Focusing on People First as the Key to Success

I just reread Ben Horowitz's The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. I had read it originally when it first came out, loved it, and therefore decided to make it the book to be discussed at my second YourMBR Alpha session.

I remember thinking that this book gave you an insider's perspective and hard-won lessons you probably would not get in any business school or class. Now, after having more personal experience and having read countless other business books, I still think this book has a unique angle.

Ben takes us through his personal trials as the CEO of a tech startup and the tough decisions he had to make; e.g., from selling off a part of the business, to going public when nearly bankrupt, to eventually deciding to sell the entire company. Along the way he had to make many controversial decisions, including hiring a head of sales he alone thought was a good fit.

Unlike the other startup books I've read, Ben really gives you a sense of how hard and lonely it is being a startup CEO. He goes into how to deal with the self doubt and constant second guessing, how to lay off people with respect so that the rest of the staff will want to stick around, and the differences between a peace and wartime CEO. 

The lessons shared in the book are too many to tackle in a blog post, so I'll just share one takeway from my rereading.

One reason this book is so unique, and one reason why Ben succeeded despite his challenges, is that he truly valued his staff. As one of his chapters states, you should focus on your people, then your product, and only then your profits. He made sure to share with his employees both bad and good news, to be honest with them, and to treat them respectfully at all times. Even when he had to make unpopular decisions, he personally communicated it and gave his employees the option to leave, offering to help them get jobs elsewhere.

Companies often espouse putting people first but rarely act accordingly. Ben actually did so and shows both its challenge and rewards.

Which kind of CEO would you rather follow through hard times and why?

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