Notes on Wartime vs Peacetime

by oneafrikan on October 26, 2014

I’m reading Ben Horowitz’s book, for the second time. The first time was before The Forge.

For a long while I’ve been wrestling with this notion of the Wartime / Peacetime CEO. Looking back over the last 2.5 years, there have been many instances when my Wartime CEO was sitting on my shoulder and screaming at me to do something. And then in the interests of not freaking anyone out or making someone cower in the corner, I cooled down and took the Peacetime CEO approach.

It didn’t work (most of the time). It wasn’t Peacetime.

Intuitively, I didn’t know how to describe that internal conflict. My gut was telling me to do one thing, my head was telling me to do another, my heart was telling me to give people a chance, to try and manage them to perform better. I also trusted, probably too much.

Once I’d read the book for the second time after making some hard decisions, it all started sinking in.

What was happening was that my gut was saying “you need to do this, and now”, whereas my head was rummaging through the leadership and management books I’d read over the past 15 years. The problem, as Ben notes in the book, is that most of these books are written about people or companies in stages of Peace.

My own internal conflict is that by nature I have a gentle, inclusive personality. I try to see the best in people and of situations, and I take a lot of joy from watching people grow and develop under my watch. This is great in Peacetime, not so important in Wartime. What’s important in Wartime is staying afloat long enough to survive.

So now things are changing in my own head. I’m letting go of this notion that there is a clear, defined, best practice way of handling or doing things. What’s more important are the results we get.

My view now is that if you’re starting a company, and certainly within the first 3 years of it’s life, you’re at war whether you like it or not. You need wartime people. You need wartime systems (KISS), and you need to think like a wartime leader.

If you’re in eCommerce, you may never leave that state.

They don’t teach you management or leadership in Zoology (which I studied), so the books above seemed like a good place to start. I don’t think you learn management or leadership other than by doing and observing firsthand.

Probably the most important character traits you need from your people in Wartime are resilience and calmness.

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