You Can Get Everything at Amazon – Including These 14 Leadership Principles

Amazon continues to be a force in our culture. In the run up to to Christmas 2014 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 fiefdomsbegin 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.

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Rich Birch

Rich Birch

Thanks so much for dropping by unseminary … I hope that your able to find some resources that help you lead your church better in the coming days! I’ve been involved in church leadership for over 15 years. Early on I had the privilege of leading in one of the very first multisite churches in North Amerca. I led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 4,000 people in 6 locations. (Today they are 13 locations with somewhere over 5,000 people attending.) In addition, I served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. I currently serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. I have a dual vocational background that uniquely positions me for serving churches to multiply impact. While in the marketplace, I founded a dot-com with two partners in the late 90’s that worked to increase value for media firms and internet service providers. I’m married to Christine and we live in Scotch Plains, NJ with their two children and one dog.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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