Wartime and peacetime CEOs

In 2001, Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz described the Peacetime and the Wartime CEO. During “peacetime” a company can focus on expanding, providing a large advantage over the competition. Conversely, in “wartime”, a company must fend off an imminent threat.

Today’s economy seems to draw lines in the sand: red or blue, rich or poor, black or white, winner or loser. The parallels are obvious. Here is how Horowitz

describes the behavior of a Peacetime leader versus a Wartime leader.

  • “Peacetime leaders know that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime leaders violate protocol in order to win.
  • Peacetime leaders focus on the big picture (strategy). Wartime leaders worry about a speck of dust if it interferes with the mission (execution).
  • Peacetime leaders spend time shaping and supporting culture. Wartime leaders let the war define the culture.
  • Peacetime leaders have contingency plans. Wartime leaders know you have to roll a hard six.
  • Peacetime leaders leverage a big advantage. Wartime leaders are productively paranoid.
  • Peacetime leaders aim to expand the market. Wartime leaders aim to win the market.
  • Peacetime leaders train the team for career development and satisfaction. Wartime leaders train the team, so they don’t get killed.
  • Peacetime CEO’s set big, hairy audacious goals. Wartime CEOs are too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.”

There is a big difference between the mindsets.

Peacetime leaders must be as diligent as Wartime leaders. Complacency kills: it doesn’t discriminate or care if you’re in peacetime or wartime. It will get you every time.
Wartime leaders let the war define the culture. War is nasty. If you let it define your culture you won’t recognize yourself in the end.

Is it possible to thrive/survive during both peace and war?  As you move your company forward, it’s worth considering what mindset you’re in and why.

The road is easier together,

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