Bezos v. Jassy Meets Caring Leadership

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Amazon, the customer, then the Employee-Is it Worth it?

Jeff Bezos, the business tycoon and founder of Amazon, stepped down as CEO on July 5. The reins are now in the hands of Andy Jassy. I recently was a guest on the Bloomberg Business podcast and had the pleasure of discussing my advice to Andy Jassy. My portion of the interview begins at 00:20:40. 

I’m sure many of us have heard whispers about the company culture of Amazon, one of the world’s largest tech companies. In all the research I did for this post, the number one thing I found on Amazon’s company culture is that it is customer-centric. Always and first and foremost, the customer. Contrarily, here at Employee Fanatix, we work hard to meet the needs of each employee to meet the needs of the customer better. 

How can my idea of Caring Leadership, which has become a little online ecosystem, which you can find here, fit into the corporate beast of a company like Amazon?

Most Recent Updates

recently read that before Jassy became CEO, Amazon updated its leadership principles to be more employee well-being and empathy-centric. While this sounds like a massive step in the right direction, it makes me a little nervous. How often do companies swimming in wealth hand out great compensation and benefits hoping to atone for the harsh working reality?

In the Bloomberg Businessweek podcast, I discussed how Bezos was often aloof and advised Jassy to listen more. I also saw that Jassy is known to be more personable (see here). 

Additionally, rather than throwing the dog a bone and extending benefits packages or increasing wages, I hope that Amazon digs into the core of the issue. I hope that Andy Jassy will seek out first-hand stories of the company he now stands at the helm of. Figure out what it is that really makes the ship rock. Long hours? Harsh working conditions? Obsessiveness with speed? Besides, a generous 401k and a pat on the back won’t fix these issues. 

I argue that shifting this focus to your employees and their needs does not contradict your customer-centric leadership approach. In fact, if your employees feel heard and see that you are caring for their actual needs, they will feel valued and live out the mission of their work even more. 

The Solution

After listening to the very real concerns and complaints of the Amazon employees, it might be daunting to consider the changes that can no longer be avoided. Instead, Jassy should gather his leaders and discuss the best solution for their employees. Ultimately, they might even have to even consider altering their 14 company leadership principles

I firmly maintain that you can put both customers and employees first within an organization. It’s simple-just care for people, on both ends, wherever they are. Definitely listen on both ends. Grow and maintain a culture that sustains the level of work output and the employees’ wellbeing. 

If you’ve heard an Amazon warehouse horror story or any tale of the workers feeling burnt out, then you are not alone. Leaders can’t problem-solve this one on their own. There is a huge need for inclusiveness, and I’m not talking just about marginalized groups. I’m talking about the frontline workers, the ones who are in the midst of the issues. 

I think that this multi-level inclusion actually fits perfectly with the following of Amazon’s leadership principles: 

Learn and Be Curious; Nobody in life ever finishes learning, and this includes leaders at Amazon. People in charge at Amazon should always be looking for how to know better and be better. Leaders are always seeking options as well as looking for ways to explore them.

What Amazon Can Do

What better way to “know better and be better” than by using the voices of the people who work with you? This allows you to find perfectly tailored solutions to their needs. This work doesn’t have to be internal, added to the plates of people already experiencing burnout. There are people out there like my team, who come in to handle this challenging change process for you and your organization.

Leaders, if you’ve ever had your organization compared to Amazon, are worried about a bad reputation for employee wellbeing, or have experienced firsthand the trials that your team has to work through, then start here. Above all, start with listening.

On the Basis of Politics

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The Loophole

In 2018, the movie “On the Basis of Sex” was released. In following the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it reveals how one woman and her husband derailed sex-based discrimination within our country’s legal and political system. It all started with one case, a loophole if you will. Ruth and her husband take a case about sex-based discrimination against a man to eventually cause hundreds of sexist laws against women to be changed. 

While the vast majority of the sexist plight subjugates women to injustices, this story reveals the beauty of equality as a fight for a man’s justice brings about greater equality for women. 

Revived Social Justice

Flash forward to 2021 – a year ago, our country was on fire both figuratively and literally as a new social justice movement was born out of horrible crime. As a country, we are pushing with full force forward as the progressive future becomes a reality day by day. Stories of atrocities have lit up the racism in our societies, allowing people who were previously oblivious to find it difficult not to see the light. 

Our country, and more importantly, its people, have lots of healing and work to do to eradicate race-based discrimination from our Nation. Unlike in the movie “On the Basis of Sex,” the call for equality for all, regardless of race, rings loudly from the vast majority of people. 

On the Basis of Politics

Soon after the tragic death of George Floyd, there was an election. Maybe most of you, like myself, have tried to forget the turmoil and drama of those tense months. Our country has two primary political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. While one of these parties covers more of the progressive social change that our Nation is charging towards, the other is often perceived as hate- filled. 

