business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts and minds of men?

The Shadow knows.


I finally caught up with a story in Bloomberg Businessweek about a leadership concept about which I was unaware. At companies such as Amazon and Intel, people are assigned to "shadow" the CEO, essentially serving as a personal assistant or chief of staff, charged with taking minutes at meetings, conferring with the CEO at the end of the day and making sure important things get accomplished. "At Intel and later at Amazon," the story says, "the shadow served as a way to give rising execs additional exposure to the boss while giving the boss a way to mentor a subordinate and hear another opinion on critical matters."

In some cases, the position is transitory, but in at least one case, Jeff Bezos's shadow at Amazon was assigned to run a new business, Amazon Web Services, that has turned into a major moneymaker for the company.

According to the story, at Amazon "Stig Leschly was one of the first shadows. He was the CEO of an online shopping marketplace, Exchange.com, when Amazon bought his company in 1999. Leschly then ran a failing service within Amazon called ZShops and was preparing to leave in late 2000 when he had lunch with Bezos and told him of his plans. Instead, Bezos asked him to become his shadow.

"Leschly spent three months shadowing Bezos, and today, as CEO of charter school company Match Education, he remembers it as among the most valuable experiences of his career. 'He would walk around and go into meetings, and I would get to follow. I had nothing to do. I would just sit there and observe … But then he'd have an idea, and he would give it to me to figure out … I was a receptacle for him for any of the 19 ongoing activities in his brain that didn't have a place in the normal organization. It was honest to god one of the most extraordinary things a young person can do'."

Now, not every CEO is Jeff Bezos. But I wonder how many CEOs out there are taking advantage of this concept - of mentoring people within an organization seen as promising, while at the same time giving these people exposure to how the company is run, how executives think, and what the difference is between leadership and management. And maybe even listening to their ideas, which may come from a place unfamiliar to the CEO.

It is a good idea. And, I think, the very essence of an Eye-Opener.
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