Amazon Leadership Principles

For Managers

Amazon has a market cap of over $1 trillion (let that sink in for a minute!), making it one of the most valuable companies in the world by that metric. The meteoric rise of Amazon is due, at least in part, to the Amazon Leadership Principles that have become central to the company’s culture.

Thought of as a potential dot com bust back in 2000, Amazon has battled through and triumphed over two market collapses. The company’s quirky and famous founder, Jeff Bezos, believes a strong core company culture is essential to success. So, Bezos and an early leadership team created the Amazon 14 Leadership Principles. In 2021, 27 years after the company’s founding, Amazon added 2 additional Leadership Principles, now making it 16 Amazon Leadership Principles. These Amazon leadership principles influence everything from team dynamics to interview questions.

Amazon Leadership Principles

Table of Contents:

      1. Customer Obsession
      2. Ownership
      3. Invent and Simplify
      4. Are Right, A Lot
      5. Learn and Be Curious
      6. Hire and Develop the Best
      7. Insist on the Highest Standards
      8. Think Big
      9. Bias for Action
      10. Frugality
      11. Earn Trust
      12. Dive Deep
      13. Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
      14. Deliver Results
      15. Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer
      16. Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

What Are the Amazon Leadership Principles?

Taking a step back, as a founder develops a company, one of the most critical decisions is defining the company’s principles. This decision is essential as it will help shape the company’s focus areas and give company employees a “guidebook” on how to build the product, how to make decisions, how to treat customers, etc. Amazon’s leadership principles have been developed over the last 20+ years with Jeff Bezos stating Amazon’s mission was “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company” in his first shareholder letter in 1997.

Ultimately, Amazon considers its leadership principles as “an integral part of the fabric of Amazon’s culture”; as you can see in the graphic below, the principles really make up the company’s DNA. Per Amazon, “Amazon’s Leadership Principles are great tools that help us foster autonomous decision making as the company scales, and helps leaders lead beyond their immediate line of sight.”

amazons leadership principles
Source: Amazon

Amazon screens for the principles during the candidate’s interview (see Management Consulted’s guide to the Amazon interview here). To succeed in the interview, it is important to first understand what it means to live by the principles. Then, it is equally important to understand if you want to work at a company with these principles. For example, some of the principles including “insist on the highest standards”; “bias for action”; “dive deep”, speak to how Amazon is one of the world’s most innovative and successful companies.

On the other hand, these principles may imply that Amazon has a worse work life balance than other companies. In addition, the principle around “have backbone; disagree and commit” is great for candidates who love sharing their point of view and being contrarian at times but may be difficult for candidates who like to always drive towards consensus.

Keep reading for more details around each leadership principle. In addition, click here for an overview around how Amazon integrates the leadership principles into employees’ daily lives.

  1. Customer Obsession

Leaders are customer centric, so much so that customer preferences and needs become an obsession. This means they always endeavor to work backwards from what the customer might think or want in deciding what to do with the product or service. Deep insight into what drives customer loyalty and trust should be even more important than a deep understanding of competitive strengths and weaknesses, market trends, or technology. Examples of Amazon’s customer obsession include its fast delivery times (e.g., same day delivery on some qualifying orders) and in Amazon’s holistic offerings to serve the whole consumer (e.g., shopping for food or other goods; watching TV; listening to music). For more about Amazon’s customer obsession, see here.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about a time you knew you couldn’t do everything the client wanted. How did you prioritize, and what was the outcome?
    • Give me an example of a time things went very poorly in a customer interaction or when delivering a service or product. How did you try to make things right?
    • In your experience, what makes some customers especially difficult to manage while others are easier?
    • Tell me about a time you chose to apologize for doing something wrong, even though you weren’t 100% sure it was your fault.
    • Have you ever obsessed over giving high quality service to a customer?
  1. Ownership

Leaders adopt an ownership mindset. They don’t view themselves as simply employees, they think of themselves as owners. This causes them to think long term, imagining how each action will play out in terms of results today, tomorrow, and far into the future. They do what’s best for the company, keeping in mind value creation for customers, shareholders, employees, and stakeholders. For example, AWS keeps teams small so that each team member is empowered to act as an owner and take accountability for each decision. Increasing the ownership and accountability of each employee not only reduces bureaucracy but also enables other leadership principles (e.g., bias for action).

