Are You a Wartime or a Peacetime Leader?

Okay, for the past month or so it’s be quiet at the office, too quiet. People were on vacation (as they should be!) and business generally slowed down. The shift was palpable. From a constant go go go to slow slow slow. No major problems to solve, no employee crises, no deals to negotiate, no lives to transform. Alright, this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point. Problems and challenges are my life blood!

I was listening to #askgaryvee a couple of weeks ago and Gary Vaynerchuk mentioned the same thing. He’s a wartime general. So am I.

Now, there are two different times in business – peacetime and wartime. Companies will ebb and flow and experience both over the course of their lifecycle. Peacetime is generally when a business has a competitive advantage and it’s market is growing. Wartime is when the business is facing an immediate threat from a competitor, the economic climate, or a major market shift. Peacetime sounds amazing, right? Why wouldn’t we all want to operate business in the peacetime zone? Because where is the fun in easy!? If it’s not challenging you, it’s not changing you. The market may be growing during peacetime, but is your business, is your staff, are you? You really find out what you and your team are made of during chaos and war. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Businesses are the same and I would much rather operate during wartime then peacetime. In fact, I simply operate as a wartime leader, even during peacetime. That’s just how I roll.

Here’s a really great explanation of the Peacetime CEO vs Wartime CEO from Ben Horowitz:

  • Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.
  • Peacetime CEO focuses on the big picture and empowers her people to make detailed decisions. Wartime CEO cares about a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass if it interferes with the prime directive.
  • Peacetime CEO builds scalable, high volume recruiting machines. Wartime CEO does that, but also builds HR organizations that can execute layoffs.
  • Peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. Wartime CEO lets the war define the culture.
  • Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.
  • Peacetime CEO knows what to do with a big advantage. Wartime CEO is paranoid.
  • Peacetime CEO strives not to use profanity. Wartime CEO sometimes uses profanity purposefully.
  • Peacetime CEO thinks of the competition as other ships in a big ocean that may never engage. Wartime CEO thinks the competition is sneaking into her house and trying to kidnap her children.
  • Peacetime CEO aims to expand the market. Wartime CEO aims to win the market.
  • Peacetime CEO strives to tolerate deviations from the plan when coupled with effort and creativity.  Wartime CEO is completely intolerant.
  • Peacetime CEO does not raise her voice. Wartime CEO rarely speaks in a normal tone.
  • Peacetime CEO works to minimize conflict. Wartime CEO heightens the contradictions.
  • Peacetime CEO strives for broad based buy in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus-building nor tolerates disagreements.
  • Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.
  • Peacetime CEO trains her employees to ensure satisfaction and career development. Wartime CEO trains her employees so they don’t get their ass shot off in the battle.
  • Peacetime CEO has rules like “we’re going to exit all businesses where we’re not number 1 or 2.”  Wartime CEO often has no businesses that are number 1 or 2 and therefore does not have the luxury of following that rule.

Which one are you? Are you a wartime or a peacetime leader? Many of us may have qualities of both and deploy either peacetime or wartime tactics as needed, but I bet you lean to one side or the other. Neither one is better than the other; it simply comes down to self awareness. Own who you are and know that you are going to create a culture around your war or peace mentality and will likely attract people who either thrive during peace or thrive during war. Just know that when your business flips to the other side, you will need to adjust (which may mean adjusting your staff).

When I feel the pressure of battle, when I know my back is against the wall (even if it’s self-inflicted), I step-up and operate at peak performance. Believe me, just ask my team, if there isn’t enough chaos or I feel like things have slowed down, stagnated, and we’re just resting on our successes, I get in there and shake shit up! If there aren’t enough problems to solve, I disrupt our business and create problems, just so my team and I can solve them. I would rather disrupt our business, then have our competition see our weaknesses, see us getting “fat” and lazy, and attacking. So I just do it before they can. Sure, not everyone likes it, but it’s how we’re all going to grow. I refuse to stay in mediocrity. To me, that means I’m always at war.

Progress is everything. I may not win every battle (hello, failure!), but I sure as shit am going to win the war. Because I am laser focused on my goals and the life, business, and legacy that I will create. I demand of myself and I demand of my team to accept challenges, set goals, and exceed them.  I am relentless in the pursuit of progress. I am at war. It will take time. And I will win. Will you? 

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