The one book entrepreneurs and CEOs should read

The one book entrepreneurs and CEOs should read
15 July 2020

Readers keep asking me for book recommendations.

Usually, I am hesitant to provide any.

Choosing books is a complicated and personal decision. There are tens of thousands of books available on any given subject. Everyone’s needs are different. How could I possibly presume that I have any idea what you should read?

That all said, here is ONE book that for years I have kept recommending in personal conversations. Many of those who ended up reading it gave grateful feedback. They also appreciated my advice on which page to start reading from, to help save time.

You’ll find this book useful if you are building, growing or leading a company.

Six years old, but worth getting back out (again and again)

The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz has already been around since 2014, and it’s hardly a secret book. It has nearly 2,000 reviews on Amazon.

As its title suggests, it deals with the hard things that you will face in your leadership career.

Chapters include:

  • Demoting (or firing) a loyal friend.
  • What to do when smart people are bad employees.
  • How to hire good executives when you have never done their job.
  • The skills required from a wartime CEO vs peacetime CEO.
  • How to minimise politics in your company.
  • Managing the risks of hiring “old” (senior) people.
  • How to lead when even you don’t know where you are going.
  • Managing your CEO psychology, aka your internal struggle.

When I took on my first CEO post, I didn’t realise that many of these issues even existed.

Subsequently, I had to figure things out myself and learn by doing.

In retrospective, I would have paid a fortune had someone given me this book 20 years ago, or if I had had a mentor telling me these things.

Just the other day, I got the book out again and found myself getting lost in several of its chapters. I’ve read it a few times already, but keep finding it useful.

From page 57 onwards, that is.

During the first section of the book, the author tells his personal story. Ben Horowitz was a manager at Netscape in the 1990s, he found and built Opsware in the 2000s, and he has been a Silicon Venture capitalist at Andreessen Horowitz during the 2010s.

I’d skip that initial section, and go straight to the chapters that matter.

Just the other day, I got the book out again and found myself getting lost in several of its chapters. I’ve read it a few times already, but keep finding it useful.

As I explained in more detail in my article “7 powerful habits to make your reading more effective“, you should never hesitate to skip through parts of a book to get to the heart of the matter. The book ticks several of these seven points, and may even be a “quake book” for some of you (my reading habit #6).

Who does (and doesn’t) need this book

I scrolled through the Amazon reviews, and found the following statements particularly pertinent:

If all you want are his big ideas or Horowitz’ philosophy, you can get them from his blog or articles. You don’t need to buy this book. But if you want a handy advisor for that 3 am moment when you’re thinking about firing someone you like, buy the book. Keep it handy. I’ve had those moments, and I wish I’d had it.

Most management books are …. snake-oil and unadulterated BS. This book is different.

This book is written from the perspective of a CEO who’s been to hell and back.

A must-read for those who want to start their own company.

CEO and founder positions demand a particular kind of strong person. Most people simply aren’t strong enough to be successful (and happy) in such a situation. If you are already in such a position or aspire to it, then investing USD 20 and a bit of reading time is probably one of the better things you can do right now.

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