrace trends.

There’s more to embracing trends than wanting to have a fresh new image or being pulled into the bandwagon. It also means that you realize how inevitable change is, especially if you’re dealing with things like employee and customer satisfaction. People’s needs, desires, and motivations change over time, and as a leader or a business owner, you must know better than to simplistically, in the words of Bezos, “fight the future.”

3. Watch out for “proxies.”

“Proxies,” according to Bezos, can be anything that you can mistake for your goal or desired result. It can be a business process that you keep on following despite the poor returns that it yields. Or it can even be data, the results of a survey or a study, that you deemed faultless and relevant whatever the circumstances are.

Focusing on proxies can lead to a massive waste of time and other resources. It’s easy and self-gratifying until you realize you’ve moved so far away from your true goal. To stay on the right track, you’ll have to ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” and “Who am I doing this for?” each time you make a decision, especially one that will have a huge impact on other people’s lives.

4. One can “disagree and commit” at the same time.

Some leaders prefer to make all the decisions. Some, like Bezos, let others’ ideas and opinions take center stage, even though they’re completely different from their own. These leaders speak their mind and admit that they disagree with a plan, all without losing their willingness to contribute to that plan’s execution and success.

Using the phrase “disagree and commit” – as in “I disagree with you because (insert reason) but I commit to making your idea come to life” – helps a company or a team move past a difficult decision, a time when it’s hard to reach a consensus. Bezos described the use of the phrase perfectly: “It’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of my view, a chance for the team to weigh my view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way.”

“Disagree and commit” is no one way. Your team members or employees can use the phrase to honestly tell you what they think (before proceeding with your idea) as much as you can adopt it to let them do what’s best for your group or for your business.

Read Jeff Bezos’s shareholder letters for 1997 and 2017 here.


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