What’s most interesting about Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things is that he doesn’t sell a recipe that works for him. Whereas most business books in the market today highlight some form of roadmap or uncommon entrepreneurial ideology, Ben takes us back to what matters the most in a business—people, products, and profit. If you don’t prioritize your enterprise in that order, then all of your efforts will go to waste.
It’s also worth noting that Ben doesn’t mince words and stories when it comes to the many failures and losses he’s faced as an entrepreneur. He details how he started in the industry and what he’s learned along the way. In other words, Ben talks about how he’s learned to manage businesses by making mistakes.
Here are a few of our takeaways from the book:
Embrace the struggle with a clear head
Your role is most important during the most uncomfortable moments. Even if your statistics to winning are one in a million, your task is all the same—to make a plan and follow through. Although it’s essential to be positive, there is no danger in being a realist. Acknowledge potential failure and threat, but carry on anyway.
What’s most crucial is you carry the mindset of a warrior. What you think and how you process events is what defines your brand of leadership.
As the head of an organization, you may feel tempted to sugarcoat bad news and highlight only the positives, but doing so will work against you. Stand up to pressure and admit things as they are. Cultivating a culture of honesty and trust only encourages people to fix problems instead of covering them.
Healthy companies share a culture of talking about bad news freely and coming up with actionable solutions together. Be the leader people feel comfortable turning to when something goes awry, not the type people avoid.
The science of hiring the right people
No one is perfect, and that’s not news. Instead of hiring talent based only on their strengths, consider their weaknesses and their willingness to work on them. While one’s skillset is definitely a determiner, their character is what gets them through difficult times. As the head of a business, you can already be sure that your enterprise will experience hiccups along the way. Find someone you can trust. Exceptional skills are necessary to complete tasks well, but grit and resolve are critical for a business’s overall success.
There are several reasons to stay at a company when things are doing well: your career grows as the business expands, enticing work opportunities start surfacing when your skillset grows, your resume becomes stronger, and of course, you’re bound to increase your net worth.
However, when things do not go as planned, the only reason that’s left to stay—aside from needing a steady income—is that employees like what they do despite the struggles. On that note, the book suggests a few things to ensure harmony and progress.
Firstly, hire talent based on how healthily determined they are to succeed. Secondly, understand full well that you’re employing imperfect people with specific skillsets. Although they’re designed to impress, they’re also definitely going to upset and fail somewhere in the long run. Accept that no one is perfect—including you.
Involve key team members when discussing whether or not a person is fit for the team. But toward the end, make a solo decision. Group discussions on whether or not someone fits a role often leads to focusing on one’s weaknesses instead of one’s skills.
There is no escape to office politics, but you can lessen it.
As companies scale, a few tasks may be overlooked. Make sure every duty and project detail is accounted for. Unnoticed tasks often lead to job dissatisfaction and a lack of emotional validation. Give credit where credit is due, and congratulate and celebrate someone’s successes. Credit for hard work and brilliant ideas can be easily be taken by supervisors and politicians. Allow none of this to happen in your workplace. Bureaucracy doesn’t only kill creativity, it ends careers too.
Important principles for managing people:
Hire someone who understands your vision. At the end of the day, it’s important that you share one mindset with the people you work with. Your success is theirs, and vice versa.
Maintaining strict processes and policies ensures fairness. Choose empathy, but treat everyone equally against all standards.
Promote seasoned talents by measuring objectives against results and their ability to collaborate with others.
Take the time to meet with your people one on one. Sometimes the best ideas are explained when no one else is in the room. Moments like these also make for great opportunities to discuss work heartaches, frustrations, and self-doubts.
Ben doesn’t only do a fantastic job talking about the lessons he’s learned throughout his career; he also makes it very clear that putting people first shapes how stellar your products and services turn out. Businesses are known for ideas, but ideas come from people. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a satisfying read for any creative and business leader, but it’s best picked up for those who feel a little lost, confused, or are looking to start a new venture.
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