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Serve Up Success: Amazon's Leadership Principles on the Tennis Court (and in Your Business)

There are many reasons why I decided to start this blog and my podcast. One of them is my own realization of what my athletic journey taught me. This articles is a brief reflection on my tennis to business transition using the Amazon Leadership Principles. It took me about a decade after retiring from my sport to understand that everything I have learned through it is also relevant in my subsequent career. By working at Apple, I found many commonalities between great athletes and great companies, and I decided to use the Amazon Leadership Principles to make this point. I hope you enjoy the read, and it is equally - insightful and entertaining.


Customer Obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.


Tennis players start by understanding their game and their strengths and work backwards. They focus vigorously on the yellow tennis ball and their opponent and develop trust in their movement, strokes, strategy, and mindset. Although they must pay attention to their competitors, the most important thing is to obsess over their own performance and the yellow tennis ball.


Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don't sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say "that's not my job."


In tennis, you have only yourself to rely on, which forces you to develop extreme ownership. You win or lose because of your skills or lack of them. There is no one else to hide behind. On the tennis court - everything is your job, and there are no shortcuts to greatness. Setting a good foundation and learning the correct technique when you are young will help you be a better tennis player in the long term. On or off the court, you represent not only yourself but also your whole team, your country, and the sport itself.


Invent and Simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by "not invented here." As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.


Tennis requires innovation and invention during training, matches, and rallies. You must be open to ideas from your coaches and team, including taking inspiration from your opponents and other great players by observing why they do what they do. Then, you take these insights and observations, think deeply about them, practice and personalize them, and adjust them to your skills and strengths. In tennis - simplification and seamlessness of movement are directly related to effectiveness and efficiency, which allow you to preserve physical energy. As a tennis player, you don't worry about fitting in; you worry about improving your skills and building your game.


Are Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.


The best tennis players develop a strong understanding and intuition of the game and have good judgment and instincts about shot selection. Tennis is a game of geometry, physics, and statistics, and it is a fast game where one needs to recognize patterns and make decisions instantly. The only way to develop this level of skill and judgment is to play many matches, put in a lot of work, be open to feedback, and internalize harsh truths from your coaches, including learning from losses.


Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.


Tennis players are never done learning. Perfection in tennis doesn't exist, as there is an unlimited number of things to work on - from the physical aspects of how to move to improving tennis technique, applying game strategy, including teaching your mind how to handle pressure and perform at its best during the most stressful moments. The best players always stay hungry for more and continue to search for ways to push their performance just a bit further in all aspects of their game. Curiosity is an inherent part of growth, and having an open mind to experiment with new things is crucial.


Hire and Develop the Best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.


No tennis player can achieve greatness alone. The best tennis players find the right coaches and team they can lean on and trust to elevate their game. From strength and fitness coaches to tennis performance, physiotherapists who help keep your body together, psychologists who help you align your thinking, to hitting partners and opponents who help you find your next level of performance through fierce competition. Great tennis players need to be able to create a strong support system to push their game and skills beyond what they thought was possible. 


Insist on the Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards — many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.


Great tennis players set high goals for themselves and create a plan and training schedule to achieve them. They continuously put their best effort into practicing even the smallest parts of their game, knowing that even the smallest things make a big difference in the end. If there is a specific stroke or a skill they are struggling with, they get back to work to understand why something is not working and find a way to fix it so it doesn't negatively impact their next match.


Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.


Great tennis players learn to believe in themselves wholeheartedly and without a doubt, no matter how scary or big their goals may seem. Throughout your tennis career, you learn that limiting beliefs produce limited results, and so you must train your mind to understand that the only limits that exist are the ones we impose on ourselves. Believe ➡️ Think Big ➡️ Play Big ➡️ Achieve Big


Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.


Timing in tennis, business, and life is everything. During a tennis game, time is of the essence. The opponent and the tennis ball don't wait. Great tennis players train their intuition and judgment to act fast and make the right choices. Hesitation on the court always leads to a less-than-ideal or poor outcome. Understanding probabilities and statistics to assess the best shot selection - when to go big and when to take calculated risks - is a critical skill that differentiates the good from the great.


Frugality

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.


In tennis, we often discover the next level of our performance we couldn't believe was possible when we face some of the biggest challenges and constrictions. It is during the times when things seem to be the hardest, when you feel you cannot run any longer, you are breathing way too hard, and your muscles are tensing from exhaustion - that's the best opportunity to find a way to move a bit smoother, to be a bit more relaxed, a bit more efficient, and find your next edge.


Earn Trust

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.

The greatest tennis players of all time listen to their team, judge and speak about their performance candidly, and always treat their opponents with respect. They judge, reflect on, and talk about their performance or lack of it accurately, even when doing so can be painful and disappointing. They benchmark themselves not against who they currently are but against their high expectations and aspirations of who they want to be.


Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.


The best tennis players think at all levels. They dig deep into the details of their game and mechanics, audit their performance and strategy frequently, stay humble, and are skeptical when results differ from expectations and the work they are putting in. They must always put in the work, investigate why things aren't going their way, and find a way to correct them.


Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.


Tennis players must know when to stand up for themselves and respectfully challenge the opponents' or umpires' decisions when they disagree with a call. This can be uncomfortable and stressful as it can feel like going against the consensus of the referees and spectators, but they know there are moments when it is essential to follow their convictions. If the call stays and is not overturned, they need to be able to immediately forget about it and move on, no matter how important that point may have been, and focus 100% on the next point.


Deliver Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.


Great tennis players break down their game into individual skills and train all aspects with equal focus and intensity. While it is important to understand where one stands in the rankings, one must be ready to face any opponent and rise to the occasion to unleash the next level of performance during important points, games, and tournaments. They use losses and mistakes as signals of what they must focus on next. They don't get complacent and are always hungry for more.


Strive to be Earth's Best Employer

Leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just work environment. They lead with empathy, have fun at work, and make it easy for others to have fun. Leaders ask themselves: Are my fellow employees growing? Are they empowered? Are they ready for what's next? Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees' personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.


The greatest tennis players of all times are not only great at their game but end up pioneering many other areas, changing the world, and inspiring others in a variety of ways - from icons like Billig Jean King, who started the WTA and continues to pioneer equal pay for all female athletes to Serena Williams, who focuses her Serena Ventures on creating more diversity in business. While I could never compare myself to these two icons, we all can contribute in our own way. One reason for starting my blog and podcast is to help others recognize the qualities of athletes and perhaps help the younger generations realize a bit sooner than I did the skills they have learned through their sport and how to use them in the next chapter of their lives. Whatever they choose to put their mind into.


Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

We started in a garage, but we're not there anymore. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect. We must be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions. Our local communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every day. We must begin each day with a determination to make better, do better, and be better for our customers, our employees, our partners, and the world at large. And we must end every day knowing we can do even more tomorrow. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave things better than how they found them.


Ever since I was a kid, I had a drive to be the best I could be at whatever I put my mind into. I see my athletic journey as my first career that has taught me more about life and leadership than I could have imagined. I now apply these principles and lessons I have learned through my sport and continue to refine them in the next chapter of my life. The beauty of life is that we have an opportunity to learn from every encounter and every experience. The only thing that can prevent us from growing and learning is ourselves. My personal mission is to maximize my human potential and, on that path, be a positive force and inspiration to my family, friends, and others... This blog and podcast are part of the mission.


comparing qualities of a tennis player to a corporate leader using the Amazon Leadership Principles
A competitive tennis player on a court chasing after a ball

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