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Posted by on in strategy | 9 comments

14 Leadership Principles from Amazon and How They Apply to Your Church

14 Leadership Principles from Amazon and How They Apply to Your Church

Amazon continues to be a force in our culture. In the run up to Christmas they sold 426 items per second! I just finished reading Brad Stone’s fascinating study of Amazon called The Everything Store. I was struck by the 14 leadership principles that Amazon (and CEO Jeff Bezos) operates by and wondered how they might apply to leading in a church. Here are my reflections on the principles … I’d love to hear yours in the comments!

Customer Obsession // Leaders start with the customer and work backward.

  • Even a cursory amount of research on Amazon reveals they are obsessed with serving customers. They fixate on crafting easier and better customer experiences — 1-Click Ordering, Prime Membership, Kindles — the list goes on and on! How obsessed are church leaders about our guests? Do we listen to them and try to understand how we can create better experiences? It’s humbling to see a retailer so passionate about serving people. Do we at least match that intensity with our important mission?

Ownership // They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own teams.

  • Once your church grows beyond 200+/- people the silos and fiefdoms begin to multiply. Departments try to outdo one another with their volunteer thank-you events and swag. We cheer just a little louder when our team does something right. One group of creative communication types may sneer at something that another group does. We need to help our teams ask the bigger question: How are we working to see all departments, campuses, teams, and people win at our church?

Invent and Simplify // As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

  • When was the last time we tried something new? I mean really new … something that people might think you’re crazy for doing. Amazon plays the long game on a lot of its projects and is misunderstood all the time. Some of it has worked (Amazon Web Services) and some of it has bombed (Fire Phone), but they’re in the game to grow their business and delight customers. Why don’t churches have research and development departments? How can we be misunderstood this year?

Are Right, A Lot // Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts.

  • This is an interesting value for church leaders to consider. Where is the tension between strong leadership and a lack of humility? I’ve met a lot of amazing church leaders with great instincts but they hold back because they don’t want to be perceived as pushy.

Hire and Develop the Best // Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion.

  • When you transition from being a solo pastor to a multi-staff church, the most important thing you can do is hire and develop your staff. While I totally believe this to be true, I haven’t always lived it out. Like all non-profits, we’re stretched for time and energy. Hiring can fall to the bottom of a very long and pressing list. I’ve been caught (more than once) with the dilemma of hiring too early, thinking “someone is better than no one.” It’s bit us every time.

Insist on the Highest Standards // Leaders have relentlessly high standards, which many people may think are unreasonably high.

  • Our mission as church leaders is the most important thing on the planet. There is nothing more important than what churches do. So why do we lack that level of intensity? I’ve met a lot of church leaders who tolerate incredibly low standards and I think that is the one thing that is holding their ministries back. Building a growing church takes a lot of intense work — emphasis on a lot and intense.

Think Big // Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results.

  • You can’t out-dream God. 10x your thinking. Don’t launch one campus … ask what would happen if you launched five in one weekend! Don’t settle for having your book published … give it away to 30,000 people … for free! What happens if you fail? You only launch three campuses … or only give away 20,000 books? Think of the impact.

Bias for Action // Speed matters in business. We value calculated risk-taking.

  • “Jesus is coming back, look busy.” There are seasons in your ministry when you need increased momentum. When people are ready to invite their friends … do everything you can to encourage it. Don’t wait to launch that new student ministry next year … those kids just keep getting older. For whatever reason God seems to work with those people who are willing to take action. I don’t totally understand it, but I do know that faith is a verb and it requires us to participate. Do something … see what happens … adjust course.

Embrace Frugality // Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention.

  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s first desk was made of doors bought from Home Depot and bolted together. He still uses a “door desk” today … and many of the conference rooms at Amazon have “door conference tables.” Spend money where it makes an impact on your guests and cut back on everything else, so you can spend it on your guests. Your offices can be too nice. Your staff party can be too extravagant. Watch your spending and invest in what matters most.

Be Vocally Self-Critical // Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume.

  • Love this one! Leaders who believe their own good press drive me up the wall. You’d think this value would be easy for church leaders to live out … we are all keenly aware of being fallen and our need for a Savior. However, we do like the smell of our own perfume just a little too much.

Earn Trust of Others // Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.

  • Trust is earned and not given. It’s earned through listening with humility. What process do you have in your church for listening to people who might disagree with you? Recent scandals in our community prove that there can be an unhealthy culture in churches where leaders don’t listen to people around them. In fact, they use spiritual language to silence people who disagree with them. This needs to stop.

Dive Deep // Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. No task is beneath them.

  • When was the last time you actually experienced what it’s like to come to your church? (Or any church for that matter?) Being the “first in, last out” gives you a false sense of what it’s like. How can you dive deep into the experience that you provide? What do “normal people” experience at your church? How can you use your leadership to make it better?

