Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Many CEOs are shielded from surprises.

They make sure there's a buffer between them and anyone who decides they deserve their attention.

At last week's shareholders' meeting, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had more than one unexpected person demanding his attention.

How he dealt with those people was quite fascinating.

First was a customer and shareholder so frustrated with trying to return an unwanted package to Amazon that she brought it to the meeting in order to deliver it to Bezos personally.

She said she'd tried to return it four times without success.

You might think large security types would have tried to shoo the woman away.

Instead, according to Geekwire's Todd Bishop, Bezos offered sympathy, saying: 

"My apologies that you had to use this unusual venue to accomplish what should have been a routine task."

Then he tried to make light of the slightly awkward situation: 

"Anybody else have anything they need to return?"

Many people might think this a deft, humorous touch.

It was a marked contrast, however, to how Amazon's CEO reacted to some of his own employees at the same meeting.

Amazon UX designer Emily Cunningham is one of the organizers of a climate change proposal, signed by almost 8,000 of the company's employees.

She described her experience of trying to get Bezos and the rest of the shareholders to pay attention: 

"At the Amazon shareholder meeting. I delivered the presentation about our climate resolution. Still shaking. It was emotional. But feeling excited and exhilarated."

Like the frustrated customer, she asked to speak to Bezos directly. He wasn't on stage at the time.

Yet it appeared he wasn't about to come on stage to hear his employees, either.

As Business Insider reported, Cunningham asked whether Bezos would at least be listening and was told by a moderator, "I assume so." 

If you thought that Bezos's reaction to the frustrated customer was perfectly pitched, his employees weren't so keen on how he reacted to them

"This is not the kind of leadership we need to address the climate crisis. We need a plan, a commitment to zero carbon emissions. Employees no longer 'assume' we're doing enough. We want to lead the way."

Perhaps Bezos didn't want to deal with these employees. Perhaps he considered them to be grandstanding.

It's instructive, however, that he wasn't able to show respect for his own staff. 

They are, after all, interested in a subject most tech companies at least claim to take very seriously.

I contacted Amazon to ask whether Bezos did have at least a more private reaction to the appeal. 

A company spokesman wouldn't address the specific proposal. Instead, he told me: 

"Earlier this year, we announced that we will share our company-wide carbon footprint, along with related goals and programs. We also announced Shipment Zero, our vision to make all Amazon shipments net zero carbon, with 50 percent of all shipments net zero by 2030. Amazon's sustainability team is using a science-based approach to develop data and strategies to ensure a rigorous approach to our sustainability work."

At the meeting, Bezos did answer one employee's question about climate change by saying: 

"That's a very important issue. It's hard to find an issue that is more important than climate change.... It's also, as everyone knows, a very difficult problem."

Why not, then, address the employees?

Bezos claimed that merely by being involved in e-commerce and cloud computing, the company was being more efficient. He added that the company has its own initiatives. 

Leadership sometimes means showing you're comfortable dealing with the uncomfortable, especially when it comes to addressing a substantial swath of your staff.

Though the employee-created climate change proposal was voted down, along with 10 others, would it have been so hard for Bezos to work with these concerned employees?

Isn't it best to have passionate employees on your side, if your interests are aligned?

Wouldn't choosing to work with them have felt like, well, a routine decision?

Published on: May 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.