Ownership and Bias for Action

Denys Linkov
8 min readJan 26, 2020

Senior Exec Training — Ownership and Bias for action

Welcome to Day 1 ( This is a reference you’ll get soon). You’ve been selected to be part of the Senior Exec training program due to your contribution to TU20, abilities and potential. The goal is to accelerate your leadership development, community involvement and be ready to lead TU20 next year.

In Dec 2018 I realized that I needed to have a stronger succession plan for TU20. Since the beginning of the year, I had been slowly phasing myself out of day to day work and focusing on building a strong team. But, what would happen when I became hands off altogether? To deal with the issue, I selected 4 TU20 executives and ran a 12 week leadership series to help build their skills and confidence in leading the team next year. We ran these as a set of readings followed by weekly calls to have discussions and ask questions.

13 Months later, I’ve revisited the series and am publishing it for the broader community.

What is Ownership?

Ignore boundaries between jobs and departments if necessary to get your project done. If you see a problem and it’s not in your department, you will try to fix it.

Along the same lines, you will manage every dependency and won’t make excuses if something goes wrong. You won’t say, “That wasn’t my job to take care of.”

Think about the impact of your decisions on other teams, sites and the customer over time.

Consider future outcomes (scalable, long-term value, etc.)

Coach and mentor your team to understand the big picture, how their role supports the overall objectives of Amazon, and how it ties to others.

- Interview Genie 2016

You personally care about your job and you make it a small part of you.

If you don’t care about a job or role, you will be between bad to adequate.
If you care too much, you will be excellent to awful; you will burn out.

You should feel a little hurt when someone says something bad about your organization, but you shouldn’t let it bug you other than how to address that comment. You should get emotionally attached enough that you will be proactive, but not enough that you get too defensive when someone says something bad.

You need to align TU20 with what you want to get done and your goals, otherwise you won’t care!

How is ownership communicated in society?


Job Titles

Stock options (more money)

Social Presence/Branding

How many hours you work?

What is Ownership in a sentence?

Having the power and ability to make change in an organization or project, with its success benefiting you.

Gary V: “Don’t expect your employees to work as hard as you do because they don’t have as much at stake”

Me: Give them more at stake and stop telling people to work 100+ hours a week.

Make sure you enjoy your work. If not, swap it to someone who likes it more. Automate it. Make it more interesting. But still get it done if it is valuable.

It’s always Day 1 — Be like a startup

Furthermore, Bezos believes that “Day Two” is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day One at Amazon”

Inc 2018

Actually don’t. Day 1 of startups is exciting but super stressful. Actually day 1 is the most exciting part. Day 234 sucks.

(Tech Republic)

How many people do you know who’ve worked on something for a year? Two years? 5 years?

Creating something new is shiny, exciting…

… it’s an idea coming to life. But then reality hits. There are costs. There are challenges. Things don’t work.

The entrepreneurial world is structured to reward those who take on additional risk, rather than those who contribute to the end result. We certainly need more smaller companies, but we need medium companies even more so. The whole idea of our current economic model and education system is to promote specialization that boosts efficiency, but our incentives to reach it aren’t the healthiest.

Jobs created per startup

The leaders of companies certainly change the world, but without their #2–50s, those companies would be mearly a prototype or vision. But, since a young age were rewarded for being #1, which in the business world means being the Founder CEO.

So as a takeaway, measure how much risk and contributions some takes on in their role rather than in their title.

What is Having a Bias for Action?

  1. Something is broken, you tell someone.
  2. Something is broken, you fix it yourself.
  3. Something doesn’t break because you thought about that case already. Hard

Sometimes we think that having a bias for action is being diligently reactive, but, in the best case scenario you are being proactive to prevent things from happening. The problem is when you don’t have the correct information, it’s hard to have a bias for action because you’re scared you’ll mess up.

So why are you scared?

I don’t want to get yelled at.

I don’t want to get fired.

I don’t want to get embarrassed.

I don’t want to lose a deal.

I think this will harm my reputation.

I think others will get defensive about their role.

(Anything else?)

Some remedies

First of all, some companies suck and will legitimately punish you for doing the right thing. But remeber when you are interviewing for a new role, you’re interviewing companies as much as they interview you. And when you’re in a role, you should be continuously evaluating if this is the right role for you.

Understand norms and personalities in an org

Every organization is a different ecosystem, so you have to understand peoples’ personalities and incentives.

How do people indicate things are broken?

Who will get upset at what?

Who is better to ask for permission than forgiveness?

At the beginning of your career you typically don’t have to read into the situations as much because most of your work will be pre-defined for you. But if you take on a more autonomous role, these factors will impact your success.

Communicating clearly

Your company has an old logo that you think should be replaced. Great! Time to think of some options to communicate your thoughts.

  1. “Our old website logo sucks.”
  2. “I was thinking about our website logo and thought it could use an upgrade, I created 3 new designs to get us thinking.”
  3. “Hi our website has an old logo, I fixed it temporarily, do you think the design is a good long term fix?”

The first approach is very clear, but it doesn't offer a solution and will probably be interpreted as an attack. Use this approach sparingly.

The second approach is more cautious and provides options for the person you are speaking to. It invites a conversation rather than critisism. Usually a good approach.

The third approach works well when you are trusted and need to move quickly. Sometimes your team doesn’t want to have a meeting to go through the options, they hired you to make decisions! But you should tell them when you make changes!

Building trust and psychological safety

At the end of the day, work is stressful and to be successful you need to take risks and be willing to fall. And when you fall, you should be able to get up, dust yourself off and have a laugh. But to do so you need to trust that as you’re trying to get up, your “Team” won’t push you back in the mud and steal your soccer ball. We typically define this now as psychological safety (Kahn, 1990).

At the same time, you must trust that when your teammates are trying to jump over an obstacle that they will make it most of the time, because at the end of the day you are not being evaluated on how many times you get back up, but by how fast you run.

Building trust is pretty straight forward:

  1. When you get stuff done on time, communicate and have good results, people trust you.
  2. When you are there to help people and do the right thing, people trust you.

Ask for help if things are unclear

Double check what the requirements are when working on a task. Communication is hard and the worst thing you can do is to work on something completely irrelevant for two weeks because you didnt ask for clarification.

“Is it a good idea to joke around with our customers”
“Only with X, Y, Z. A & B aren’t a big fan of jokes, they mean business.”

Your next meeting was with A, so that joke book is probably not the best Christmas present.

Help others

If you help other succeed in a reasonable way (don’t let them get dependent) people will like you.

Double check

Think twice about your action, double check it’s the right move, than do it. Sometimes sleep on it if you have time, you’ll have a new perspective.

Two lists, or to some, two chains.

Being able to seperate on what tasks to do is extremply important in a world with constant updates. I typically make two lists:

1) An ongoing list of priorities of stuff that needs to get done.

2) A short list you do during down times or can respond to immediately.

“We need to make this video” Category 1

“This email is asking for a simple yes or no ” Category 2

The three worst daily things about being a leader

Leading a team can be a frustrating experience, because at the end of the day you are responsible

1) Constantly having to remind people.

2) Things not getting done on time

3) Having to absorb team failure when it wasn’t your fault

If things just work … it’s magic

Questions to think about:

What makes you not want to speak up?

What makes you feel that you can accomplish your goals?

Do you feel yourself being too attached or not attached to your extracurriculars?

What’s the worst mistake you’ve made in an extracurricular/job?

Look at the TU20 website, what would you fix, what are you worried about breaking?

When you worked on a project and then stopped, why did you abandon it?

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