What you do is who you are – Ben Horowitz

I first encountered the writing of Ben Horowitz through his book The Hard Thing about Hard Things. That book came to me when I was going through a challenging time in my company, and it helped me. Partly it was the stories Ben told that made me glad I was not in his shoes. I realized my situation could be a lot worse. It was also the concrete and practical suggestions that I could make use of in the moment. So when I saw a new book by Ben, I purchased it immediately.

What you do is who you are is focused on the things you can do to build an excellent work culture, or rescue one that is not excellent. Through the same combination of story and tactics Ben describes some of his experiences and identifies the lessons he learned along the way.

The core message of the book is a simple one; that your team will do what you do, more often that do what you say.

The members of your team make hundreds or thousands of decisions each day that impact the culture of your business, and the experience of your customers and your team. You need to be intentional about what you do and how you describe your choices to give you team a roadmap to follow.

“Do I have to be on time for that meeting? Should I stay at the Four Seasons or the Red Roof Inn? When I negotiate this contract, what’s more important: the price or the partnership? Should I point out what my peers do wrong, or what they do right? Should I go home at 5 p.m. or 8 p.m.? How hard do I need to study the competition? Should we discuss the color of this new product for five minutes or thirty hours? If I know something is badly broken in the company, should I say something? Whom should I tell? Is winning more important than ethics?” – Page 3

There were lots of quotes that touched on things I knew to be true, just provided in a very well written, tidy example I could cite and remember.

“Culture is not like a mission statement; you can’t just set it up and have it last forever. There’s a saying in the military that if you see something below standard and do nothing, then you’ve set a new standard. This is also true of culture—if you see something off-culture and ignore it, you’ve created a new culture.” – Page 5

I really appreciate the humility and wisdom that inform Ben’s writing. He somehow manages to sounds wise and familiar at the same time.

“If you manage a reasonably large organization, you can be absolutely sure of one thing: at any given moment, something somewhere has gone terribly wrong.” – Page 238

If you’re responsible for culture at a company, or you’re working to improve the culture where you work, this is a great read.

Link to Amazon – What you do is who you are


On becoming a leader, by Walter Bennis

On becoming a leader, by Walter Bennis

This book is a leadership classic. At least that’s what HBR told me, so I wanted to read it to see if I agreed. I stumbled across this book reading a list of 11 books every young young leader should read. This wasn’t the first book from that list I read, but so far, it’s the best. It’s full of great stories, examples and concepts that have given me a great roadmap for developing my leadership skills.

I’ve got a favourite quote from the book that describes the type of relationship I’d like to have with my company. “I am fully engaged in this company. I pay attention and I know what goes on throughout it. There is a name for that kind of responsive, responsible behavior. It’s called leadership.”

Bennis organizes his book into stories, that break out into some key ideas. I really liked this approach, as it let me bring valuable ideas with me such as his four lessons of self-knowledge:

  • One: You are your own best teacher.
  • Two: Accept responsibility. Blame no one.
  • Three: You can learn anything you want to learn.
  • Four: True understanding comes from reflecting on your experience.

There’s also a really great section that calls out the adaptation warp we all go through to deal with childhood and growing up. We learn ways of interacting or behaviours that come from life. We got lost as a kid, so we’re risk-averse as an adult. You have to understand those parts of your experience, and be aware so you can listen and respond to a group of people and communicate well. The description of innovative learning and the concrete things you can do to improve yourself are worth the read alone.

The book walks through several topics, from self-knowledge, to innovative learning, to how to craft a vision and how to be comfortable and thrive in the midst of change. The topics are relevant for any leader, and I feel like after reading through this book and taking notes I’ve got a resource I can dip into long into the future with lots of areas to improve and learn.

The stories in the book were well matched to the concepts they were building, and each concept was framed well. There was an idea presented, a story to make it human, and then a lesson clearly laid out in a statement or a set of points. The ideas were very accessible and clear, but still left a lot of room to bring it into your personal experience.

If you’re someone in leadership, and you don’t have this book on your shelf, I’d recommend putting it next on your reading list.