Trillion Dollar Coach

Trillion Dollar Coach

The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell

Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle

Summary in 100 words or less

Great coach turns good teams great by building safety, clarity, meaning, dependability, and impact into every member. The best coach for any team is the manager who leads that team. The manager’s job is to run a decision-making process that ensures all perspectives get heard and considered, and, if necessary, to break ties and make the decision. To build a great team, look for people who are smart (learn quickly), work hard, have high integrity, and have grit. Besides hire for experience, hire for potential. Remember: Always hire people smarter than yourself.


My Highlights

To be a great manager, you have to be a great coach. After all, the higher you climb, the more your success depends on making other people successful. By definition, that’s what coaches do.

Excellent teams at Google had psychological safety (people knew if they took risks, their manager would have their back). The teams had clear goals, each role was meaningful, and members were reliable and confident that the team’s mission would make a difference. Bill was a master at establishing those conditions: he went to extraordinary lengths to build safety, clarity, meaning, dependability, and impact into each team he coached.

There is another, equally critical, factor for success in companies: teams that act as communities, integrating interests and putting aside differences to be individually and collectively obsessed with what’s good for the company.

Every sports team needs a coach, and the best coaches make good teams great. The same goes in business: any company that wants to succeed in a time where technology has suffered every industry and most aspects of consumer life, where spend and innovation are paramount, must have team coaching as part of its culture. Coaching is the best way to mold effective people into powerful teams.

The best coach for any team is the manager who leads that team. Being a good coach is essential to being a good manager and leader. Coaching is no longer a specialty; you cannot be a good manager without being a good coach.

Great coaches lie awake at night thinking about how to make you better. They relish creating an environment where you get more out of yourself. Coaches are like great artists getting the stroke exactly right on a painting. They are painting relationships. Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how they are going to make someone else better. But that’s what coaches do.

Failure to make a decision can be as damaging as a wrong decision. There’s indecision in business all the time, because there’s no perfect answer. Do something, even if it’s wrong. Having a well-run process to get to a decision is just as important as the decision itself, because it gives the team confidence and keeps everyone moving.

The manager’s job is to run a decision-making process that ensures all perspectives get heard and considered, and, if necessary, to break ties and make the decision.

Compensation isn’t just about the economic value of the money; it’s about the emotional value. It’s a signaling device for recognition, respect, and status, and it ties people strongly to the goals of the company.

If you have the right product for the right market at the right time, go as fast as you can. There are minor things that will go wrong and you have to fix them quickly, but speed is essential.

Letting people go is a failure of management, not one of any of the people who are being let go. So it is important for management to let people leave with their heads held high. Treat them well, with respect. Be generous with severance packages. Send out a note internally celebrating their accomplishments.

The CEO manages the board and board meetings, not the other way around. Board meetings fail when the CEO doesn’t own and follow her agenda. The agenda should always start with operational updates: the board needs to know how the company is doing. That includes financial and sales reports, product status, and metrics around operational rigor (hiring, communications, marketing, support).

Who should be on the board? Smart people with good business expertise who care deeply about the company and are genuinely interested in helping and supporting the CEO.

Task conflict is healthy and is important to get to the best decision, but it is highly correlated with relationship conflict, which leads to poorer decisions and morale. What to do? Build trust first. Teams that trust each other will still have disagreements, but when they do, they will be accompanied by less emotional rancor.

An important component of providing candid feedback is not to wait. “A coach coaches in the moment,” Scott Cook says. “It’s more real and more authentic, but so many leaders shy away from that.” Many managers wait until performance reviews to provide feedback, which is often too little, too late.

Be relentlessly honest and candid, couple negative feedback with caring, give feedback as soon as possible, and if the feedback is negative, deliver it privately.

Be the person who gives energy, not one who takes it away. This quality of constant encouragement, of being the person to give energy, has been shown to be one of the most important aspects of effective coaching.

Teams are not successful unless every member is loyal and will, when necessary, subjugate their personal agenda to that of the team. That the team wins has to be the most important thing.

As a manager, we tend to focus on the problem at hand. What is the situation? What are the issues? What are the options? And so on. These are valid questions, but the coach’s instinct is to lead with a more fundamental one. Who was working on the problem? Was the right team in place? Did they have what they needed to succeed?

It is a tried business mantra to always hire people smarter than yourself. Everybody that is managing a function on behalf of the CEO ought to be better at that function than the CEO.

Bill looked for four characteristics in people. The person has to be smart, not necessarily academically but more from the standpoint of being able to get up to speed quickly in different areas and then make connections. Bill called this the ability to make “far analogies.” The person has to work hard, and has to have high integrity. Finally, the person should have that hard-to-define characteristic: grit. The ability to get knocked down and have the passion and perseverance to get up and go at it again.

The most effective coaches tolerate and even encourage some level of eccentricity and “prickliness” among their team members. Outstanding performers, from athletes to founders to business executives, are often “difficult.” You want them on your team.

The general tendency is to hire for experience: I’m hiring for job X, so I want someone who has years of experience doing job X. If you are creating a high-performing team and building for the future, you need to hire for potential as well as experience.

An important, often overlooked, aspect of team building is developing relationships within the team. This can happen organically, but it is important enough that it should not be left to chance.

When we reduce company leadership to its operational essence, we negate another very important component: vision. Many times operating people come in, and though they may run the company better, they lose the heart and soul of the company, the vision that is going to take it forward.

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