Five Lessons in Leadership from Amazon and The Washington Post

Jeff Bezos - Founder & CEO of Amazon


The recent sale of the Washington Post by the Graham family to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has significance not just for Post readers throughout the United States and around the world, but also for everyone paying close attention to the swift changes taking place in modern media. This includes, of course, how global audiences receive and assimilate the rapid-fire information fed to them through the 24-hour news cycle.

But let’s start with where the vision for the Post began. As many know, one of Meridian’s historic buildings was home to Katherine Graham’s father, Eugene Meyer, and thus the place where she spent her formative years. Mrs. Graham became head of the Washington Post in 1959 – one year before Meridian International Center’s founding – and spoke about her life on Meridian Hill in her autobiography. Political and business leaders, as well the Diplomatic Corps and Washington society, gathered here in her time just as they do now. In fact, Ambassador Henry White was the first owner of what is now the White-Meyer House at 1624 Crescent Place. This historic home received many high-level visitors and was the sight of key diplomatic negotiations. As a result, Katherine Graham quite literally grew up in a place where leaders collaborated to develop solutions to world challenges. It’s a perspective she took with her to the Post, and today, Meridian continues that tradition in the White-Meyer and Meridian Houses by bringing leaders together on a global scale. Some come together to overcome differences in perceptions at a neutral setting, others come through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program for substantive exchange, and still more come to hear the latest on global issues.

Katherine Graham believed in the power of bringing people together and saw the Washington Post as more than headlines on newsprint. It is fitting that Jeff Bezos, a visionary technology entrepreneur, saw the value in preserving the Post and its mission as an important national institution and global news resource. He will likely not be content to serve as a guardian of history, but will look for new ways to combine critical information, independent perspective, and technology to bring the same spirit of innovation to the Post that he has successfully instilled in his other pursuits. It is worthwhile for global leaders to reflect on the lessons that may be drawn from this transition, and from the strides made by visionary leaders like Mrs. Graham and Mr. Bezos. Here are five that resonate with me:

–           Even iconic institutions must continually reinvent themselves to stay relevant and remain in business.

–           You don’t have to change the values or mission that made you successful; simply build on them and apply them in new ways to new markets.

–           Technology does not substitute for the meaning and purpose of the ideas that emerge from individuals – but it can accelerate their impact.

–           The world needs institutions that can foster neutral and unbiased idea exchange as resources become scarcer and challenges to life more global.

–           Visionary leaders see their role as empowering others, not themselves.

This development at the Washington Post represent a microcosm of a global phenomenon. Countries and organizations, as well as their leaders, are recognizing that change is the new order of the day and that the only road to sustainable success is agility underpinned by a stable set of values. The principles for which the Washington Post is respected by leaders around the world – integrity, balance, and transparency – remain relevant no matter what future form it may take. The world stands by with bated breath to witness the unfolding of the “new” Post – a new paradigm not just in print media, but in the news culture of our nation’s capital.