Throughout his career, Daryl Hammett, general manager of global demand and operations at Amazon Web Services (AWS), was often the only Black executive in the room.
“Sometimes, the top can feel lonely for people who look like me,” said Hammett.
With Black talent representing only 4% of executive roles in tech, he knew he wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Inspired by Amazon’s Leadership Principles (one of the reasons Hammett was attracted to the company), he wrote a document to propose a new program called Empowering Network of Amazon Black Executives (ENABLE) for Black executives in AWS. He got support from his team and allies across the organization, and the program quickly expanded to include executives from across Amazon.
ENABLE members connect over quarterly meetings or at regional meetups to mentor and learn from one another, and bond over shared experiences to strengthen their sense of inclusion and belonging at work. They’re also focused on helping their teams succeed at Amazon. They always consider how they can expose opportunities to their employees that they might not have otherwise in any other company. And once a year, they get together in person at the ENABLE Summit, a formal professional development event.
Here are five leadership lessons that helped some of our ENABLE leaders thrive and grow over the course of their careers.
1.Lead with compassion and positive healing
“As leaders, we often run on all cylinders. There’s also a compounded exhaustion that comes with being a Black female tech leader in America. Earlier in my career, I learned that holistic leadership starts with compassion for one’s self. I want to be a leader that I’m proud of and leave a meaningful legacy by starting with positive healing. That’s why at the ENABLE Summit this year, we had a guest speaker who helped our Black directors cope with racial trauma. It’s raw, it’s deep, and it’s painful at times, but it’s also necessary to unpack safely so we don’t carry our pain with us as we lead. The world outside of Amazon affects us deeply because we are multidimensional humans. In my everyday life, I am cognizant when I need to take breaks to recharge, reflect, and restock my leadership tools, physical wellbeing, and spiritual fuel tank. Joining ENABLE has been a special way for me to recharge and reset because I am inspired and supported by this community.” —Jovonia Thibert, director of Amazon Fulfillment Technology and Robotics (FTR)
2.Take good care of one another
“I love being a mentor, and I often tell my mentees, don’t get worked up about titles, and instead, focus on getting the experiences that align with your passion and the next role. When I have career conversations with them, I use a prep template that outlines four areas: current status, focus areas, progress, and opportunities. It essentially gives them a clear view of where they are now and what are the experiences they need to gain in order to reach the role or next level they are seeking.”
“The other lesson that’s integral to my leadership is mental health. We have this saying, ‘One band, one sound.’ If anyone is not well, we’re all unwell. I treat my team like they’re my family, and we must take good care of one another no matter what. I tell my direct reports to check in on their teams beyond the day-to-day work. That’s how teams succeed.” —Derek Jones, vice president of Workplace Health and Safety (WHS), Global Transportation, and Retail Services at Amazon
3.Lead with culture and obsess over details
“As a leader, your team is everything. And you can’t create a strong team without a strong culture, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to Amazon. I learned about the importance of culture when I played collegiate sports as an athlete in track and football. I took this lesson with me as I led my region in the U.S. Midwest and now south Chicago. I spend a lot of time with my team to get to know them and set clear expectations, because how can I hold them accountable if they don’t know what good looks like? I also pay very close attention to the details. Do the coffee machines work? Are the floors clean? Are the associates engaged and happy? These are important details that not only set the tone but also create a welcoming environment for teams to thrive.” —Albert Rhodes, regional operations director at Amazon Logistics
4.Be your authentic self and fight the urge to assimilate
“It wasn’t until my 40s when I realized that I wasn’t going to compromise for anyone. I was in an important board meeting at the time, and my CEO recognized that I was doing the corporate nod. Afterwards, he pulled me aside and said, we brought you here for who you are and you must not agree with everything that was being said at the meeting. I was being agreeable because I wanted to be less threatening and I wanted the people in the room to like me. Since then, I tell my direct reports and mentees to be their authentic selves at work and fight the urge to assimilate. Or simply put, I’m Daryl Hammett first and then I’m an Amazonian. It’s not the other way around. This mindset shift is not only empowering but it’s how we continue to come up with ideas and solutions that can help our customers innovate in the cloud.” —Daryl Hammett, general manager of global demand and operations at AWS
5.Pay it forward
“My mentors, advocates, and sponsors have made a significant impact on my success—both professionally and personally. They invested in my growth and created a safe space for me. And they inspired me to pay it forward. That’s why I dedicate 30 minutes each morning, between 8:45 and 9:15, to anyone who reaches out looking for advice, assistance, or just a compassionate and empathetic ear. I take their calls because I’m committed to lifting others up as I climb. A good leader doesn’t just deliver results. It’s more than that. Leaders have influence, and they can use their influence for good. What is the legacy they want to leave behind? How can they make the workplace or society better for the next generation? Let’s lead in the present but also plan for the future.” —LaDavia Drane, global head of inclusion, diversity, and equity at AWSAmazon’s culture of inclusion is reinforced within our 16 Leadership Principles, which remind team members to seek diverse perspectives, learn and be curious, and earn trust.