Unexpected lessons in leadership

March 27, 2019

David Levy said the best leadership advice he ever received did not come from business leaders—but rather, from doctors.

“The lessons they shared have served me throughout my career and taught me to combine knowledge, curiosity and my heart to make an impact on the teams that I’ve led,” said Levy, vice president of federal government at Amazon Web Services.

Speaking at the March graduation ceremony of the Excellence in Government Fellows program, Levy shared two stories about physicians he has known and the impact they’ve had on his career.

The first was about his uncle, an African-American cardiovascular surgeon who served as a physician during the Vietnam War. When the uncle went to operate on a wounded soldier, the soldier told him he didn’t want an African-American doing the operation. The doctor told the soldier he understood his perspective but that he was the only doctor in the area. His uncle then proceeded to operate on the soldier, saving his life.

The lesson? “He always told me, no matter what you do in life, you have to deliver results,” Levy said. “And that, it’s not only the results that you deliver, it’s also about how you deliver those results.”

Levy also told the story of his diagnosis of congenital heart disease as a teenager, and what his cardiologist told him. When Levy expressed concern that his heart condition would prevent him from exploring his passions, the doctor said, “Purpose is more important than passion.”

Effective leaders have their purpose laid out for them, and part of being a successful leader “is about remaining curious and constantly learning,” Levy said. Most importantly, leaders must be aware of how they impact people every day, and, rather than acting based on individual factors, they should focus on the over-arching purpose of their actions.

Watch some highlights from Levy’s speech below.