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult short term decision to make long term gains.
    • Tell me about a time when you took on a task that went beyond your normal responsibilities.
    • Tell me about a time when you took it upon yourself to work on a challenging initiative.
  1. Invent and Simplify

Again, Amazon is one of history’s most successful companies and its ability to be so innovative despite its size is truly remarkable. Amazon spurs innovation by empowering its employees to quickly invent / iterate on solutions. Per Andrew Jassy (current CEO of Amazon; prior CEO of Amazon Web Services), “Speed disproportionately matters at every stage of your business, and in every sized company…Speed is not preordained. Speed is a choice. You can make this choice. And you’ve got to set up a culture that has urgency.” (Link here).

To succeed at Amazon, it is imperative that you are okay with failing fast and learning from that failure to try something new.

Further, to achieve rapid timelines, it is important to have a product that is intuitive and may not have all the bells and whistles (at least in the first iteration). Albert Einstein is even often quoted as having said “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Focusing on simplicity can also help consumer adoption of the product / solution.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about a time when you failed to simplify a process and what you would have done differently.
    • Tell me about a time when you innovated on something and it went wrong.
    • Tell me about a time when you changed a process at work through either an innovative new way or simplification.
    • Have you ever invented a service, product, or process that could truly be described as unique?
    • Give me an example of a time that you were faced with a complex problem, but the solution you designed could be described as simple.
  1. Are Right, A Lot

Leaders should be objective and fact-based. They should seek the counsel of others and incorporate diverse perspectives when they make decisions. They should also be willing to admit when they are wrong. With that said, leaders should expect that they will be right a lot and have the confidence to lead in the direction they deem best. Given Amazon moves so quickly as a company, it is important for Amazon employees to have strong business judgment, so the company moves in the right direction. All that to say, employees should still encourage debate to make sure they are getting to the best answer.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about a time when you had to rely primarily on your judgment to solve a problem because there was limited data available.
    • Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision with a partial data set?
    • When was the last time you made an incorrect decision?
    • Tell me about a time when you incorporated a diverse set of perspectives into solving a problem.
    • Tell me about a time when you had your beliefs challenged and how you responded.

  1. Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are life-long learners. They are curious, interested in self-improvement, and seek feedback so they can learn how to improve. They are naturally inclined to explore diverse perspectives and methods of doing things. Again, the IT space (and even the CPG space) is evolving rapidly (e.g., for grocery, there was the proliferation of ultra-fast grocery delivery companies). To stay ahead of the curve, it is important for Amazon employees to continue to dig deeper and want to learn about the newest trends / innovations.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about a time when your superior command of the underlying facts or dynamics of a situation helped you make a good decision.
    • Tell me about a time when your ability to ask probing questions is what helped a group or individual reach a solution?
    • Tell me about an experience you went through that changed your way of thinking.
    • Tell me about a time when your curiosity helped you make a smarter decision.
    • Tell me about the most important lesson you learned in the past year.
  1. Hire and Develop the Best

Leaders hire very well and enjoy being mentors. They are not afraid of developing exceptionally talented subordinates and allowing them to receive credit and advance through the organization. Leaders are serious about spending time coaching others. They actively seek opportunities to give and to receive feedback. At the end of a day, a large company will only succeed if it can get exceptional people in the door (and this is especially true as a company scales). Given Amazon’s breadth across so many areas, it is key to have superstars across all departments – a visionary founder is not enough to build a multi-billion / trillion dollar company.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Have you ever coached someone successfully?
    • Tell me about the best hire you’ve ever made. How about the worst? How did each situation play itself out?
    • What qualities do you look for most when hiring others?
    • Who is the most important person in your life and why?
  1. Insist on the Highest Standards

High standards are a hallmark of great leaders. These standards apply to everything in the organization, from hiring to manufacturing to product and service design and delivery. Again, as Amazon builds their teams, the commitment to excellence is abundantly clear. Amazon wants their team to deliver their best (A+) work. By infusing high standards into the values, Amazon looks for every layer of the organization to give their best. The principle is in a similar vein to the cliché phrase “Reach for the moon! Even if you miss, you will land among the stars!”

