3 Lasting Leadership Lessons From Tony Hsieh

My wife Blake actually had the opportunity to interview Tony Hsieh in person for a podcast many years ago and hung out with him a handful of times at various events and social functions.

Although I only met Tony once, Blake tells me she felt he had a nice and kind soul and was an inspiring person to be around.

Known for his passion for people, dedication to happiness, and community involvement, Tony Hsieh was one of the greatest leadership minds of our generation.

The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Hsieh sold pizza while a student at Harvard and eventually went on to found Zappos, one of the most innovative and well-respected companies in retail.

Hsieh tragically died in 2020, but his influence is still felt in leadership.

Here are three lasting leadership lessons from the great Tony Hsieh.

Hsieh’s name is often accompanied by the word visionary. Hsieh had a vision that drove him to build an innovative company and dive into the community in ways that had never been done before. Hsieh once said: “Chase the vision. The money and profits will come.” More than money, Hsieh worked to turn his vision into reality and bring others along for the ride. His passion was contagious, and he truly cared about what he was building. Zappos’s amazing culture is because the passionate employees caught Hsieh’s vision. They aren’t just there to sell shoes — they are there to make a difference and spread happiness. Leaders need to follow this example by prioritizing vision over profits and imagining the big picture and encouraging others to join.

Hsieh believed one of his main roles as a leader was to help people, and he often did that by removing pain points. When Zappos first started, almost no one was buying shoes online. But the business took off because the return process was easy and customer-friendly. The pain point of cumbersome online returns was eliminated. Hsieh moved the entire company from San Francisco to Las Vegas. With a lower cost of living, more real estate options, and a larger pool of quality employees to staff the contact center, the move solved multiple pain points, including having in-house customer service and improving employee happiness. Leaders need to be problem solvers who are not only aware of the bottlenecks and holdups for their customers and employees, but who are also willing to make big moves to remove pain points. Hsieh showed that creating smoother experiences and interactions takes work, but the reward and relationships are worth the effort.

Leaders can’t be effective unless they are on the ground, building relationships and experiencing their company first hand. Hsieh was known to jump in and get his hands dirty. He famously removed all job titles and hierarchy at Zappos as a way to make everyone equal. When he started his massive Downtown Project to transform Las Vegas, Hsieh moved from a luxury apartment to an Airstream trailer in the neighborhood to be in the center of the action. He was humble and willing to immerse himself in every endeavor. Leaders need to get their hands dirty and jump into what’s happening in their company. They need to be humble enough to participate and learn from everyone around them.

Tony Hsieh may be gone, but his legacy survives. Modern leaders need to follow in his footsteps and learn from his example to thrive.

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Jacob Morgan

4x Best-Selling Author, Speaker, & Futurist. Founder of FutureOfWorkUniversity.com. Exploring Leadership, Employee Experience, & The Future of Work