3 lessons from the Amazon takedown

The recent New York Times profile of Amazon.com describing its relentless, high-pressure, measurement-obsessed culture is scarcely the first to depict what it is like to work there, either in its warehouses or its offices. While CEO Jeff Bezos has denied (no surprise) the accuracy of the reporting, a quick Web search reveals numerous articles painting a picture remarkably consistent with this most recent portrayal: Amazon is a tough place to work, Bezos is famous for his temper and put-downs of employees, and many people who cannot stand the stress and pressure leave.

There are numerous lessons to be gained from considering Amazon, its culture, and its success—lessons that pertain to many other workplaces. Here are three:

Everything we bash Donald Trump for is actually what we seek in leaders

In the spring of 2014, I turned in a book manuscript about leadership that, because of the turmoil within the publishing industry, will only be published next month. In the index for that book: entries for Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.

I wish I could say I was prescient about the unfolding race for the Republican nomination, but I wasn’t even thinking about this ever-entertaining spectacle. Instead, I was trying to address a topic that’s vitally important to individuals who want to thrive in today’s intensely competitive work world: the enormous disconnect between the leadership prescriptions regularly offered to an unsuspecting public by the enormous leadership industry and what social science and everyday observation suggest is the best path to individual success. For the most part, real-world success comes from behaviors that are precisely the opposite of typical leadership prescriptions.

The case against the ‘gig economy’

When I first met Andrew Berlin at a Stanford executive program in the early 1990s, Berlin Packaging was a small enterprise doing maybe $40 million in sales in what was then, and still is, a very tough, almost commodity-like industry. Today, the packaging company brings in close to $1 billion in annual revenues, Andrew Berlin has an ownership interest in the Chicago Cubs and a World Series ring from his past ownership interest in the White Sox, and he runs a company growing earnings at a low double-digit rate that achieves good margins.

Startups and Uber-like jobs will not solve America’s employment woes

Americans are a positive and optimistic lot, emphasizing that people need to go out and solve their own problems. That’s why there are myriad stories about Detroit’s comeback. And that’s why there are narratives like the following: “technology companies have contended that their virtual marketplaces, in which people act as contractors and use their own possessions to provide services to the public … afford workers flexibility and freedom,” writes The New York Times.

Of course, the California Labor Commissioner’s recent ruling that Uber drivers should be classified as employees has sparked renewed discussion as to whether being a contractor—and having access to no benefits, ranging from unemployment compensation, to worker’s compensation, to employer-provided health insurance—is actually such a good thing for workers.

The reputation economy and its discontents

A few years ago, when I had a hideously bad auto repair experience, I posted a negative rating on Yelp. And then soon the rating disappeared from the first page as positive ratings poured in. That experience made me suspicious about what has come to be called the reputation or ratings economy.

Over the ensuing years, ratings and ratings websites have proliferated. Everyone and everything from mental health providers to, as Times columnist Maureen Dowd humorously noted when she had trouble getting a ride, Uber passengers now get rated.

Is your employer killing you?

McDonald’s recent decision to raise the pay for workers at company-owned restaurants to an average of $9.90 an hour and provide employees, once they have worked a year, some paid time off made news for what that action says about the tightening labor market and the campaign to get low-paid people a living wage.

But pay levels and other working conditions such as vacation and paid sick days affect more than just standards of living. People spend a lot of their time at work and, unsurprisingly, what happens in the workplace profoundly influences people’s mental and physical health. So if you think your job may be killing you, recent research suggests you just might be right.

Who are the world’s best leaders?

Fortune, like many publications, likes lists—the most powerful women, the best companies to work for, the most admired companies, and of course, the annual list of the world’s greatest leaders.

Although all rankings are invariably imperfect and subjective, figuring out who the best leaders are might be the most difficult task of all.

We love leaders and leadership. That’s because we ascribe leaders with all sorts of mythical powers to improve performance and change the world—a phenomenon that the late business school professor James Meindl referred to as the “romance of leadership.” It turns out that research on the effects of leaders is much more equivocal than the popular mythology might lead one to believe. That’s because leaders operate under constraints—the limits imposed by economic circumstances, history, and other people.

What Rebekah Brooks can teach us about power

Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the U.K.’s The News of the World and The Sun, confidante of British Prime Minister David Cameron, and a favorite of Rupert Murdoch, is back. Acquitted of phone hacking and three other charges last summer, recent reports suggest that she may be returning to News Corp to take on an executive role, leading the media company’s digital initiatives.

Profiles of Brooks, who rose from being a secretary to one of the most powerful people in British journalism, invariably mention her toughness, willingness to bend if not break the rules, her networking ability, her capacity to manage up, and her combination of “charm, effrontery, audacity, and tenacity.” She displays confidence and is not afraid to use profanity and exact revenge against those who cross her. In short, she seems to behave in ways that defy common stereotypes about women.

Why powerful people are rarely punished appropriately

Justine Sacco, Lindsey Stone, and Alicia Ann Lynch all lost their jobs and suffered tremendous emotional distress from the vitriol unleashed in the social media world on each of them. Their “crime”: some tasteless posts on Twitter or Facebook.

Around the same day that several stories of Internet harmsurfaced, we learned that Dominique Strauss-Kahn—who after being accused of assaulting a New York hotel maid was allowed to address the French parliament and was appointed to a bank’s board of directors—was about to have charges dismissed related to his participation in orgies involving prostitutes. At Stanford University, since 1997, only 25 sexual assault or harassment caseshave made it through the university’s disciplinary process, with just 10 students found culpable, only one of whom was expelled. People who post inappropriate social media posts appear to face more opprobrium than those who engage in sexual assault.