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Have you ever been on a team where a team member wasn’t doing what you expected of him or her?
    • Have you ever been unable to meet your own expectations? Why?
    • Tell me about a time when you raised the bar.
    • Tell me about a time when you motivated a team to go above and beyond.
    • Tell me about a time when you were dissatisfied with the quality of something at work and went out of your way to improve it.
  1. Think Big

Leaders believe that whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. So, they tend to pursue aggressive plans and provide bold direction to their teams. They are not afraid to pursue objectives that some people in and outside of the organization may believe simply can’t be done. They believe thinking big is a way of inspiring and encouraging others. As you apply this leadership principle to Amazon, it becomes especially apparent how much Amazon “lives” by this value given the extent that Amazon has transformed its business model. For example, Amazon has expanded into grocery, television, and even cloud computing!

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Have you ever gone way beyond the initial scope of a project and produced a positive result?
    • What academic or professional achievement are you most proud of?
    • Tell me about a time when you were disappointed because you didn’t think big enough.
    • Tell me about a time when your vision resulted in a big impact.
    • Tell me about a time when you had to make a bold and difficult decision.

  1. Bias for Action

Studies have shown that successful companies don’t necessarily make better decisions. But they do make more decisions. Leaders understand that even if things don’t work out, the benefit of making more decisions and having some of them be wrong is that you can learn, adjust, and improve. Leaders therefore have a bias for action and are comfortable taking calculated risks. Large companies often move slowly given they struggle with bureaucracy and layers (and layers) of required approvals. By emphasizing a bias for action, Amazon is looking to prioritize innovation and moving fast.

One way Amazon facilitates this is by breaking decisions down into two categories: 1-door and 2-door decisions.

    • A 2-door decision is one that is easy to reverse if necessary. These decisions (which are most of the ones we make) should be made quickly and with minimal oversight.
    • A 1-door decision is one with a more permanent outcome. These are the decisions that should be made with more intentionality and greater oversight.
Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • When was the last time you took a calculated risk?
    • What have you done in the past when you needed information from someone to make a decision, but they weren’t being responsive?
    • When was the last time you took the initiative to correct a problem instead of waiting for someone else to address it?
    • Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision with little data or information.
    • Tell me about a time when you made a decision too quickly and what you would have done differently.
  1. Frugality

While leaders avoid being “penny wise and pound foolish,” they also value being resourceful and seek to get as much out of resources as they can. They don’t want to overspend and seek to avoid paying too much for inputs. Many leaders could be accurately described as frugal. It is in their nature to try to do more with less. The push for frugality also corresponds with Amazon’s move to act fast. It is much easier to innovate and test and learn when you can set up many minimum viable product test cases.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about a time you had to rely on yourself to finish a task.
    • Tell me about a time where you turned down more resources to complete an assignment.
    • Tell me about a time when you beat out the competition with less resources.
    • Tell me about a time when you had to be frugal.
  1. Earn Trust

Leaders do not demand trust and allegiance from their peers and subordinates. They know and expect they will have to earn it first. They seek candid feedback, speak honestly, and listen to their teams. Further, new employees at Amazon (at any level) should be expected to work hard and earn their reputation. They should not come in with a large ego – rather, their reputation will be developed over time as they show good work and prove their value.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • What would you do if you found out that your closest friend at work is doing something potentially unethical?
    • What is the quality you value least about yourself?
    • What do you do to gain the trust of your teammates?
    • Tell me about a time you had to speak up in a difficult environment
  1. Dive Deep

