book review: Make it, don’t fake it (Sabrina Horn)

I’ve know Horn and worked with many of her staff for decades, since I am a freelance journalist that has written about many of her B2B enterprise technology clients.  Reading her book Make it, Don’t Fake It was part trip down memory lane, part catching up on key moments of tech history, and part appreciating her advice.

I think like many business books, the first half is strong and full of creative and great suggestions on how to become more authentic and more honest as a business leader. For example, she writes early on in the book “when you are first starting out, doing and being anything to win business is tempting and also dangerous.” I liked that she poses the question, ”Am I ready to become a business founder?” and that you need to carefully consider the exact role that you want to play in your company. She takes you through a process to disarm your fears and minimize the risk of starting your business with a series of exercises that are well worth studying. But you need the practice and the patience to do the work – if you didn’t think similar items in “What Color is Your Parachute” were for you, then this book’s advice is wasted.

Horn also gives an analysis of the common traits in the best and worst employees she has hired over the decades, something that I as a manager can relate to. For example, people who could do things that she couldn’t, and respected my authority as a boss. (I once had an employee who refused to acknowledge that simple fact, and while he was very smart, he was impossible to manage.)

Ultimately, the “hardest thing about building a great brand is keeping it that way,” and she goes on to suggest ways to investigate initiatives for both business expansion and contraction while listening to your customers and your staff carefully. And running a postmortem exercise after every time you make a big mistake or fail to get some important client.

Horn comes down on the tech bro culture, but she could have strengthened and sharpened her analysis and made it more relevant, especially in this hyper-woke world where culture can be tricky to navigate. And as this tweet proves,  “online a lot of people benefit from appearing to be friends so that they can push their brand. I don’t have it in me to be fake and play those kinds of games.” There are many dimensions to being authentic, indeed.

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