Week 7 Book Review

The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Harowitz

Ben Horowitz writes of the hardest things about being a CEO.  He said that the most difficult thing is to manage your own psychology. He says that hiring, firing, product and organization design are straightforward skills.  

One problem is that to learn to be a CEO, you have to be a CEO.  No amount of training prepares you for the job. Even if you know what you are doing things will go wrong.  As CEO, you will feel responsible for everything and anything that will go wrong will be your fault. A mistake that most CEOs make is taking things too personally or not taking things personally enough.  According to Harowitz, a CEO will be urgent yet not insane. They will move aggressively and decisively without feeling emotionally culpable. They will need to separate the importance of the issues with how they feel about the issue.  The author advises that to calm your nerves as a CEO, you should get some friends, put your thoughts on paper not carry them around in your head, and focus on the road, not the wall. Don’t focus constantly on what can go wrong. Focus on where the company is going rather than what you hope to avoid.  Many times CEOs feel like quitting. Many have trouble with not sleeping, drinking, and stress. Harowitz says most CEOs have different strategic moves but most just say “I didn’t quit”. 

Harowitz explains that there are two kinds of CEOs. He labels them as ones and twos. The ones spend time gathering information, love making decisions, but get bored with the important execution details of running a company. The twos love making the company run well. They insist on super clear goals and love action. Big decisions worry twos more that ones. The best CEOs have a combination of traits for ones and twos.

The author points out that there is no perfect CEO. The most important attribute is leadership. Three key traits of a leader are the ability to articulate the vision, the right kind of ambition, and the ability to achieve the vision.

Horowitz, B. (2014). The hard thing about hard things: Building a business when there are no easy answers.

10 thoughts on “Week 7 Book Review

  1. Tina, One of my downfalls is the ability to make a decision especially when it is important. One thing that I think that I need to do is have a clear focus on goals in the future and then just make a decision based on the desired outcome. I definitely think I would be the second type of C.E.O.
    Best regards,
    Mike Weimar

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike,
      Making hard decisions does not come easy for most people. I translate that into caring about the outcome. I think it is important to think through decisions. I can’t make instant decisions. I think I am the second kind of CEO as well.

      Thank you,
      Tina Jones


  2. Hi Tina,

    During my first course with Dr. Lahm, I learned quite a bit about the tremendous weight placed on the shoulders of a CEO. When startups first form and titles are given out freely, the role of CEO is accepted without much thought given to what that actually entails. Having a brilliant idea doesn’t necessarily translate into being an effective leader. For this reason, it is quite common for CEOs to be replaced once the company starts scaling up (often at the insistence of investors). I’m glad the author brings attention to the psychological toll of the role, as quite a few CEOs have found that their mental health experiences a sharp decline due to all the pressure.


    1. Travis,

      The stress of being a CEO, manager or even a supervisor is so overwhelming at times. I do not think you would ever get used to always solving problems. The author is good about sharing his experiences and feelings. I am not crazy about the books but I have found great points from his experiences.
      Tina Jones


  3. Tina,

    It is rare that we get to think about the CEO’s feelings. I am not sure if I have ever really considered there feelings before, or how difficult it would be to feel like you have the whole companies weight on your shoulders. This would be pretty difficult! It is interesting that it mentions they should “get some friends”, but in my mind the best way to vent is to talk to someone who knows what frustrations and pressures they are facing as a leader in that position. Unfortunately, it is lonely at the top and it seems as though these friends may be hard to come by.

    I think I would certainly be a 1 type of CEO. I love to gather information and make decisions but the day to day aspects, I lose interest quickly and begin looking for the next project. Does this book talk about ways to become a more balanced leaders? I would love to hear any thoughts on that!


    1. I also just realized I committed by worst pet peeve, I misspelled their! I can’t go back and edit this comment but I promise I know the uses of there, their, and they’re! 🙂


  4. Great post! keeping your focus on what is important can be difficult. Sometimes it can be difficult to discern what is most important. The ability to prioritized is a key attribute to remaining successful. I too have issues moving my big ideas from thoughts to the implementation stage. Having employees and team members with the ability to compensate for your weaknesses is paramount. I look forward to reading more of your post.



  5. I feel like a CEO needs a good therapist to be in that position. Because each and every day your choices can change someone’s life in a negative or positive way. I know for me if I was a CEO I would need to get better at making choices. I would have a hard time making choices on what to do with my staff unless it was fully obvious.


  6. As always, great post! I am happy to see that you are covering what it is truly like to be a CEO as many only hear about compensation packages without considering the stress of the job and the weight of carrying an entire company on their shoulders. I can certainly understand having many sleepless nights being under that amount of pressure. It is important to have healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress.


    1. Thank you for your response. I own my own small business but I do not feel that it is as stressful as being a CEO. I would hope that these large companies offer strategies for mental wellness for their executives. I can’t imagine making decisions and putting out fires in a large company.

      Tina Jones


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