Leaders view high level strategy development, major operational issues, and the nitty gritty of what it takes to execute day to day as part of their purview. They seek to avoid being micromanagers, but they also value understanding all levels of a business. They don’t view certain tasks as beneath them, and they understand that to effectively outsource and assign a task, it’s important to have a deep understanding of the task or activity first. In addition, by diving deep, Amazon employees are truly able to understand the root cause of any problems and be more effective problem solvers.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about the most complex problem you’ve ever worked on.
    • Tell me about a time when understanding the details of a situation helped you arrive at a solution.
    • Tell me about a time you utilized in depth data to come across a solution.
  1. Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are willing to respectfully challenge decisions even when it’s uncomfortable. Although they avoid “dying on their sword” over a minor disagreement, they won’t back down simply to move on or appease someone if they believe strongly that one path is right. Ultimately, Amazon wants to get to the right answer (not the easiest answer), and to get to the right answer, it is important to have a diversity of opinions. By engaging in productive debate and encouraging dissent, Amazon is enabling better decision making.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a team member’s approach and had to convince a group to go in a different direction?
    • Have you ever argued against doing something a direct manager was telling you to do? How did the situation play out?
    • Have you ever refused to accept the status quo, even when others were resistant to change?
    • Have you ever made a really unpopular decision? What did people think?
    • What do you believe that no one else does?

  1. Deliver Results

Leaders know that consistently doing things properly and putting in the effort will result in positive outcomes. But they are also committed to delivering results, staying on budget, and achieving stated goals. When there are setbacks, they tend to rise to the occasion and find a way to persevere. There is a saying in business that good operators can get things done. Ultimately, Amazon wants people that can get things done and deliver. Without results, plans (even the best laid ones) are essentially worthless.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Have you ever been more than halfway through a project, but forced to switch gears or change the approach –did you succeed?
    • Have you ever had to juggle multiple difficult assignments simultaneously? How did you prioritize and deliver results?
    • What is the hardest situation you have ever faced in your professional life? How did you handle it?
    • Tell me about a time you had too much on your plate to deal with and how you handled getting everything done.
    • Tell me about a time when everyone else on your team gave up on something but you pushed the team towards delivering a result.
  1. Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer

Leaders work to create a work environment where fellow employees can thrive. They look beyond themselves and ask, “What can I do to help others grow, have fun, and feel empowered at work?” Leaders take the success of their employees personally and seriously – not only while they are at Amazon, but elsewhere should they move on. Ultimately, Amazon will only be able to recruit and attain the best talent if they are able to be an inspiring employer…and Amazon’s mystique quickly unravels without its talent.

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about a time when you capitalized on an opportunity to help a co-worker or employee grow – how did you approach the situation, and what was the result?
    • Tell me about a time you worked to create a safer or more productive work environment without being prompted. What did you do?
    • Tell me an example of incorporating fun into your work-day.
  1. Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

Leaders live with humility and an awareness of how their actions affect others and the world around them. They recognize that they have a responsibility to make the world a better place, and to leave it better than they found it for the generations after them. They don’t take success lightly, but rather view it as the doorway to greater responsibility. Further, as Amazon scales, the business decisions Amazon makes impact the world. As Amazon puts it here, they “must be humble and thoughtful about the secondary effects of [their] actions.”

Amazon Leadership Principles Interview Questions Examples:
    • Tell me about a time you worked to contribute to something bigger than yourself. What was the impact of that?
    • Tell me about a time you left something better than you found it – big or small.
    • Have you ever been faced with a moral dilemma in the workplace? How did you respond?

Concluding Thoughts

Ultimately, Amazon has been one of the most successful companies in recent memory. Part of Amazon’s success can be attributed to Amazon’s leadership principles. This is given that the principles helped shape Amazon’s culture and employees’ actions. The principles ultimately supported Amazon’s level of innovation and nimbleness. Before applying to Amazon, it is important to know that you would enjoy working in a culture like Amazon’s. Further, when applying to Amazon, it is essential to exude the principles, given Amazon wants to hire employees that live by the principles.

If you are preparing for an interview with Amazon, prepare 12-15 of your best stories that are broad enough to answer a wide range of potential questions and scenarios. Our expert coaches help candidates prepare their stories and practice delivering them – book a session today.

 

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Filed Under: Consulting skills, Corporate Training, Leadership, Leadership & Management