Bill Campbell: Trillion Dollar Coach

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What’s the story of Bill Campbell—Trillion Dollar Coach? What was his leadership philosophy?

Bill Campbell helped to build some of Silicon Valley’s greatest companies, including Google, Apple, and Intuit. In Trillion Dollar Coach, Google executives Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle have compiled Campbell’s principles for business and life. According to Schmidt, the book’s title is an understatement—if you add up the market capitalization of all the companies he coached, Campbell’s value was worth much more than one trillion dollars.

We’ll cover the key themes of Bill Campbell’s philosophy: operational leadership, building workplace trust, building stronger teams, and leading with love.

Campbell as Coach

Here’s the story of Bill Campbell—Trillion Dollar Coach. He was one of the most influential players in Silicon Valley from 1983 until his death in 2016. For 15 years, Campbell walked Google’s hallways, chatted with employees, and attended staff meetings led by the CEO. Nearly every week, he also met one-on-one with Schmidt and Rosenberg, two members of a big club of tech titans who turned to Campbell for advice. Before their tenure at Google began, he coached Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. He worked with Steve Jobs to pull Apple out of bankruptcy. He mentored Brad Smith, former CEO of Intuit, and John Donahoe, former CEO of eBay. He coached U.S. Vice President Al Gore, NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, and Stanford University President John Hennessy. 

Campbell’s Philosophy

Campbell died of cancer in 2016, but his management principles live on at Google, where leaders continue to teach Campbell’s lessons to new managers and executives. In Trillion Dollar Coach, the authors outline both the content of Campbell’s coaching and also his nonconformist methods—like hugging everyone in the room and peppering his language with four-letter words. 

Operational Leadership

In Trillion Dollar Coach, Bill Campbell’s principles are grouped into four themes. The first is operational leadership, offering advice on how to be a better manager, including:  

  • Don’t demand respect from your employees; earn their respect. 
  • Establish camaraderie in the workplace. 
  • Use staff meetings for discussing big-picture operational issues and one-on-one meetings to focus on individual performance. 
  • Don’t make team decisions by consensus; let the team analyze every possibility until the best idea emerges. 
  • Encourage the big thinkers and “aberrant geniuses” to do their best work, but chastise them if they let their supersized egos get in the way of good teamwork. 
  • If firings or layoffs need to occur, make sure it happens with dignity and respect. Do not “ambush” people with the bad news. 
  • The CEO should manage the board of directors—not the other way around. 

Building Workplace Trust  

The second theme focuses on building trust in the workplace. 

  • Create psychological safety in the workplace. In order for innovation to occur, leaders must make it “safe” for team members to take risks. Managers need to have their employees’ backs. 
  • Truly listen to employees. It’s one of the best ways to build trust and show you care. 
  • Give tough, candid feedback when necessary, but deliver it gently. Make sure the person you’re critiquing knows you have their best interests in mind.
  • Don’t tell people what to do; guide them toward making good decisions by asking probing questions or relating personal stories. 
  • Make your team more courageous by providing positive reinforcement and pushing for bolder action. 
  • Encourage diversity by allowing employees to be fully themselves, not forcing them to conform to the dominant culture. 

Building Stronger Teams 

The third theme expresses the importance of building and maintaining strong teams. 

  • Hire employees who have a team-first attitude and strong people skills, not just great technical skills. 
  • When confronting a business problem, make sure you have the right team in place to solve it. 
  • Pair people up to work on problems together. This will help to strengthen the entire team. 
  • Be relentlessly positive. A big part of a leader’s or manager’s job is to cheerlead.
  • When times get tough, dig in harder—that’s when your team needs you most. 

Leading With Love 

The fourth theme focuses on bringing compassion and humanity into the workplace.  

  • Humanize your company by getting to know your employees as people. Learn about their families, hobbies, and interests. 
  • Do favors for others whenever you can. Be generous with your time, money, and connections. 
  • Respect and revere the company’s founders. 
  • Practice your people skills daily with friendly interactions that help to build relationships. 
  • Make connections between people both inside and outside of the workplace—foster community at work and beyond. 
  • Support your colleagues and employees even when they decide to leave the company. 

Bill Campbell: Love First, Lead Second

Love isn’t a word that’s usually applied to business relationships. Studies have shown that people often view warm and friendly employees as incompetent and workers who are more rigid and stiff as competent. Employees often learn they are rewarded for behaving more like robots than people. They are taught to separate personal emotions from the business environment. 

Bill Campbell believed that the workplace becomes more joyful and teams become more effective when leaders break down the walls between the human persona and the professional persona.

Bill Campbell: Trillion Dollar Coach

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  • How Bill Campbell went from football coach to tech coach
  • The 4 pillars of Campbell's leadership philosophy
  • How the King Arthur Round Table model for making decisions empowers employees

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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