Here at Employee Fanatix, we echo a call for equality, justice, authenticity, inclusion, and belonging for all. For all. In other words, we obviously do not stand for sex-based discrimination or race-based discrimination. We do not support any discrimination, not even political-based discrimination. 

I have heard small voices in safe corners speak out about the discrimination that Republicans have felt in their workplaces. Right-leaning citizens of our country and employees in your workplaces are often fear-filled and silent, or outright judged and “put on blast” for their beliefs. “It was not a safe space for Republicans in 2016”. A statement I heard on a Listening Session that still rings in my ears. This isn’t just a new phenomenon. This is deep-rooted divisiveness. And if I am going to proudly work to build unity in our workplaces, then I am going to stand behind this cause as well. 

Another Loophole

Why am I speaking about this all now, during the calm after the storm of the election? A few weeks ago, I was on a call, and I witnessed a microaggression on the basis of politics. Someone was describing the most racist city they had ever experienced. They said it was filled with segregation, ripe with discrimination, and that people were even flying the Confederate flag. This incomplete statement reveals a sad truth about the reality of racism in our country. That portion of the statement is entirely deplorable, but it’s what came next that shocked me.

That city is filled with segregation, ripe with discrimination, people are even flying the Confederate flag, and some people are still flying their Trump flags.  

The undertone: If you align with the Republican party, then you are implicitly racist. 

Now, if we want everyone to be able to voice their opinion without experiencing judgment or, worse, hatred, then that means Republicans and Democrats alike. If we proudly speak out for social change on dozens of social inequalities, we should let go of our smaller, quieter biases that come out roaring during election years. Because  Republican and racist aren’t synonymous. 

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and thankfully we have the right to speak freely in our country. However, when those opinions are actually assuming moral judgments about a person’s character, well, that’s just an offense. It’s a stereotype, and we are working so hard to eliminate microaggressions tied to stereotypes. 

Respect Every Voice

There are bad people on both sides of the political spectrum, among all the sexes, and in every racial group. There are bad people everywhere, but there are also good people everywhere. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are out to tear down Americans. People choose their political party based on their belief system. Polarized opinions on big or small issues do not determine who the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are. It’s our daily actions, our words, our respect for our neighbors, our ability to be caring, regardless of a person’s identity. 

How incredible is it that we live in a society that raises the voices of minorities and seeks social justice? Well, that action doesn’t actually bring about inclusion or unity if it exclusively only welcomes the Left. What about when there’s a microaggression against what’s referred to as the “majority”? That “majority” that feels silenced, afraid and un-welcomed? We have ourselves another loophole. A loophole brought down sexism in the legal framework of our country. Let’s not overlook these loopholes. Equality depends on it. 

I invite you all to join me as I work with Employee Fanatix to eradicate discriminatory behaviors from our workplaces and our world. There is no more space for divisiveness. Let’s focus on this now in the calm after the storm so that the next time a storm blows through, the damage done won’t be as great.  

Authenticity, but Only if You’re Kind

authenticity workplace kind
Authenticity: Yay or Nay?

Do you ever encourage authenticity in the workplace but wonder if maybe it’s too much? By this, I mean, have you encountered people in your lives who are authentically just not the best? Another term for the people I’m thinking of is “jerks”. How do you reconcile authentic behavior at work with people who are authentically inconsiderate, unkind, and perhaps obnoxious too?

Merriam Webster defines authentic as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” In this day and age, we are constantly calling for authenticity. Telling people to speak their truth, erecting safe spaces everywhere we can, and lifting the voices of people who have suffered throughout history. When we call for authenticity, our intentions are usually good, but this term and call to action can be overused. 

What do I mean by this? Think of it as the expression, “You do you,” at the core of this comment is separation. One person essentially is saying to another, ‘I disagree with part of this, but don’t care enough to say otherwise.’ It’s an interaction where two people do the best they can for themselves. 

True Authenticity

When we call for authenticity, it needs to help unite our employees. It should create more inclusion and less division. Ensure that your employees’ authentic selves are helping bring people closer together and not pushing others away. I’m sure we have all experienced people who come off as narcissistic and disrespectful. These types of people often don’t really care about other people’s needs or feelings. These authentic behaviors definitely do not bring people closer together. So, how can we work to exclude this sort of authenticity from our workplaces?

A Lesson in Authenticity

First of all, check yourself as you work to be authentic. Ask yourself, is your focus on yourself or on other people? Your focus needs to be directed outwards towards other people to accomplish the true purpose of authentic behavior. If you are only focusing on behaviors that feel self-fulfilling, you will more often than not exclude those around you without even realizing it. 

