Another month, another Book Brief! To start our 2020 Book Briefs, we read What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz. As you know, when we really love a book, we give you the key points AND we tell you you need to read it. However, this one is not quite like that. This book was a little hard to get through and didn’t give as many actionable steps as one would hope. Alas, when you read as many books as we do, it’s unsurprising that sometimes a lackluster read is thrown our way. For this one, take our synopsis and key takeaways, then find yourself another book on our list. ;)
Now, this is not to say this book didn’t add value. It did! But the first 2/3 was solely made up of stories and it wasn’t until the last 1/3 of the book that we found any advice.
Horowitz utilizes a tale of the Haitian Revolution to show business owners that culture can be created and molded into what you want it to be. However, some reviewers have mentioned that he misunderstood the lives of Haitian slaves. They state that his lessons are not necessarily applicable to what happened with the slaves. While we are not historians and can’t really speak to this, we see where the reviewers are coming from.
What You Do Is Who You Are Takeaways
Have Principles – In the story of the Louisiana Purchase, we get kind of a Butterfly Effect. It all started with one Haitian slave, Toussaint Louverture, who created an army of slaves that went on to defeat Great Britain, Spain, and France – resulting in a free state of Haiti. Napoleon suffered a high number of losses, leading him to sell property in the United States, now known as the Louisiana Purchase. Unfortunately, this brought slavery to the United States. American abolitionist, John Brown, was inspired by Louverture when he organized the raid on Harpers Ferry. Though this raid ultimately failed and cost John Brown his life, it was a starting force of the Civil War. Louverture held to his principles and encouraged others to do the same, no matter the cost, and ultimately created the ripple effect that abolished slavery in the US.
Never Waver – Even after winning independence for Haiti, Toussaint Louverture never wavered from his ethics and morals. Many of his men wanted to punish or kill their former masters but Louverture had a vision. He wanted a new culture for his country! His ability to embody his ideal culture allowed it to trickle down to thousands of people. He shifted the culture of prejudice into a culture of understanding. No one is inherently bad because of their skin color. Instead, he argued that lack of culture and education was what made people so different.
Set Enforceable Rules – When setting rules, they must be interacted with frequently. Otherwise, people forget the rules and they don’t get enforced. If your rule only applies to situations people face once a year, it’s irrelevant. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants coach from 2004-2015, set a rule that if you’re on time, you’re late. His meetings always started 5 minutes early and if you were late, you paid a $1000 fine. Harsh? Maybe. But it set the precedent for his culture and was relevant every day.
Focus on the End – This book included a chapter all about focusing on death. It was hard for us to wrap our heads around because we like to focus on what we want to achieve and who we want to be, rather than worst-case scenarios. However, we were able to pull out some tidbits that make logical sense to even the most optimistic. When envisioning the conclusion of your business, how would it’s eulogy read? Did you treat people well? Did you build a good product? Was your service helpful to others?
CEO Leadership Styles
Everyone Has a Say – This model is the most disruptive to your business and quickly leads to the most headache for employees. Oftentimes, this will lead to a bottleneck and nothing gets done.
My Way or The Highway – This leadership model works better than everyone getting a say. However, it still leaves team members dissatisfied.
Combination Leadership – Combining the two above models into one is the best leadership style. Allow voices to be heard but leave the ultimate decision-making up to the CEO.
Wartime vs Peacetime CEO – The state of your business will indicate which CEO you need. Peacetime CEOs tend to be more diplomatic, patient, and sensitive to the needs of their teams. Wartime CEOs are far more comfortable with conflict and are almost unbearably impatient and intolerant of anything other than perfection. Both styles are necessary and executives who work well with one generally will not work well with the other.
All in All
What You Do Is Who You Are offered up some valuable history lessons and gave us some insight into the importance of staying true to your values. Our parents taught us to do as they say, not as they do and we all know how that worked out, right? Most of us let that nonsense in one ear and out the other! Leading your team by example is the best way to set your company culture up for success. This book engrained that into us through story after story.