Lessons in Leadership: Ed Smith, Head of Marketing for Amazon Europe

Exceptional leaders help others to be leaders

What turns a leader into an outstanding leader is their ability to develop other people into leaders. So said Sherilyn Shackell, Founder and Global CEO of The Marketing Academy, as she chaired the first of Grace Blue’s ‘Lessons in Leadership’ this week to a specially invited audience. It was with great pleasure that she introduced, in her view, one of the world’s most outstanding leaders, Ed Smith, Head of Marketing for Amazon Europe.

Ed shared a series of frameworks in an intensive hour-long masterclass of how to lead and turn others into leaders for Grace Blue’s guests to consider and adopt as techniques in their own lives. We’ve summarised those for you as helpful dip-in guide to Ed’s wise words…

Section 1 Managing Yourself

Be a player, not a victim

He started by talking about an early conversation in his career with his Head of IT, who whispered to him in a lift, ‘Ed, are you interested in personal development?’. A couple of days later, a CD arrived and swiftly disappeared into a drawer. But a few years later, Ed listened to Fred Kaufman’s Conscious Business work. The message from Fred? You’re going to get dealt some bad cards in life and there are two ways to respond. One way is the victim path, blame, complain and defend. The other, the player, where you acknowledge the situation but frame it in terms of your next action. It applies to everything in life. The player responds. Ed said ‘I want to be a player, not a victim’ and asked us all to consider what’s my next move when faced with a bad card.

All thoughts are not equal

He then advised us all to find ways of separating our sense of self from our busy life. Thoughts vie for attention. Some people call it a busy mind. He spoke of a simple practice – don’t feel all thoughts are equal. It’s OK to look at a thought and to throw it away again. He summarised by asking us to only carry the thoughts that are helpful to you.

Don’t worry about what others think of you

His next pointer was a book called Loving what is by Byron Katie. Ed said many people think stress is caused by the actions of others. Byron challenges this; it’s not true. Stress is caused by our interpretation of other people’s behaviours. The Work asks you to interrogate if you are you 100% certain that is how the individual feels about you? Invariably when you inspect these feelings closely you will find little true evidence that those feelings are 100% true. You then imagine yourself free of those feelings you have constructed on flimsy evidence, this can be truly liberating.

Understand the brain to understand yourself

Ed then turned to Steve Peters’ book, The Chimp Paradox. The brain is made up of many different parts performing different functions and understanding that can make identifying reasons behind behaviours easier. For example, take a look at the hippocampus. Its primary function is reflex action to keep us alive. This is good to know because if you wake up in a panic about something, while the conscious part of your brain is resting thing are going to feel much worse than they are, as you don’t have your cerebral cortex awake to help regulate your feelings from the hippocampus warnings. Here’s a strange tip though, if you say out loud, ‘hey, it’s OK, we’re safe, we’re resting mow, we can think about this in the, you can calm the hippocampus and fall back asleep, it’s like your four-year-old self without a parent.

Form a vision of your future to succeed

In his next example, citing Dr David Eagleman and his series called The Brain on SBS Ed talked about how the brain makes decisions. Inside your head, two neural networks compete to estimate which decision will yield the greatest reward.  For example, a person saving for a house deposit may make short term spending decisions that aren’t aligned with the longer-term goal, the reward for the new pair of shoes is stronger than the saving goal. You can increase the chances of making better decisions in support of long-term goals by creating a vision board or writing down clear goals for the next 12 months. Envisioning two or three things that are big goals can help your neural network navigate through the little decisions. People who plan and envision things achieve more than those that don’t.

Identify your strengths (and weaknesses) and play to them

Building on theme of managing ourselves, Ed asked us all, what gives you wings and what puts cement in your boots? Can you plan your week against your energy diary? Schedule the tough things for when you have most energy and vice versa. He asked us to think more about inputs that have us working ‘in the zone’ or a state of flow… Are there certain foods which help best? Is there a good level of sleep we need? How regularly should we eat? Build a consciousness around ourselves and how exercise, rest, food and tasks impact our energy level and use that to our advantage…

Leap, don’t jump

He then presented a metaphor for career decisions. One – a picture of a burning platform, the other a roaring lion. He cautioned everyone not to their biggest life decisions jumping away from something you don’t like, but instead to leap towards something you’re passionate about. Happiness and progression are always higher when people follow their passions, if you don’t have a passion to guide you, follow your curiosity.

Section 2 Maximising your impact.

Move minds from fixed to growth

During your career as a leader on of the greatest gifts you can give is to help people move from a fixed mindset to a growth minded. How can we help people to grow who perhaps have a fixed mindset?  Start with a little challenge, where they can learn, grow, and achieve, support them though this and note together the growth and learning and build from there. A great leader helps people discover their growth mindset.