This leads me to my second point. Proper authentic behavior manifests itself in vulnerability—the good kind of vulnerability. To be truly vulnerable with your employees, you cannot have boundaries that exclude them from getting to know the real you. Again, it’s key that you are focusing outwards. If your attention is directed towards yourself, the people around you will sense this as a barrier to getting to know the real you. 

Some people shy away from being vulnerable at work, thinking that vulnerability requires sharing intimate details about one’s life. However, as Kristen Benefiel shares with me in an episode of The Leadership with Heart podcast, it is entirely possible to be vulnerable and yet listen more than you speak.  

Understand Your Own Value System

I devote an entire chapter of my most recent book, The Art of Caring Leadershipto the challenge of being authentic. The act of authenticity ties into knowing yourself so well that you can manage your behaviors and actions towards others. In particular, to inspire those around you in their own endeavors. A huge part of the journey towards authenticity is understanding your own value system. What are your motivators, what do you hope to be remembered for?

I promise you that if you put time and care into each step that I mentioned above, your authenticity will be perceived as the compassionate action it is. In addition, you will be authentic in an outward-focused way that helps you present yourself in a welcoming and inclusive manner to those around you.  

Let’s weed out the authenticity evoked by expressions like YOLO and “you do you”. Being authentic is a glorious unique trait, but it does not come without careful effort. Leaders, be the example for your teams. Make it so that any “authentic jerks” will see the beauty in the selfless act of real authenticity. The kind of authenticity that brings people together. 

3 Essential Steps to Create a Workplace of Belonging

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A Poll

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong somewhere? Have you experienced a panic-inducing bout of imposter syndrome? Been the black sheep of the group? Or even been verbally or physically excluded from a place or situation? Had no sense of belonging?

I’d bet my bottom dollar the answer to at least one of those questions was yes for everyone reading this. It’s a yes for me too. I was an outsider for most of my life. I grew up the literal black sheep of my family (you can read more about that here), and it took a long time before I could really find my place. It took an even longer time to feel like I belonged in this world. I had to navigate belonging under my own roof and with my relatives. Many are blessed not to have to face that challenge. 

I’m here to talk to you about belonging under a different roof. One that every employee in the world experiences: belonging at work. I have three tried and true recommendations for leaders to create a sense of belonging at work.

The Definition

When I say belonging, I mean “the feeling that you have value, a home or a place in which you are fully accepted”.

To clarify, you cannot possibly know if your employees feel like they belong without first knowing your employees. 

Step One

Let’s begin with step one. You have to seek to understand your employees in their own shoes, with all their intricacies that extend beyond the workplace. The deeper your understanding of your employee goes, the better suited you will be to find the perfect fit for them within your organization. 

One of the biggest mistakes glaring under the microscope of 2020 and 2021 is making assumptions about people. Assumptions lead to microaggressions, misunderstanding, and otherwise harmful behaviors. Start to understand your employees better by practicing active listening and including everyone’s voices in the conversation. However, if you’d like more information on this step, you can read about it in my book under the chapter on listening cultures. You can also listen to this podcast episode with Sarah Bierenbaum.

Step Two

The second step in creating a culture of belonging is to seek out your teams’ strengths and let them shine. This builds off the previous step. If you have already spent time connecting with and getting to know your team better, it won’t be too challenging to discover their unique talents. There are five key ways to uncover your teams’ strengths. I go into detail about them in my book, but I’ll refer to a couple here as well. Go to the employee themself. Ask them where they think they shine and where their biggest area for improvement is. Ask them which part of their job is their favorite; we tend to enjoy doing what we’re good at. In addition, offer your team assessments like Strengthsfinder, DISC, Meyers Briggs. 

Accompany these new behaviors with recognition and positive feedback, even if the result is a failure. Commend your employees for trying and testing their limits. If you would like to learn more about uncovering your teams’ strengths and maximizing them, listen to this podcast episode with Timbra Yoakum. 

Step Three

Ironically, the third step to creating a sense of belonging is, in fact, inclusion. You will only feel that you truly belong somewhere if you are welcomed to the table. Trust is the foundation for any safe space to be possible. There needs to be an explicit and implicit invitation to your employees to speak openly and honestly.

Furthermore, welcoming your employees’ voices helps them feel safe and cared for. You can begin this process of inclusion by sharing your own stories first. Lead by example. If you want a more detailed explanation of this, I invite you to listen to this episode of my podcast with Mark Nagel. In it, we dig deeper into the creation of safe spaces and how to encourage your team to open up and let their voices be heard. 

If you have any more questions about the intricacies of creating a sense of belonging within your organizations, then please join us in the Caring Leadership Community! Also, I invite you to take the Caring Leadership Self-Assessment to gauge where your strengths and areas of improvement are. This will better guide you as you create a culture of caring within your workspace.