The Amazon Principles Of Leadership Are Hiding Something Important

published on 16 September 2021

The Origins Of The Amazon Leadership Principles

The Amazon Principles of Leadership came about from a project in 2004-2005 by the HR team of Mike George and Robin Andrulevich.  Jeff had noted his company had grown quickly and with young and inexperienced talent and felt they needed to codify the gold standard ways of working. In their first iteration there were 10 Leadership Principles, which in the subsequent years were modified and expanded into 14.

The Evolution Of The Amazon Leadership Principles

The Amazon Principles of Leadership aren’t just a set of Brand Values. They’re a literal guide to how an Amazonian should operate in their role, every day. They’re so embedded as a way of thinking, I know many Amazonian couples find themselves speaking to each other in Amazon Leadership Principles terms, even when they’re outside of working hours.

The Amazon Principles of Leadership have stayed pretty well intact since they were first codified. Every few years a little finessing is done to wording. Occasionally a new Leadership Principle is introduced or retired. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a new Leadership Principle appearing shortly, relating to Diversity and Inclusivity.

The Hidden Amazon Leadership Principle

There’s one Leadership Principle that until recently was an Amazon Leadership Principle unto itself- but was folded into another. I found it pretty surprising when the update was shared with the company, as it was one of those Leadership Principles that I saw demonstrated daily by the overwhelming majority of Amazonians.

Vocally Self Critica

Amazon was once described in a newspaper article as “where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.” Any Amazonian who hears this quote nods and smiles wryly.

The truth is that every Amazonian looks at their own work and thinks it could be better. Every Amazonian sits in a meeting and thinks every other person in that room is smarter than them. Amazonians have a common tendency to be personal perfectionists, never satisfied, always wanting to do better.

So even though “Vocally Self Critical” is no longer an Amazon Leadership Principle in its own right, you’ll still find it in the description of “Earn Trust”. And in reality, the term “Vocally Self Critical” is referred to extremely often by interviewers, as they assess candidates after their Amazon interview.

What To Do With This Hidden Amazon Leadership Principle

I recommend, when you’re preparing your Amazon interview question answers, that you make an addition to the STAR method for presenting your examples. I recommend you add an “I” to the end of STAR, making it STARI.

The “I” represents “Improvement”. At an Amazon interview there’s nothing an interviewer would love to hear more than your reflections on how you could have achieved a better outcome. And, if you really want to wow them, you should explain how you’ve actually taken what you have learned from that example and applied it in a later situation.

I suspect there might have been something about the optics, of having an Amazon Leadership Principle that requires employees to always be picking holes in themselves and their work. However, there’s no question that its a fundamental leadership quality at Amazon and your interview will go better if you include it.

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