One of Jeff Bezos’ secrets to success: The boss should always talk last in meetings
If you ever find yourself taking a meeting with Jeff Bezos, don’t expect the billionaire Amazon founder to speak first.
Before Bezos stepped down as Amazon’s CEO in 2021, he made a practice of letting his employees speak first. Now, his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez — the founder of Santa Monica, California-based aerial filming company Black Ops Aviation — says it’s one of the most important business lessons she’s picked up from him since the pair started dating a few years ago.
“Living with Jeff is like having a master class every day. What he’s really taught me a lot about is management,” Sanchez, a former television news anchor who made guest appearances on ABC’s “The View,” recently told The Wall Street Journal.
There’s a reason Bezos thinks managers should always speak last in business meetings, for example.
“I hold a lot of meetings, and I would talk first in a meeting, and [Bezos] goes, ‘No, no, no. You’re the boss. You talk last. You let everyone else talk, so that they don’t get swayed by your opinion,'” Sanchez said.
In a 2018 speech, Bezos said reshaping his company’s approach to meetings was “probably the smartest thing we ever did” at Amazon.
First, Bezos did away with PowerPoint presentations. Instead, he kicked off each meeting with roughly 30 minutes of silence, so attendees could read a detailed memo covering the planned discussion topics. Then, employees would offer their own thoughts on the memo before Bezos did to guard against subordinates mimicking his point of view to score points with him.
The silent reading period created “the context for what will then be a good discussion,” Bezos said.
It’s also a way to make sure attendees actually read the memo, he added. Simply sending it via email isn’t enough: “Executives will bluff their way through the meeting as if they’ve read the memo, because we’re busy, and so you’ve got to actually carve out the time for the memo to get read,” he said.
The memo also helps keep the meeting from veering off topic, Sanchez added — especially if you keep it as short as possible, without losing any key details.
“Another thing he taught me is: If you’re going to have a meeting, have the person running the meeting write a document about what you’re going to discuss and why. And it can’t be more than six pages,” Sanchez said.
Similarly, Bezos recommends keeping the meetings themselves as short as possible once the reading period is over, Sanchez said: “Keep meetings under an hour, if you can.”
Multiple studies have found that spending too much time in meetings — whether they’re hour-plus marathons or back-to-back shorter sprints — can increase your stress levels and distract you from your work.
Bezos’ meeting method is favored by other tech executives, too. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, for example, likes to start meetings with attendees reading notes from a Google Doc for 10 minutes, he tweeted in 2018.
“This practice makes time for everyone to get on same page, allows us to work from many locations, and gets to truth/critical thinking faster,” Dorsey wrote.
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