Abhinav Singh poses for a picture

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

We often talk about respect at the workplace and how effective leaders give respect to earn respect. Seldom do we discuss beyond that, on the “How” – What do effective leaders role model – what can we replicate?

Also, reading some Amazon’s principles like Are Right, A Lot and Have Backbone, Disagree and Commit one would not be wrong to wonder whether we prioritize confrontation, direct debate and feedback over respect. In fact, often, leaders at Amazon encourage debate.

So, what is the story then?

When assessing an effort, project or situation - begin your feedback with honest appreciation.

The story is that our leadership principles are well thought-through and there is tension designed inherently in them. The balancing act to the above two leadership principles is Earn Trust, which states:

“Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.”

It should now be clear that while we encourage debate, we do not tolerate disrespect. Some simple ways in which you can demonstrate respect to your team:

1) When assessing an effort, project or situation - begin your feedback with honest appreciation. Not something for the sake of saying, “Good job, now let’s get to what you messed up”. Pay attention, let go of biases – you will find areas that you’re truly appreciative of, talk about those and then honestly, objectively provide feedback on what needs to be done better.
2) Be right at most times, but readily accept when you are wrong too: Know your facts, but if you make a decision that proves false, own it and accept your error.
3) Instead of giving orders, try asking questions. I have found this to be a very effective tool that leaders have used with me here at Amazon. Often, I have surprised myself with solutions when asked a question along the lines of, “So how do you think we can solve this?” or “Do you think this other approach will work?” The result usually is a more optimal mix of ideas that the leader and I had in the first place.
4) Do not question intent. No one tries or sets out to make a mistake. No one wakes up and says, “Let me make a huge mistake today! That would be fun!” As leaders we should question the root cause, understand the process that failed and not question the intent of the person. Of course, there is accountability of actions and repeated omission of responsibilities will have consequences but do not start by questioning intent.
5) Walk the talk. Actions and behaviors speak louder than words. Be consistent in your approach, punctual with your meetings (especially with those who report to you), do not cancel one on ones, be responsive and genuinely listen.