In talking about successful leadership styles, venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz makes the distinction between peacetime leaders and wartime leaders.

He explains the distinction as follows:

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In peacetime, leaders must maximize and broaden the current opportunity. As a result, peacetime leaders employ techniques to encourage broad-based creativity and contribution across a diverse set of possible objectives. In wartime, by contrast, the company typically has a single bullet in the chamber and must, at all costs, hit the target. The company’s survival in wartime depends upon strict adherence and alignment to the mission. 

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I have found the analogy of peacetime vs. wartime to be very useful in thinking about how we think about optimising our product roadmaps and focus at work.

When everything we work on is looking healthy and growing, optimising for breadth makes a lot of sense. We can take on a couple of venture bets and keep a portfolio of projects humming along.

But, when the weather changes and we find issues with one of our core projects, we must, just as quickly, be ready to hunker down and focus. It is all about depth.

That is the time to shelve any extraneous work and focus on the pieces we know will drive impact, at the expense of others if necessary.

Effective leadership of organisations/teams/products/self involves understanding when to optimise for breadth vs. depth. And, the peacetime-wartime analogy is a great way to put the current situation in context and tailor our response.

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