Days before Jeff Bezos stepped down as Amazon CEO, the company added two new items to the renowned list of leadership principles by which it operates. Though the principles aren’t signed or associated with a specific executive, they were almost certainly written by Bezos. They’re a distillation of themes he discussed in his final shareholder’s letter.
The new principles appear to be a farewell gift from Bezos to the company he founded, and to everyone who reads and follows them, as every leader should. Here they are.
1. Strive to be Earth’s best employer.
“Leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just work environment,” this principle begins.
It goes on to talk about how leaders can better empower employees and concludes:
“Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees’ personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.”
In Bezos’s shareholder letter, he discussed the vote earlier this year to unionize Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Employees there voted down the union by a large margin. But, Bezos wrote, “Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success.” He went on to note that Amazon’s goal had always been to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company. That goal still stands, he wrote, but he was adding a second one.
Smart employers everywhere will follow his lead. Companies like to say that “our people are our greatest asset.” It’s become one of those corporate clichés right up there with “safety is our top priority.” Most of the time, this is nonsense. Companies earn the most by maximizing shareholder value, which means cutting costs where possible, and for most, their employees are by far their biggest cost.
But “strive to be the Earth’s best employer” is a very different statement from “our people are our greatest asset.” It’s aspirational, something that demands continuous work to improve. And it’s a very good idea in a time when competition for talent is fiercer than it’s ever been.
2. Success and scale bring broad responsibility.
“We started in a garage, but we’re not there anymore,” this principle says. “Our local communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every day. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave things better than how they found them.”
In the letter, he said this: “If you want to be successful in business (in life, actually), you have to create more than you consume. Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with.” Creating more than you consume and creating value for everyone you interact with is a very different idea from leaving things better than you found them. You could create value for your customers, partners, and employees while mistreating the environment and widening your carbon footprint. That’s how untold numbers of companies large and small operate today. But it is most definitely not leaving things better than you found them.
Bezos has already made a very public commitment to combating climate change. In the shareholder letter, he wrote about the Climate Pledge, launched in 2019, which 110 other companies have signed, and about Amazon’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. He noted that Amazon is the world’s largest buyer of renewable energy.
He also argued that taking steps to fight climate change would be good for the economy and would lead to a more prosperous future, as well as a healthier one for both people and the planet. But, he added, it wouldn’t be easy. He wrote:
“The coming decade will be decisive. The economy in 2030 will need to be vastly different from what it is today, and Amazon plans to be at the heart of the change.”
You don’t need to be a behemoth the size of Amazon, or even a large company at all, to follow this principle. Every company, and every leader should. Creating value for customers and employees is how you achieve success in the short term. Leaving things better than you found them is how you create a legacy.