Category Archives: Leadership

Debate Tenets

I’ve long thought having a set of guiding principles for any project is important (see my blog post “the 5Ps”; Purpose, Principles, Priorities, People, Plan). At Amazon I learned there was a synonym to the word principle: Tenet. I’ve heard Jeff Bezos say repeatedly “A team can never spend too much time debating their tenets.” Why is debating tenets so important? First, debating (and writing down) tenets ensures everyone is in agreement about critical questions that can’t …Continue reading

The Tension is Intentional

It is no accident many of the Amazon Leadership Principles seemingly contradict each other: they were carefully selected and crafted to encourage leaders to be thoughtful about the gray area. Bias for Action vs. Think Big represent favorite example of this tension. Bias for Action – Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking. Think Big – Thinking small is a self-fulfilling …Continue reading

Good Intentions are Never Enough

Everyone has good intentions… Everyone WANTS to do the right thing (e.g., read the doc sent out by email the night before). But good intentions are never enough. Stuff doesn’t get done based solely on people’s good intentions. Change can’t happen based only on good intentions. What you need is a way to mechanize people’s good intentions. “Mechanisms” are the way. A Mechanism is a complete process that ensures things get done. A complete process is a ‘virtuous cycle’ that reinforces …Continue reading

Have Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

The Are right, A Lot Amazon Leadership Principle reads: Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs. A great mnemonic for remembering how to get better living the Are right, a lot LP is: Have strong opinions, weakly held. Stanford University professor Paul Saffo coined this term. “Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect — this …Continue reading

Everyone’s a Leader

The word leader is defined as: leader noun a person or thing that leads. The word leader is not a synonym of manager. Everyone is a leader. It’s entirely possible for a people manager to be a poor leader (which would be bad). Likewise, an individual contributor who’s a great leader might be a horrible people manager (which would be good as long as he/she stays an individual contributor). The only question is how well …Continue reading

Have a Plan (With Dates)

I’ve written a lot on the importance of having a plan. This week’s Leadership Principle tip doubles-down on that. Consider a status update: Bad: “The team will investigate the issue.” Good: “The team will complete the investigation of the issue by Tuesday afternoon and will share a plan for how to fix it by Thursday.” The Good version of this does a few things: It enables accountability on the next steps. It conveys the appropriate …Continue reading

How Meeting/Not-Meeting Goals relates to Earn Trust and Insist on Highest Standards

This week’s Leadership Principle tip is about how setting goals, and holding yourself accountable, relates to Earn Trust and Insist on Highest Standards.Continue reading

Dive Deep != Micromanaging

You’ve said it. You’ve heard others say it. You are not quite sure how you feel about it. “So-and-so is a micro-manager. He/she’s always in my shorts and doesn’t let me just do my job.” This week’s Amazon Leadership Principle tip may help you navigate this common meme more effectively. The following has been my pinned tweet for the past year: “The more details you know, the better questions you can ask. The better questions …Continue reading

Just Right Porridge and Leadership Principles

Last week I wrote about Have Backbone, Disagree and Commit. This week the topic is about how to get the balance right when living Leadership Principles. Just as it is possible to not live a leadership principle (under-index), it is possible to over-do them. The key is to find the balance and be like mama bear’s porridge: Just Right. “Moderation in all things” ― Aristotle Yes, it is possible to over-do even Customer Obsession. A …Continue reading

Have Backbone, Disagree and Commit

Have Backbone, Disagree and Commit Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly. – Amazon’s Leadership Principles This Leadership Principle actually combines two principles that go hand-in-hand. First, there’s the “Have Backbone” part and then the part about disagreeing but committing …Continue reading

Kindel’s Law

Kindel’s Law – Every payment system eventually becomes an anti-fraud system. -Charlie Kindel, 2013 I’m not sure how this law thing works. But I’m jealous of folks like Moore, Atwood, and Shannon. I think everyone should have a law named after them. In 2013, when I was tasked with build Amazon’s equivalent of ApplePay I had an epiphany. After studying all of the payment systems going back to the invention of currency up to credit …Continue reading

Tools to Achieve Clarity of Thought

This post inventories the tools I use from my toolbox to drive clear thinking in product development. I was inspired to write this based on a Twitter conversation: The more details you know, the better questions you can ask. The better questions you ask, the more everyone gets clarity of thought. Better clarity of thought leads to better decisions. By everyone. Essentially. — Charlie Kindel (@ckindel) March 30, 2018 Charlie’s Clarity of Thought Toolbox Write …Continue reading

Ownership

A strong bias towards ownership is important in org culture. The problem is, folks often over-index on ‘I own this area, so I’m going to nail it!’ vs. ‘I am an owner on behalf of the entire company and need to do the right thing for our customers!’. The key is to balance these. Amazon’s definition tries to make this tension apparent by explicitly stating ownership is broader than themselves or their team: Ownership Leaders …Continue reading

Clear Narratives Show Instead of Tell

This is yet-another-post on the topic of Amazon-style “six-page memos,” aka Narratives. This post focuses on the mantra: “Great narratives show, they don’t tell.” When writing things you believe to be facts, ask yourself: How do I know? How can I qualify it? Then, qualify it in your words. Tell (Bad): The BMW E28 M5 is a rare car. Show (Good): Of the 722,328 E28 5-series sedans BMW built between 1981 and 1987, only 2,191 …Continue reading

Customer, Business, Technology, Organization (CBTO)

CBTO = Customer + Business + Technology + OrganizationContinue reading

Details Matter in Presenting Narratives

Narratives are written documents used to present clear thinking. Narratives enable readers to quickly understand the author’s ideas in order to drive robust conversations and decisive decision making. Details matter when it comes to printing narratives for others to read. Sloppy presentation of the written word detracts from content and shows the author lacks obsession about his or her customer (the reader). Authors must apply a very high standard for making it easy and pleasing …Continue reading

Merit Badges – A Mental Model for Success

A long-time mentor of mine, Chris Phillips, taught me the Merit Badge mental model. This mental model has given me clarity and peace of mind over the years when navigating big career decisions. What’s the Merit Badge mental model for measuring success? The concept of a Merit Badge comes from the Boy Scouts. The idea being a scout can only earn a particular merit badge (actually a patch that gets sewn onto a vest) by …Continue reading

What it Means to Be Great Product Manager

A Tweetstorm of mine from earlier in the week: https://twitter.com/natbro/timelines/611337333711843330 Piling on a comment @natbro made about PMs: Besides customers, there are two groups of people involved in building tech products: Engineers and everyone else. Only the engineers actually produce anything for the customer. The job of everyone else, especially PMs is to generate clarity and commitment to a purpose so that the engineers can create magic. Bad PMs don’t get this and think the …Continue reading

Attention is the Currency of Leadership

Great leaders optimize how they spend their attention. They are skilled at turning up the heat to get others to focus their attention on the right things at the right times. Attention is the currency of leadership, and each person has a fixed amount of attention to spend. “Leaders have a fixed amount of attention units they can spend in a day, week, or year. Are you spending yours on the right things?” (A mentor …Continue reading

Find Work That Does Not Feel Like Work

The first thing I ask people who are looking for a new job is “What work do you want to do in your ideal job?” It is interesting how few people answer this question. Almost everybody wants to answer different questions like “What do you want to work on?” or “What kind of work environment are you looking for?” They respond with answers like “I want to work on a small dynamic team with other …Continue reading