5 Timeless Leadership Lessons from the Life of Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh, the retired CEO of Zappos.com, has died after being injured in a housefire at the age of 46.

Megan Fazio, a spokesperson for Hsieh’s, confirmed on Friday that he died peacefully on Friday, November 27th, surrounded by family. The cause of death is still under investigation. 

Zappos current CEO, Kedar Deshpande, released a statement saying,

“The world has lost a tremendous visionary and an incredible human being. We recognize that not only have we lost our inspiring former leader, but many of you have also lost a mentor and a friend. Tony played such an integral part in helping create the thriving Zappos business we have today, along with his passion for helping to support and drive our company culture.

Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, as his mantra was of “Delivering Happiness” to others. His spirit will forever be a part of Zappos, and we will continue to honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he was so passionate about.”

Personally, I was saddened to hear about the news of Tony Hsieh’s passing. People say books hit you at just the right time, and in 2010 his book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose did just that. It opened my eyes to the higher calling of leadership and the power of culture in business. It had so many gems in it:

“Money alone isn’t enough to bring happiness . . . happiness [is] when you’re actually truly ok with losing everything you have.” – Tony Hsieh

“Your personal core values define who you are, and a company’s core values ultimately define the company’s character and brand. For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.” Tony Hsieh

“Happiness is really just about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (number and depth of your relationships), and vision/meaning (being part of something bigger than yourself).”- Tony Hsieh

“We must never lose our sense of urgency in making improvements. We must never settle for  “good enough,” because good is the enemy of great.” – Tony Hsieh

“When you walk with purpose, you collide with destiny.” – Tony Hseih

A Powerful Lesson in Leadership

Hsieh had retired as the CEO of Zappos in August 2020 after running the business for 20+ years, which included being sold for $1.2B to Amazon in 2009. He spent a decade revitalizing the downtown area of Las Vegas for tech companies and people to live called “The Downtown Project.” His positive impact went far beyond the walls of Zappos and “The Downtown Project.” He often spoke about leadership, culture, and customer service to audiences far and wide. 

While I didn’t know Tony personally, his passing provides us a powerful lesson in leadership we too often forget.   

Leadership is Temporary, its Impact is Lasting.

Just think about it. Every single job in the world, including the one you have right now, will eventually be held by someone else. Look no further than the President of the United States, The Pope, or Zappos’s CEO. 

It’s a humbling thought; these positions and titles that we work so hard to earn are only temporary. However, the impact you have on other people is lasting and can never be taken away. Your leadership position is temporary but your impact as a leader is lasting.

The hard truth is, the only day a title matters is on the first day, after that it’s how you do it.  

The only day a title matters is on the first day, after that it’s how you do it.  

Closing

While there is no doubt Hsieh had his share of failures during his 46 years on earth, he positively impacted other people will last for decades if not generations.  

The best part, you get the opportunity to choose if you will make your temporary leadership position have the kind of impact on your circle of influence as Tony’s did in his life.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

The Critical Problem Revenue Doesn’t Solve

When Robert first said it, I didn’t think much of it. But then he said it again, “Revenue Solves All Organizational Problems.”

I couldn’t bear the thought of not saying anything because it would mean I agreed with Robert. Finally, I spoke up and said, “While I get where you are coming from, the truth is, revenue doesn’t solve any problem other than payroll.”

There’s no question that revenue is needed to run a business, but it does nothing to solve the major challenge organizations regardless of size face: company culture.

Like many other challenges, revenue is only a bandaid for culture. It allows leaders to sweep culture issues under the rug because they misinterpret revenue as success. But success can’t be sustained without solving the “why” behind bad company culture. Organizational culture can be defined as: A network of relationships in which people are connected to meet or fail to reach personal or team goals.

Since culture is all about people and relationships and it can have extremely positive or disastrous effects. There’s actually only one antidote for poor company culture — leadership. Who better to learn the importance of company culture than the guy who essentially wrote the book:

“If you get the culture right, most everything else will take care of itself.” – Tony Hsieh, Founder of Zappos

Here are a few ways leaders can begin to solve challenges with culture:

Admit There is a Problem

As they say, the first step to fixing any problem is to “admit there is a problem.” There is no problem to solve until an organization’s leaders admit they have one. Plenty of cultural assessments exist on the market, but the simplest test is to ask yourself, “Do my people like coming to work?” You should be able to answer this question in less than 5 seconds. If you falter, you might have a culture problem.

Remember Who is Responsible

This one isn’t easy but its true. Leaders are responsible for their culture. Author and CEO, Bob Beaudine says “the atmosphere you permit determines the product you produce.” Your culture and environment has to be ridiculously positive and encouraging at all times – from top to bottom and left to right. Anyone who isn’t on-board is defying the culture you’ve set out to create.

Have a Defined Set of Values

Roy E. Disney believed, “When your values become clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” Values are defined as a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment for what’s important in life. I don’t know one human walking the earth that wouldn’t say this is important. How about for an organization? Most people assume an organization’s core values are based on the leaders that run them. While this is true to some degree (because it’s a leader’s job to establish the values) it’s the people who make the organization’s values come to life.

Understand What Ultimately Makes a Good Culture

It’s people who make a culture. The only way for your team to be at the center of your culture is by listening, watching, engaging with them, and inviting them to be themselves. In this week’s episode of the Follow My Lead Podcast, Tom Bilyeu said, “You are capable of achieving so little by yourself so taking care of your team is critical.” If you aren’t providing a strong culture you aren’t taking care of your team.

It wasn’t easy to voice my opinion to Robert because of his seniority but at the end of the day he not only respected my opinion he opened his eyes to the possibility that he has been looking at revenue all wrong. My hope is that more leaders will begin to prioritize culture. If you are thinking about putting it off until next quarter or next year, consider Karen Lamb’s advice,

“A year from now, you wish you would have started today.”

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John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft and Host of the Follow My Lead Podcast. He is passionate about the development of people. He writes, and speaks about modern leadership and learning techniques. You can find him on instagram @johngeades.