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In the past, Google and Amazon were not major competitors; they are now. The competition between the two has been long in coming, but eventually, it has now caught pace since Google launched its ‘Google shopping express’ business line. The launch propelled Google into the on-demands goods market, which for many years, has been dominated by Amazon. Moreover, it is worth observing that while Amazon’s business forte was in the online sale and delivery of goods, it is cited as a major competitor to Google’s search engine.
The foregoing notwithstanding, this report is concerned about the comparisons and points of contrast between Google and Amazon. Specifically, the report compares and contrasts the leadership styles of Amazon Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jeff Bezos and Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt. To justify this report’s choice of Amazon as Google’s competitor, it is important to note that based on internet searches conducted on Amazon alone, Eric Schmidt (cited by Griswold 2014), thinks that Amazon is his organisation’s greatest competitor. Every product search on Amazon is undeniably a lost chance for Google to offer its search engine services to one more person in the world.
In relation to leadership styles of Schmidt and Bezos, this report will provide evidence that the two leaders are a complete opposite of each other. Schmidt is a democratic leader, while Bezos is more confrontational and autocratic. Schmidt has an interest in both people and performance, while Bezos’ main interest seems to be in the performance of his employees.
Several leadership theories are proposed in the literature. They include behavioural theories, trait theory, the great man theory, participative leadership theory, situational leadership theory, transformational leadership theory, contingency theory and transactional leadership theory. The trait and great man theory hold on to the assumption that leadership is an inherent trait (Stefanovic 2007). Behavioural theories, on the other hand, assume that leadership can be defined and that it can be learned (Robbins 2004). Additionally, behavioural theories assume that although some leaders are born, others can be made (Stefanovic 2007).
This report will concentrate on behavioural theories. According to Warrick (2004), the behavioural theories contain two leadership dimensions and four leadership styles (Warrick 2004). The two leadership dimensions are: a concern for people and concern for performance or production. The four leadership styles include: “autocratic leader (high emphasis on performance and low emphasis on people), laissez-faire leader (low emphasis on performance and people), human relations leader (low emphasis on performance and high emphasis on people), and democratic leader (high emphasis on performance and people)” (Warrick 2004, p. 157.
Manimala and Wasdani (2013) have written extensively about Google and the leadership style that is practiced in the company. They also summarise Schmidt’s leadership style as one that strives to: know the employees that work under him; reward high-performing employees; let employees own problems and by extension their solutions; enhance employees’ ability to function outside the company hierarchies; and uphold impartiality and objectivity in performance reviews.
Schmidt has a supportive style of leadership, where he advocates for the welfare of the workforce, in the belief that they (employees), will function better at work, when they are satisfied with their work environment. The foregoing observation is supported by his sentiments where he is quoted as saying, “make sure that they’re happy and that they have everything to do their job” (Nguyen 2010, p. 13). Schmidt does not believe in controlling employees, and he is on record for saying that a leader can tell employees what to do “…but you can’t tell them how to do it” (Nguyen 2010, p. 13).
The cliché ‘nothing travels like bad news’ is true in Bezos case. Bezos is known to humiliate his employees when they don’t live up to his expectations. He is also on record for sending six-page memos and requiring his employees to read them during meetings. According to Schnuer (2014), Bezos is the personification of bad news to anyone who does not meet his expectations. His leadership style arguably defies the team work and good working relations that the modern leadership gurus support.
Schnuer (2014) argues that if people admire Bezos, it is not for his confrontational style of leadership; rather, it because they cannot deny that his style has led Amazon to success. As a result, a lot has been written about him. In a book authored about him by Stone (2013), Bezos is painted as a leader who does not respect good communication, and one who looks down on anyone who is not ‘good enough’. Unlike Schmidt, Bezos tells his employees what to do and also dictates how to do the same. In Stone’s (2013, p. 243) book, for example, Bezos is on record for instructing his employees to pursue small book publishers “the way a cheetah pursues a sickly gazelle.” In other words, he was not only telling them what to do, but how to do it.
Applying behavioural leadership style theories in Bezos and Schmidt’s case reveals that the Amazon CEO is an autocratic leader while the Google CEO is a democratic leader. Choi (2007) makes a distinction between autocratic and democratic leadership by indicating that in the latter style of leadership, leaders have a high degree of control and decision-making power. Democratic leaders, on the other hand, encourage group discussion and decision making. In a true reflection of Bezos’ style, Choi (2007, p. 245) notes that autocratic leaders “keeps tight control over group decisions and activities”. Additionally, such leaders are personal in the manner that they praise or criticise employee performance (Choi 2007). Bezos is on record for making enemies from his former employees due to his harsh criticism.
True to what Schmidt does at Google, democratic leaders are described as participative. Additionally, they share the decision-making powers with people working under them. People who work under a democratic leader report high commitment, involvement, satisfaction and productivity. Employees who work under an autocratic leader like Bezos, on the other hand, report high involvement, high productivity and low commitment and satisfaction (Hackman & Johnson 1996).
They register high involvement and productivity because such is demanded from them. They however are not as highly committed to the job or satisfied in the current workplace. As Hackman and Johnson (1996) indicate, working under an autocratic leader places too much pressure on employees. Such is the situation at Amazon as narrated by Schnuer (2014) and Stone (2013). In Google, however, the situation is completely different from what is documented about Amazon. As Kuntze and Matulich (2010) note, Google is ranked among some of the best companies to work for. Employees enjoy numerous leave days, and other workplace benefits such as childcare facilities, sports facilities and laundry services.
This report has looked at leadership theories and applied them in the context of Google and one of its largest competitors, Amazon. The report indicates that Google’s CEO has a democratic style of leadership while Amazon’s CEO has an autocratic style of leadership. Interestingly, and in spite of the difference in leadership styles, both CEOs are leading their respective companies to greater competitiveness. The success of both Google and Amazon can, therefore, be interpreted to be an indication that different leadership styles can work in different organisations.
Choi, S 2007, ‘Democratic leadership: the lessons of exemplary models for democratic governance’, International Journal of Leadership Studies, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 243-262.
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