Celebrating Tony Hsieh’s Leadership Style and Philosophy

I was shocked to hear of the passing on of Tony Hsieh, formerly the CEO of Zappos. I was fortunate enough to meet him on a tour of the Zappos Las Vegas customer support center years ago. I was awed by Tony Hsieh’s leadership style and philosophy that day.  Here are a few of his strategies that have impacted me as a leader.

Tony Hsieh the author of Delivering Happiness is holding Zappos boxes

What traits did Tony Hsieh exhibit that would indicate he is an effective leader?

When I visited Zappos, my initial impression was that the support team office seemed very eclectic in appearance and attitude. The office had a sense of semi-organized chaos with few rules, loose organization, and little supervision. Tony’s office was in the center of it all, showing that he was part of the team, not above it.

It didn’t look like a traditional office environment, but there was a sense of fun, energy, and success all around. A giant video board had sales numbers, key metrics, and messages that everyone could see. It was rare and shocking that a company would share that much information with employees and tour guests.

However, that transparency is part of Tony’s management style. He knew early on that Zappos’s success relied on establishing their core values and making employees feel invested in the company’s success. The office was alive with precisely the type of energy that the brand itself embodied. 

Many businesses overlook the importance of company culture, but Tony knew better.  His leadership style and philosophy are rooted in the idea of leading through service. He was able to create a healthy office culture by putting his team and his customers first. 

In his book Delivering Happiness, he wrote, “At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff—like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers—will happen naturally on its own. Your culture is your brand.” 

Zappos experienced rapid growth under the leadership style of Tony Hsieh. From 1999 to 2000, Zappos sold $1.6 million of shoes. Revenue skyrocketed over the next few years, finally surpassing $2 billion in revenue in 2015. 

One of the reasons for this success was Tony’s insistence that customer service was the brand element that made them different from all other competitors. 

He wrote: “We decided that we wanted to build our brand to be about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience. We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department; it should be the entire company.” Tony Hsieh’s servant leadership is just one part of his great legacy. 

We can all learn from Tony Hsieh’s leadership ideas, as embodied by the Zappos Core Values:

  • Deliver “WOW” through service
  • Embrace and drive change
  • Create fun and a little weirdness
  • Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded
  • Pursue growth and learning
  • Build open and honest relationships with communication
  • Build a positive team and family spirit
  • Do more with less
  • Be passionate and determined
  • Be humble

Tony was an example of a leader who truly lived his values. His followers will miss him, but the legacy of Tony Hsieh will live on forever in the hearts and minds of the business leaders he touched. If you haven’t read his book, Deliver Happiness, please read it soon.

Coach Dave


Dave Schoenbeck
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