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#VUHRD Research Spotlight Series | Who wants to follow the leader? - In practice at Amazon.com

August 22, 2017

Recently on the blog, we've been investigating Dr. Thoroughgood's & Dr. Sawyer's research on leadership styles and how they impact employees differently: “Who wants to follow the leader? Using personality and work value profiles to predict preferences for charismatic, ideological, and pragmatic styles of leading.This piece explores charismatic, ideological, and pragmatic styles of leadership.

 

Where can we see this research mirrored in the real world?

 

 

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com has come under both wide scrutiny and intense praise in his leadership and management of Amazon and its employees--a report from Allentown's The Morning Call in 2011 stated that employees at Amazon "were pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster until they were terminated, they quit or they got injured," and the company has been referred to as a "real-life hunger games." Yet, Bezos has also been praised for holding high standards for all employees, encouraging innovation and disruption, and the company's "thrilling power to create."

 

Why are new employees still drawn to Bezos's highly competitive, frantic, and cut-throat organization?

 

Bezos's leadership style is centered around his 'articles of faith' that "describe the way Amazonians should act." These rules are said to be integrated into the fabric of Amazon's culture throughout their hiring processes, daily correspondence, and utilized frequently in meetings--not merely lip service paid in a company mission statement that no one reads. Among the articles of faith includes that Amazonians "Are Right, A Lot"; "Insist on the Highest Standards"; display "Frugality"; and "Deliver Results." While this group of articles seems intense and perhaps intimidating, Amazonians are also encouraged to "Earn Trust"; "Think Big"; "Learn and Be Curious"; and feel"Ownership" in their work.

 

Given the intense culture that Bezos has created at Amazon, and the high standards he mandates of his employees, it is no surprise that not everyone is a good fit for this company. Many who fit the criteria, however, describe a somewhat cult-like appreciation and love for the company; "they had become addicted to Amazon's way of working."

 

According to Dr. Thoroughgood's & Dr. Sawyer's research on leadership styles, it seems as though Bezos likely falls into the category of the pragmatic leader. You'll remember from our first blog post in this series that the pragmatic leader is all about rationality and problem solving--more specifically, they "cut to the heart of a problem" (Thoroughgood & Sawyer, 2017, p. 3) using data analysis. We know that Bezos focuses on data when making the majority of his decisions for Amazon, and has done so since he was a child; the NYTimes article discussed how Bezos implored his grandmother to quit smoking by presenting the concrete information that she had taken 9 years off of her life. As an adult, Bezos continued to rely on"the power of metrics" to create Amazon from its beginning, taking inspiration from what he learned from working at a Wall Street financial firm: how to use algorithms to get the most out of every trade.

 

So, it is clear that Bezos's way of leading has helped him create the empire that is Amazon.com, which is constantly growing and does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.  We could certainly argue that his mode of leadership has been successful, given what he has built. However, the critiques of Bezos's leadership are extensive and widespread.  The question is then, could Bezos be equally successful while utilizing a different style of leadership that is less abrasive, and perhaps one that helps to foster intrinsic motivation of employees? Considering Dr. Thoroughgood's & Dr. Sawyer's research about the predictability of employee leadership style preferences based on personality profiles, is it safe to assume that Bezos is likely retaining one "type" of employee--a type that responds well to this leadership style and culture? Could Bezos be missing out on a more well-rounded workforce?  What do you think?

 

Stay tuned for our final blog post on this #VUHRD Research Spotlight Series this week about the best practices for considering leadership style in your organization.

 

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Photo credit: Robert Scoble & Mike Seyfang.

 

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