A few months after joining Amazon, I was in charge of preparing a Jeff B presentation, i.e., what's internally referred to as a 6-pager strategy document. I could sense everyone's anxiety around getting the document perfectly ready for Jeff. And while I have presented and advised numerous CEOs in my prior career, I never thought this one would be that different.
Come meeting day. A fairly large meeting room sat 75-80 people. Around the table were seats for a good 30 people. In the middle of the table was a sticker for my sponsoring VP. People were sitting around him, which left the seats across from him empty. The one directly opposite from his was Jeff's seat and everyone knew it - except for me;) by the time I realized it, most of the other seats around the table were taken and I was left with a seat at the head of the table. There were many women in the 'audience', one senior female executive was joining us by phone but otherwise, I was the only woman at the table and the youngest ranking "officer." Quite intimidating, let me tell you.
Meeting starts with the document reading, but there is no sign of Jeff. People are still walking around and side discussions still taking place. And then in one fell swoop, there was silence. I look up and there he was. Jeff B.
He cracks a joke and sits down. Tom S, our CFO, officially starts the meeting and Jeff asks for a round of introductions. He acknowledges every single person at the table and very graciously welcomes us with a big smile. I will never forget that smile. Then the reading resumes.
Here is where I probably should mention that our document ended up being two sets of documents, totaling 20 pages or so of dense information, including a long FAQ section, financial models and market research. A dozen minutes into the reading, I look up to check on people's reaction to the document and I see Jeff browsing on his kindle. I panicked not knowing what to think of this.
Another 15 min or so, the reading comes to an end and Tom S leads the conversation with questions, followed by other VPs and SVPs. My management chain and I do our best to answer the deluge of questions. For one particular question, I pointed to the person asking that we had addressed that in the appendix doc and I was looking for the page number when Jeff told that person exactly which number that question was and what the answer was. I was stunned - up until now I thought Jeff wasn't even paying attention at all. Yet, he was listening and not only read the docs but remembered them to the last detail!
Questions from the executives started quieting down, so Jeff poses his Kindle on the table, looks at my Director and asks him the single most pertinent question to the whole strategy. We were all flabbergasted. A couple of other insightful questions and notorious laughs later, and we were done. All in all, the meeting took a little less than 2 hours.
The proposal got accepted - but Jeff wasn't on board from the beginning. He actually turned to his S-team the senior VP's and asked them one by one to weigh in on the decision. When he realized they were all in favor of the proposal, he just said, “I trust your judgment, let us do this.”
Mind you, this was the week where the Amazon culture and Jeff's influence were being discussed extensively in the media, and not exactly in the most positive of lights. I haven't yet read the book or been at Amazon long enough to make an informed decision on what the book details, but one thing is for sure: the guy is brilliant and he has built a solid management structure around him.
There's a great message in this memoir on communication. Communication is all leaders have to do. And 70 percent of communication involves listening. But most of the CEOs do exactly opposite. Listening is the most important aspect of communication. Most of the colleges, universities teach how to speak (if at all they cover the subject). But seldom it is covered that how to listen. Remember, there's a huge gap between hearing and listening. If you want to lead, manage set of people - you got to be a good listener too, rather great one !