top of page

The Hard Thing About The Hard Things

I took my own advice and decided to read a book that has been on my “must read” list for 2016. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz keeps it real in his book, The Hard Thing About The Hard Things. While most books written by successful entrepreneurs read like romance novels, Ben’s book is more like watching the film Fight Club. My assessment of the book: two thumbs up—big thumbs—way up!

Ben cut his teeth in the tech sector and now he is a cornerstone of Silicon Valley’s venture capital community. His firm funded ventures like Airbnb, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter. Here are four lessons he shares in his book that all leaders can learn from in order to strengthen their muscles for greater endurance during those tough times.

1. When Things Fall Apart: Get Real

Victories are fun. Things falling apart, now that is terrifying. Stock markets crash, anchor clients leave, new competitors enter the battle, and—for those of you involved in fundraising—big donors may decide to support other organizations. When your organization is fighting for its life, no amount of positive messaging will save the day. No one is going to step in and rescue you. Ben’s message is that you need to get real. Spend zero time on what you could have done and to concentrate all of your efforts on finding the way out of your current situation. Problem-solve and create solutions!

2. Good or Bad: It’s Contagious

Jim Barksdale, Ben’s old boss, said “We take care of the people, the products and the profits…in that order.” From time to time, organizations pick the wrong people for the wrong positions for the wrong reasons. The impact of having the wrong people directly affects your ability to create and deliver a winning product or a program.

There are three lessons you can learn. Hire for strengths rather than for lack of weakness. Secondly, invest in training your team; it will generate exponential dividends. Thirdly, make sure you are creating and maintaining a great place to work. When times are tough, you may have to lay people off. By being a great place to work, those who remain will understand the situation and stick by the organization’s leaders in order to forge ahead.

3. Growing Pains: Right People at the Right Time

Go big or go home is the prevailing culture in Silicon Valley. Ben notes that one of the hardest things to do is get the right people at the right time for your goals, mission, and scale. Most of the time people are lured into what he calls the scale anticipation fallacy. Organizations like to hire “big name” talent in the hopes that they will help the organization rise to the next level. The problem is that these big names are often over-sized for the organization and end up squashing its potential as frustration sets in and eats up precious management energy.

What you always want to do is hire the right person for the right job at the right time.

4. Mental Strength

Leaders in any sized organization face tremendous pressure. When times are tough they have to deal with unhappy employees, stakeholders, and clients. It can be a lonely job. There are tools that can help lessen the pressure. Build a trusted circle of friends where you can be open about your thoughts. They will help you think through challenging situations and provide strength. The second is to clear your mind. Get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, that way you can see it and get some perspective on the situation. It lightens your mental load. Finally, Ben encourages leaders to free up their emotional bandwidth. He says dwelling on the past and worrying about the future eat up your emotional resources. The key is to focus on where you are going rather than on what you hope to avoid.

I welcome your feedback about any of my thoughts and stand ready to help your organization hire the right person for the right job at the right time! Happy September!


bottom of page