Peacetime and wartime leadership skills

wartime leadershipWe’ve heard about Winston Churchill’s amazing leadership during the war, and his lacklustre performance during peacetime.  The same happens with leaders in the more metaphorical sense of wartime and peacetime, and yet leader developers sometimes forget that the skills needed are different.  Peacetime being when things are going well, wartime being when the environment is so much more challenging as to be detimental to the health of the company and its people.  There are so many books written about leadership in “peacetime”; so many courses that help leaders to create value, operate the business and develop people in “peacetime”.  Yet businesses rarely manage to operate purely in “peacetime” conditions.  When those businesses are at war, there’s a need for different skills – maybe even different leaders who possess the “wartime” skills that are so hard to swap to when you are used to being a “peacetime” leader.  This is one of the nougats of wisdom from Ben Horowitz in his book The Hard Thing about Hard Things (p226/227).  He’s been there as a serial entrepreneur.  He’s learnt the hard way.

If you are an entrepreneur with grand aspirations, this is the book for you.  Don’t choose one of the thousands of other leadership books out there.  Choose this one.  It’s profound.

I have to admit to being somewhat biased, as he tapped into one of my own values early on in the book…”Take care of the people, the products and the profit – in that order“, and “smart people do not want to work for people who do not have their interests in mind and in heart”.  “Your loyalty must go to your employees.  You owe them a world-class management team”.  As I have always said “Developing People IS our Business”.

His advice about how to lay people off in hard times really hit a nerve for me too.  “People won’t remember every day they worked for the company, but they will remember every detail of the day you laid them off”, so, he says, train your managers to lay off their own people.  There is so much more heart in that than having HR do the “dirty work”.  Ben was very direct all the way through, adding that if you need to fire an executive, it’s because YOU suck, not them – you suck at interviewing and at integration.

There were so many other nougats that I noted down, but I won’t do them justice.  I’d encourage you to read the book instead.  You’ll be gripped, by his style and by the substance.