Ben Horowitz on Culture, Leadership, & Succeeding

September 19, 2017

Ben Horowitz - Culture Quote

“I don’t think I’m all this or that, but I’m all me.” – Eazy-E

The New York Times wrote that Ben Horowitz is “helping define the modern tech age.” It goes without saying, we concur.

He’s a bestselling author, accomplished CEO, cofounder and general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and noted hip hop connoisseur. Ben gives new meaning to the word success, and he continues to brighten the world with his insights on culture and the changing workforce. We can’t wait to see what he shares this week on the keynote stage of SHIFT: The Culture Conference.   

On culture:

“As a company grows, communication becomes its biggest challenge. If the employees fundamentally trust the CEO, then communication will be vastly more efficient than if they don’t. Telling things as they are is a critical part of building this trust. A CEO’s ability to build this trust over time is often the difference between companies that execute well and companies that are chaotic.

“If you investigate companies which have failed, you will find many employees who knew about the fatal issues long before those issues killed the company. If the employees knew about the deadly problems, why didn’t they say something? Too often the answer is that the company culture discouraged the spread of bad news, so the knowledge lay dormant until it was too late to act.” [A16Z, July 2, 2010]

“Peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. Wartime CEO lets the war define the culture.” [A16Z, April 14, 2011]

“Culture is complex… Culture in a company is: how do people behave when you’re not looking? What do they do when left to their own devices?”

“Someone calls you – do you call them back right away? Do you try and undermine your peer, or do you try and learn from your peer?”

You need shocking rules. If you’re going to change someone’s behavior, you need to put down a rule that they can’t even believe you put down.” [A16Z, July 8, 2017]

“Speaking of culture, why should the sales culture be different from the engineering culture? To understand that, ask yourself the following: Do your engineers like programming? Might they even do a little programming on the side sometimes for fun? Great. I guarantee your sales people never sell enterprise software for fun.” [A16Z, September 11, 2017]

“Employees are not nearly as married to the company as you are. They do not take the losses as hard. And they want the chance to work on solving those problems. Culturally, once you deliver bad news a few times, people get over the worrying part.[Inc.]

Ben Horowitz - Culture Quote

On leadership:

Leadership is when the group thinks one thing, and you think something else, and you’re not sure – but you’re pretty sure you know more than they do – and you have the courage to stand up and make that decision. That’s very difficult to do. And you see that super seldom in the world.” [A16Z, July 8, 2017]

In peacetime, leaders must maximize and broaden the current opportunity. As a result, peacetime leaders employ techniques to encourage broad-based creativity and contribution across a diverse set of possible objectives.”

“In wartime, by contrast, the company typically has a single bullet in the chamber and must, at all costs, hit the target. The company’s survival in wartime depends upon strict adherence and alignment to the mission.

Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.” [A16Z, April 14, 2011]

“As the highest-ranking person in the company, I thought that I would be best able to handle bad news. Interestingly, the opposite was actually true: nobody took bad news harder than me. Engineers easily brushed off things that kept me awake all night. After all, I was the founding CEO. I was the one married to the company. If things went horribly wrong, they could walk away, but I could not. As a consequence, the employees handled losses much better than me.” [A16Z, July 2, 2010]

“This is the terror of being a founder / CEO. It is all your fault. Every decision, every person you hire, every dumb thing you buy or do — ultimately you’re at the end. A CEO’s supposed to take into account things like macroeconomic environment. At that point I had no idea — it was completely unfathomable to me that NASDAQ would drop 80 percent while I was CEO”

“But the conflict is where the truth is. And so when there’s a conflict in the organization, you do not want to smooth it over. You want to sharpen the contradictions, heat up both opinions, and resolve it. Good CEOs are really good at doing that. And it’s miserable to work for someone who tries to smooth things over. “Oh no, it’s a miscommunication.” Miscommunication? I don’t agree with that.” [The Verge]

“A lot of being a successful CEO is not quitting. It sounds almost corny. Winners never quit and quitters never win. But there’s something deeper. When you’re in it, you are building a tremendous amount of knowledge about the company, about the market, about the customer, and about the product. The longer you have to apply that, the better your chances are. If you can somehow stay in the box, then, amazingly, you might find yourself in a good position.” [Inc.]

“In engineering meetings where there is great pressure to ship on time–a customer commitment, a quarter that depends on it, or a competitive imperative–everybody hopes for good news. When the facts don’t align with the good news, a clever manager will find the narrative to make everybody feel better–until the next meeting.” [Fast Company]

“[One] thing that is very hard is honesty. That means honesty with other people and honesty with yourself. The truth is, there is not a naturally honest person in the world.  Nobody really is, it’s something you have to work at. And the reason you have to work at it goes back to that you really want to feel good about yourself, and you want people to like you. And the way to get people to like you is to tell them what they want to hear — not the truth — you tell them what they want to hear. That’s one of the biggest challenges if you want to lead an organization or do something important. You can’t lie to other people or lie to yourself. If you do, they will see through it. You might think you are being slick — but they see through it.” [UC Berkeley]

On succeeding:

“You should set high-level goals, but those goals will or will not be achieved by the organization that you assigned them to. If you want to help them reach their goals, do so by focusing on the little things.”

“My old boss Jim Barksdale used to say that all of the knowledge was with the individual contributors and the customers. As CEO, you need to hire the right people and set a clear direction. Once you do that, you should fly low and fast rather than high and slow. Focus on the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.[A16Z, April 6, 2015]

“And you know what everybody wants to hear? What they already believe to be true. And so the last thing they want to hear is an original idea that contradicts their belief system. So it’s very hard to even bring that kind of stuff up. But those are the things; those are the only things — things that YOU believe, that everybody around you doesn’t believe — that when you’re right that create real value in the world. Everything else people already know. There is no value created. It’s just business as usual. So it’s so important to think for yourself.

“Following your passion is a very ‘me’ – centered view of the world. When you go through life, what you’ll find is what you take out of the world over time — be it money, cars, stuff, accolades — is much less important than what you’ve put into the world. So my recommendation would be follow your contribution. Find the thing that you’re great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better and that is the thing to follow.” [A16Z, Commencement Address – Columbia University, May 28, 2015]

“You know, I’m a huge believer in clarity. As long as people are clear on what they need to do and what’s going on, you’re very likely to succeed. When nobody is clear, then you’re guaranteed to fail. And profanity helps clarity. Or at least, I haven’t found a better way to get to clarity. If I have one skill as a manager, I can make things extremely clear.” [The Verge]

“Does Facebook ever miss out on a new hire due to its low titles? Yes, definitely. But one might argue that they miss out on precisely the employees that they don’t want. In fact, both the hiring and on-boarding processes at Facebook have been carefully designed to encourage the right kind of employees to self-select themselves in and the wrong ones to select themselves out.” [Fast Company]

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A Content Marketing Manager at Zenefits, Jordan has a lot to say about the nuances of payroll, benefits, and HR (and about the way we say it). He was raised by small business owners, so it’s no surprise that Jordan loves helping entrepreneurs achieve their goals.

Category: Culture, Entrepreneurship

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