A Wartime CEO

One of the more interesting bits in Ben Horowitz’ is working through kimchi problems, as they are called. These aren’t so hard to work through when you have a handful of them here and there…

… but when you wake up and realize that the entire business is a “kimchi problem”, well… then, you have to switch gears entirely.

Horowitz shares the difference between a Peacetime CEO and a Wartime CEO — I’m currently operating in the condition of the latter. Here’s his list and a few anecdotes:

Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.

It just has to happen, whatever it takes.

Peacetime CEO focuses on the big picture and empowers her people to make detailed decisions. Wartime CEO cares about a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass if it interferes with the prime directive.

I’m doing quite a lot of #gnatsass as of recent because I have such a clear picture of where we need to head and we need absolute compliance so that we can all get there together. I’m back to doing things that I wasn’t doing daily because you need to have that moral authority.

Peacetime CEO builds scalable, high volume recruiting machines. Wartime CEO does that, but also builds HR organizations that can execute layoffs.

We’ve already had to reduce our numbers and there’s plenty more room to go. Sometimes, when you need speed you just have to lighten the boat.

Peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. Wartime CEO lets the war define the culture.

I didn’t really think about this until I read these parts again but it’s all true: Right now, we’re all focused on staying alive. Everything else is superfluous and I’m not thinking as much about what I want the culture to be; I’m thinking about making sure there’s a company to house a culture.

Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.

Fucking lol. I love how Ben puts it in terms that I can really understand. Roll that dice like your life depended on it fool!

Peacetime CEO knows what to do with a big advantage. Wartime CEO is paranoid.

I think my best friend has noticed that I’m constantly fidgeting with something on my mind; visibly agitated as if there’s something left undone. Anything could be going horribly wrong at this very moment and I don’t have the slightest clue about it.

That’s some weird shit, to be honest. I don’t like these seasons and I’m going to be really grateful when we’re through it.

Peacetime CEO strives not to use profanity. Wartime CEO sometimes uses profanity purposefully.

I like to say the word “fuck” a lot but these days it’s like all I say.

Peacetime CEO thinks of the competition as other ships in a big ocean that may never engage. Wartime CEO thinks the competition is sneaking into her house and trying to kidnap her children.

I’m not thinking much about competition right now, so, this isn’t the case for me and my team. I’m glad though because that would only feed into my already heightened state of paranoia.

Peacetime CEO aims to expand the market. Wartime CEO aims to win the market.

I think we have a real shot at not just winning a market but also defining a new category altogether. What fun!

Peacetime CEO strives to tolerate deviations from the plan when coupled with effort and creativity.  Wartime CEO is completely intolerant.

I have zero patience for bullshit these days and I’m doing my very best to be nice and kind about it — I’ve already had some moments where I’ve had to apologize and remind them of the good stuff (and that I really do like them!).

Peacetime CEO does not raise her voice. Wartime CEO rarely speaks in a normal tone.

It’s probably a good thing my team is a distributed-first because they don’t have to hear me yelling as I post updates in Slack.

Peacetime CEO works to minimize conflict. Wartime CEO heightens the contradictions.

It kind of goes with the territory — you’re either on the team and want to head in this specific direction or you don’t. And if I change that direction throughout the day, then, that’s just how it works.

Peacetime CEO strives for broad based buy in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus-building nor tolerates disagreements.

I’m interested in only a few things, speed of decision-making being the number one priority. If the formal processes create drag, then, they need to step-aside so that decisions (and work) can get done.

Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.

I think the enemies that we face are mis-alignment and our own insecurity that may keep us from moving things forward. Insecurity, mind you, isn’t a bad thing nor does it show weakness — in fact, I think it is a requirement if you’re to remain sober during the process.

There is nothing natural or fun about the process of re-booting a business from near-scratch (and definitely a net-new codebase). It’s goddamn fucking frightening.

Peacetime CEO trains her employees to ensure satisfaction and career development. Wartime CEO trains her employees so they don’t get their ass shot off in the battle.

I’ve enjoyed the process of leveling-up my team in a few moments — why the hell not. It’s go time.

Peacetime CEO has rules like “we’re going to exit all businesses where we’re not number 1 or 2.”  Wartime CEO often has no businesses that are number 1 or 2 and therefore does not have the luxury of following that rule.

Yup, that’s exactly where we are.