Manager Abilities: Exercises From Trillion Dollar Coach

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Trillion Dollar Coach" by Bill Campbell. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to develop the manager abilities highlighted by Trillion Dollar Coach? What are some exercises for fostering these skills?

The manager abilities focused on in Trillion Dollar Coach all relate to people skills. Exercises and questions can reflect on your current abilities and where you might have room for improvement.

Keep reading for exercises to reflect on your manager abilities.

Manager Abilities: Exercises and Discussion Questions

Are you trying to run a company, manage employees, or lead a team? Then take a lesson from ex-football coach Bill Campbell, who mentored tech giants at Apple, Google, Intuit, eBay, and Facebook. Campbell believed that teams, not individuals, are the fundamental building blocks of organizations. Leaders can help their team be more productive, more innovative, and just plain happier by leading like a coach, not just a manager. 

Good coaches employ encouragement, honesty, and caring to help every team member flourish. Business leaders should do the same, infusing their workplaces with compassion and people-first values that inspire employees to do their best work—and love their jobs. To win at business, show your team members you care about them, and they’ll produce extraordinary results. These people skills are key manager abilities.

Exercise: Be a Better Listener 

Most of us believe we are great listeners. But have you ever glanced at your text messages while someone is talking to you? Have you typed out an email while you’re engaged in a phone call or a meeting? Do you catch your mind wandering while someone is speaking? No one is a great listener 100 percent of the time, but we can all make an effort to improve. 

  • Think about two conversations you’ve had in the last week. Name the people who were speaking and what subjects they were talking about. 
  • Next, consider whether or not you were a fully attentive listener in those two situations. If you believe you were fully attentive, describe the good listening behaviors you demonstrated. If you weren’t fully attentive, list a few possible reasons that you were distracted. 
  • Now think about the good listening behaviors described in this chapter. Describe one technique you could employ to be a better listener. 

Exercise: Consider How Negative Feedback Has Affected You  

We’ve all been the recipient of negative feedback at some time in our lives. Campbell believed that blunt honesty was key to successful relationships, but he also believed that feedback had to be delivered kindly, and it had to serve the purpose of helping the recipient improve. His formula for “candor plus caring” meant ensuring the person you’re critiquing knows you have their best interests in mind. 

  • Briefly describe a time you were given negative feedback by an employer, friend, or spouse. How was that feedback delivered, and how did it feel to receive it? 
  • Now think about whether or not that feedback could have been delivered in a better way. If so, briefly describe what that might have looked like.  
  • Now that you’ve reviewed your experience in receiving negative feedback, think about how you’d like to give feedback in the future. Is there anything you can apply from the above questions to help improve your feedback skills? 

Exercise: Manager Abilities Require Building Teams

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all on teams. We might lead teams or be assigned to teams at work. We might be part of “family teams” that take care of elderly parents or watch over siblings, nieces, or nephews. We may live in a neighborhood where neighbors occasionally gather together to solve problems. 

  • Think about the teams that you’re on, whether they’re formal or informal. Make a list of each team and a brief description of what makes that team function well (or poorly, if that’s the case). 
  • Next, ask yourself how you might be able to contribute more to your teams. For example, could you step up to be more of a leader? Could you be more of a cheerleader for others on your team? 

Exercise: Do You Need a Coach?   

In the world of sports, we naturally assume that teams require coaches to perform well. The recent acceleration in the number of executive coaches shows that this approach translates well into the business world. By extension, we can assume that coaching makes sense for any part of your life in which you’d like to excel. 

  • What areas of your own professional or personal life do you feel could be improved with the help of a coach? Why?
  • You can always find ways to hire a professional coach, but think about the people in your life who might be willing to coach you on an informal basis. Make a list of three people you know who might be able to help you achieve your goals, and why you think they’d be able to help. Then consider asking one of them to coach you.  

Exercise: Manager Abilities With Empathy

Empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person—is a crucial element of being able to connect with the people in our lives, whether they are spouses, friends, or coworkers. Most of us would say we are “good” at being empathetic, but we rarely pause to analyze our empathic abilities. Empathy is one of the key manager abilities in Trillion Dollar Coach.

  • Describe the last time you went out of your way to connect with another person, to see things from their perspective (especially if it clashes with yours). What did you do or say, and what were the results of your actions? 
  • Are there people in your life or workplace with whom you can’t seem to connect, whose point of view doesn’t make sense to you? If so, can you think of three possible conversation starters to help bridge the empathy gap between you? 
Manager Abilities: Exercises From 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

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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