I grew up in Italy, very close to Lake Como, in a working-class family—my mother worked in a factory and my dad was a nurse. I spent a lot of my childhood skiing, swimming, and hiking. When I wasn’t exploring the outdoors, I spent most of my time working on my uncle and aunt’s farm or playing soccer. I think both of these pastimes helped me learn the value of hard work and the importance of being a team player.
When it came time for college, I headed to the Polytechnic University of Milan. I earned my masters in engineering and operations, then started out my career as a material manager at Black & Decker. I worked in engineering for the beginning of my career, then moved into operations management for several years before joining Amazon in 2011. My first project as general manager of Amazon Italia was to lead a very small team in launching Amazon’s operations in Italy. After the successful launch in my home country, I went on to help scale operations in Spain and France, building out our operations in the South European region.
I’ve had a lot of different roles and lived in a lot of different places while working with Amazon. I now live in Luxembourg where I work as the vice president of North America and EU Customer Fulfillment and Global Operations Services. In my current role, I oversee everything from real estate, reliability, supply chain procurement to engineering, security, and compliance for operations and fulfillment centers in North America and Europe. Leading large teams to accomplish lofty goals has taught me just how important it is to build a solid foundation of effective leadership skills. If you’re in a leadership position or aspiring to lead a team one day, here are five of my best tips to develop your leadership style.
1.Define the impact you want to have
I grew up with a mindset that it’s important to fulfill your sense of duty. Working on the farm instilled the importance of delivering on time, respecting your work, and fulfilling your promises—even when the weather has other plans. That mindset has been critical in helping me solve big challenges in my career. The promise we make to deliver for Amazon customers is what makes me excited to get up and go to work every morning.
One of the most important things you can do as a leader is to define your purpose. Identify the upstream and downstream impact you want your team to have, then figure out how you and each of your employees will contribute to achieve that goal. Once you have it figured out, help your team understand that desired impact to keep everyone working toward the same vision.
2.Get familiar with the work your employees are doing
I made the transition from work that was purely rooted in engineering to take on a management role in operations in the early 2000s. I walked into the warehouse with a suit, a tie, and shiny shoes, and I had about 50 people laughing at me and whispering that I wouldn’t last a week. That was my “aha moment.” Operations was a whole new world for me, so I decided to take a very pragmatic approach to get familiar with it. I worked two shifts from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the warehouse alongside my workforce, then from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. I would manage the place. I learned the steps required for my team’s work, and that helped me learn how to be an effective manager for them.
The biggest lesson I learned here was the importance of stepping out of your shell to better understand what your team needs from you. It’s much easier to make important decisions and provide helpful guidance when you listen to your employees and have a true understanding of their work.
3.Establish your communication style
One week before the pandemic hit, I got a call from my leadership saying they’d like me to run our European operations. I had just started thinking about how I would approach this new responsibility when the pandemic started impacting communities around the world. Demand grew rapidly and some of our work went remote, which presented unique challenges for communication. The resiliency of our organization during this period was mind blowing. Our ability to quickly reinvent our communication networks and communicate clearly with employees was critical as we continued to deliver for customers.
Global pandemics aside, communication is one of the most important things to get right as a leader. It’s something I continue to evolve and improve upon every day. Think through how you’ll keep an open line of communication with your employees, and how you’ll approach things like big news, changes, and critical feedback.
4.Make a plan to develop your team
I started playing soccer when I was a kid, and I’m still playing 45 years later. One of the things that has always fascinated me about the sport is how you can win with any team. It’s not about the number of superstar players, but the collective effort of the entire team and how it’s coached. I think soccer is a bit of a metaphor for life in that way. As a leader, it’s important to evaluate your team and develop a path to grow leveraging the individual and collective strengths of your employees.
Amazon offers a variety of career development and growth opportunities for all employees, from leadership development programs to skills training and apprenticeship programs. Managers can help identify the right growth plan and opportunities for their team that can enable further career advancement through programs like Career Choice, on-the-job training or certification programs. Having an effective game plan based on your team’s existing skills will help guide your decisions and strategy as a leader.
5.Find out how technology will play a role in your growth
When we launched the first fulfillment center in Italy, we had about 200 employees, and we were picking 100 items an hour by hand. Now, we have roughly 20,000 employees, and we are able to pick 100 items in 20 minutes with help from our robotics systems. These systems also help make employees’ work safer and leave more time for them to work on high-level tasks.
Technology has played a big role in helping my teams achieve our goals at Amazon. That’s why one of my final pieces of advice is to think through how you will connect your people and technology to scale your team’s efforts. The two need to work together—it can’t just be one and not the other.
There have been several moments in my time at Amazon when my team has faced a big mountain of a challenge and I’ve thought to myself, “are we going to make it?” I’m pleased to report that we’ve made it through every hurdle thanks to the innovation, drive, and preparedness of the amazing people who work here. I hope these tips will help you set a solid foundation to lead your team through all the wins, challenges, and exciting opportunities to come.