Be curious about the people you work with

He then shared a visual of a relationship map. When starting any new role, think about who do I need to interact with daily, weekly, monthly to achieve my mission, as you meet people build out your relationship map? Be curious about the people you meet understand a little about each one as a person, the work mission and let the brain do its magic, let it find things that you think will interest them or help them along their way and share these generously as you come across them, an article here, some data there.  Investing in these relationships sets a reciprocity and you might find you have a team of colleagues looking out for an assisting you.

Plan your team carefully

Ed cited Belbin’s Team Roles in his next piece of advice saying we are often not conscious of the roles we play in a team. Good leaders are mindful right at the beginning of working out who is going to be best at which part in the team. They consider and determine what role everyone should play.

The same applies to you and your peers, what role do you usually play in your team and is this the role the organisation most needs you to be playing at this time?  Conflict often comes from colleagues unconsciously trying to play the same role in a team.

Section 3 moving from being an individual contributor to becoming a leader

What got you here won’t get you there

A critical point for every young leader is the moment they reach a newly promoted role and have a team to lead. People go one of two ways at this point – they lean in and learn a whole new skill set as a leader, or they rely on their subject matter expertise that got them promoted but stagnate or fail as a leader lacking the new skills required.

Leading is achieving through others

Ed said his job as a leader is to define the vision and strategy and then facilitate others to achieve. A leader’s main role is to put the right people into the right roles to support the strategy, resit the temptation to always shape and drive what your people are doing. He wants leaders to be conscious about interactions, are you in this meeting to inspect, be curious and learn, shape and drive or to support/ unblock.

Get real about your own influence

He shared a personal learning he discovered earlier in his career, that your self-perception always lags behind what others see. He advised everyone to be aware of their influence, particularly in young executives, you are usually louder and more powerful than you realise, be careful and conscious about what you support or criticize and how forcefully you to this, imagine your megaphone volume is at 8 when you think it’s only at 5.

Feedback is essential

He was a strong advocate of a feedback culture, acknowledging this is less comfortable for people in the UK. When we’re at work, we should encourage helpful, fast and frequent feedback throughout the team. Regular communication, well-intentioned. He set out a framework for others to use.

When you’re at your best, we see…

When you’re not at your best, we see…

To achieve our mission, we need you to…

People are different, treat them that way

The next tip from Ed was how to recognise people are different with different ways of thinking.  People have a preferred way of framing things, big picture, process, numbers or people/feeling orientation. It’s important to understand this because when you’re leading you will have people of all kinds in your team. A team needs all types of thinking and you need to consider that when building team and presenting plans and information. Also, people have different learning styles. Listening, seeing, reading, doing. You must recognise that people learn in different ways and allow people to do what they need to do…

Master presenting by answering the questions you want to

As we approached the culmination of Ed’s fantastic session, he addressed the challenge of presenting. He talked about a senior executive he’d known who presented poorly but answered questions brilliantly. So, if you’re worried about a presentation, ask yourself are there four or 6 questions that if I was asked in a fireside chat conversation could I get the information across that I want to convey? Usually, people speak with great ease answering questions about their subject matter expertise, so try with your next presentation asking yourself the questions in your head and just answering them. You’ll find presenting is so much easier, required little to no preparation and is much more fun to listen to.  If you need slides, just find a picture or a cartoon that reminds you of the question you want to ask yourself to answer at that time.

Understand what happens to people during change

Ed’s penultimate tip dealt with The Change Curve where every new piece of information will elicit this response in you, and in others. Denial, anger, exploring and acceptance as people adjust to what’s happening. He set out how to provide information, support them, give direction and finally encourage them.  We all have to go through these steps, with time and support we can reduce the amplitude of the response in ourselves and others and accelerate the time to move through the phases of the curve.

Plan carefully and get the work/life balance right

He finished with his personal planning template covering career, health, financial, important relationships, learning and personal growth, fun and adventure. Each year, he focuses on 2-3 points for achievement against each one. But, he stressed, as executives, make sure to plan health and important relationships, they don’t bounce back anywhere near as easily as career and financial woes do.

In summary, Ed said, if all you do as a leader is establish a vision and put people in the right roles to achieve it, you’re well on your way to success.

Sarah Skinner of Grace Blue, the hosts of this special series, thanked Ed on behalf of everyone who had attended this masterclass. Exceptional leadership is about helping other people to be leaders – share these nuggets wider and help create a ripple effect from Ed’s great talk.