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit // Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting.

  • Some of the healthiest church leadership teams I’ve seen have serious disagreements. I mean red-faced, passionate disagreements … not passive-aggressive, stab-you-in-the-back battles. The stakes are super high, so it’s understandable that we’ll find ourselves on different sides of issues and opinions. If no one is fighting (well) in your leadership team meetings, you probably have the wrong people in the room.

Deliver Results // Leaders focus on the key inputs for their businesses and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion.

  • What are the results you are attempting to deliver? We all think about noses and nickels — weekend attendance and revenue — but what are your other key performance indicators? How many first-time guests came last month? How does that compare to last year? What is your volunteer attrition rate? Is it going up or down? Numbers matter … even if you aren’t a “numbers person,” you need to understand the numbers that show the health of your church.

9 Comments

  1. I am relieved that ‘bald head’ wasn’t on the list. 😉

  2. Church leaders relax and “be still… “, this is a spoof article :). If you followed all the “helpful” advice in here you’d end up with a burnt – out congregation of drifters all looking for the next “big high” with shallow depth to their spirituality because they’d all been busy conforming to the leader’s empire building conquest. And the leaders would be taking huge pay cuts to give to their guests – lol, maybe Joel O and co could learn a lesson here? Perhaps not.

    So be still and cultivate practicing the presence of Christ, opening up the ancient wells and seeking the old ways, rather than those of a company which prides itself on pushing its workers beyond breaking point to make the numbers bigger.

    • Matt … thanks for dropping by and commenting.

      Not so much a spoof article … as a piece to help us extract what we can out of company that is making a difference in our world. But like all cultural learning points we need to be wise. Chew up the meat … spit out the bones! 😉

      – Rich

  3. Exactly what I’m thinking about lately. After a decade on staff at a church of 1500, I’ve spent the last 2 ½ years pastoring a turnaround that’s grown from 80 to 250. I’m currently considering this sense in my gut that I’ve got the energy and charisma to draw a crowd, I’m surrounded by gifted enough leaders to develop systems to hold & connect them, so all I have to do is find a way not to run them off and God will be faithful. Multiplying group space is good, but not necessarily associated with people growing. Excellent music may or may not be worshipful, and charismatic preachers may or may not be Godly people worth listening to. The skills you listed are Talented men may bud large gatherings that God never visits, and humble men may pastor tiny congregations that have been dead for years. Neither honors God, and so neither should be our aim.

    The skills listed would be useful for building large churches, hospitals, movie theaters, or any other customer oriented endeavor. But Amazon has the luxury of not knowing how many of their people are getting divorced, cheating on their taxes, losing battles to addiction, or hopelessly self-absorbed and disconnected from reality. The Church not only must know, but it must speak with courage and love and a commitment to reconciliation as a first best option.

    Jesus didn’t call us to go and build big churches, or any churches for that matter. In fact, He specifically claimed that job as his own. Jesus told us to make disciples who obey. That’s not a scalable task, nor is it directly transferable from person to person and my experience has been that while size exposes more people to the information and theories of the process, fewer of those people are personally and intentionally guided and supported into a lifestyle of accountable growth.

    I was discipled well at a large church, but know (and feel the weight of) lots of others who actively engaged in the church without much evidence or concern for spiritual growth.

    Church growth is a function of leadership. Spiritual growth is a function of Pastoral care. I am a good leader, but I’m not sure that I’ve been a very good pastor. I think I’ll be held accountable for how well I grow in that area, but I don’t believe the measure will be either nickels or noses.

    Thanks for enduring. I’m honestly wrestling with this issue, and pray for the Church’s greatness to be greater than anyone could ever attribute to natural talent or skilled leader could muster.

    • Jason … I think this is a critical insight: Church growth is a function of leadership. Spiritual growth is a function of Pastoral care.

      As our churches grow we need to surround ourselves with people who broaden our leadership … who change our point of view. Using our leadership to see the pastoral gaps and build our teams to meet those needs.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

      – Rich

  4. As someone who is both a Christian and works at Amazon as an operations leader, I really enjoyed seeing how you intertwined our leadership principals with the dynamics of the church. The principles are referenced often in our business decisions at the company and have become the yardstick for where we decide to put our efforts. The same could be said for our Christianity in terms of where we spend our time and energy. Are we investing in the long game (eternity) or are we being temporal in our thinking and striving for just earthly gains?

  5. Great article!

  6. I found this article while studying for my Amazon interview, looking for examples some past applicants may have posted around.
    Just wanted to drop a little comment/acknowledgement/congratulations on the article, and how great your interpretation of these principles was for such a different environment.
    These definitely helped me in finding examples of my own, and in understanding these principles from an outside point of view.

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