War and Peace

In Life and Startups

Unsplash That: National Cancer Institute @nci

War and peace been on my mind lately, especially during this time founders are asked to do the impossible during a time of crises upon crises in 2020. I’ve often looked towards this poem as a rally cry for leaders during crises, but this time looking at the poem, it has not settled well for me, and I’m left less inspired. It could be because we are all living at both ends of the spectrum creating a lot of mental dissonance. [a]

While these times might be feeling like war and peace, it is actually routine what we crave for that has been interrupted with emergencies. This calls for a re-definition of our traditional war and peace leadership.

The “wartime” analogy gives people in power an excuse for poor behavior which is separate from making tough decisions quickly. You don’t need to look past the White House and other world governments to see how behavior and decision making can be conflated. Furthermore, many tech CEOs have not fought for our country. They have fought many many other battles and wars, but not the type that involves the military. Also, the military has traditionally been exclusively for men (Mulan!), so I wanted to remedy that. [b] Finally, war implies a zero sum result (a winner and loser), but in times like a pandemic, the end result is not necessarily zero sum. In fact if one loses, we all lose. 

The Routine Checkup CEO/ The Emergency Room CEO

The Routine Checkup CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. The Emergency Room CEO violates protocol in order to save the patient.

The Routine Checkup CEO focuses on the big picture and empowers her people to make detailed decisions. The Emergency Room CEO cares about a drop of air if it will kill her patient.

The Routine Checkup CEO builds scalable, high volume recruiting machines. The Emergency Room CEO executes layoffs and turns her high volume recruiting machines into outplacement machines affected by those layoffs.

The Routine Checkup CEO spends time defining the culture. The Emergency Room CEO knows that actions in the OR (Operating Room) define the culture.

The Routine Checkup CEO always has a contingency plan. The Emergency Room CEO knows that sometimes you have to use a pen to perform a tracheotomy.

The Routine Checkup CEO knows what to do with a big advantage. The Emergency Room CEO is always racing against the clock, and never operates as if she has a big advantage.

The Routine Checkup CEO strives not to use profanity. The Emergency Room CEO uses profanity only if it achieves the purpose of urgency.

The Routine Checkup CEO thinks of the competition as other ships in a big ocean that may never engage. The Emergency Room CEO knows that the competition is not the other ships but time.

The Routine Checkup CEO aims to expand the market. The Emergency Room CEO knows that winning that next customer IS the market.

The Routine Checkup CEO strives to tolerate deviations from the plan when coupled with effort and creativity.  The Emergency Room CEO is completely intolerant of deviations if it will kill the patient.

The Routine Checkup CEO does not raise her voice. The Emergency Room CEO only speaks with purpose and urgency.

The Routine Checkup CEO works to minimize conflict. The Emergency Room CEO heightens the contradictions to get the job done.

The Routine Checkup CEO strives for broad based buy-in. The Emergency Room CEO neither indulges consensus-building nor tolerates disagreements. Their patient’s life is on the line. 

The Routine Checkup CEO sets big, hairy audacious goals. The Emergency Room CEO is too busy saving the patient’s life to read management books written by consultants who have never seen a patient.

The Routine Checkup CEO trains her employees to ensure satisfaction and career development. The Emergency Room CEO trains her employees so they don’t lose their career by losing a patient.

The Routine Checkup CEO has rules like "we get to choose what operations we do".  The Emergency Room CEO often has no operations lined up and therefore does not have the luxury of choosing. 

The Routine Checkup CEO and The Emergency Room CEO are all called to lead during both crisis and order. Some styles suit others better than others, but it IS possible to be both. In fact, it is necessary for founders to lead well in both situations when building a startup. [c] You can argue since founders are birthing their company, idea and product into existence, their default style is (or imposed) the Emergency Room CEO, and you can’t manage during times of routine. In many ways, as a founder you will continuously be in the Emergency Room because that is the nature of being a founder. But, it is the job of the founder to drive their team towards order, routine, and peace. And, it turns out that founders prove that a CEO can be *both* a Routine Checkup CEO and an Emergency Room CEO.

If there is doubt, just look at: Julia Hartz (CEO and founder of Eventbrite), Reed Hastings (CEO and founder of Netflix - remember Qwik? He got through that all right), Jeff Bezos (CEO and founder of Amazon), Julie Wainwright (CEO and founder of TheRealReal)

Edit: Last line of the poem was updated to make more sense. 3/9/2021

[a] While cognitive dissonance is the difference between attitudes and behavior causing stress, I use “mental dissonance” to describe the two plausible realities that are in opposition that we must live in.
[b] I know that medicine has also been traditionally exclusively for men, but there are far more doctors that are women than generals.
[b]The operative word here is “and”. Some of the best founders can hold two opposing realities in their head and drive to the Routine Check Up reality when everyone is in the Emergency Room.

🙏Special thanks to Jen LiaoKaren HongMaria AlegreKathy Pham and Tanya Soman for reading drafts of this.

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