Silicon Valley’s best kept secret
Lessons from the Trillion Dollar Coach
The word ‘legend’ should be used lightly, but when it comes to Bill Campbell, the tech executive who was integral to Google’s rise (and rise), the word ‘legend’ is perhaps not legendary enough. We highly recommend the book Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell, written by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle. It sheds light on the revered former American football coach who mentored Steve Jobs and Larry Page, and influenced such tech luminaries as Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Sergey Brin.
The book contains a treasure trove of insights on how to create a successful team dynamic; how to build a culture that attracts and retains staff; and how ‘coaching’ is the under-rated rocket fuel in a winning enterprise.
Here are some of the ways Bill’s genius is described in the book:
‘When he interviewed job candidates… he wouldn’t just ask about what a person did, he would ask how they did it. If the person said they ‘led a project that led to revenue growth,’ asking how they achieved that growth will tell you a lot about how they were involved in the project.’
‘His first instinct was always to work the team, not the problem. In other words, he focused on the team’s dynamics, not on trying to solve the team’s particular challenges. That was their job.’
‘He had the mind-set that most people have value… He built his message on your capabilities and progress. This is a key aspect of delivering encouragement as a coach: it needs to be credible. And if you believed him, you started to believe in yourself.’
Bill said that “you have to surround yourself with really, really good people”, and the book details the four characteristics that he reportedly prized most highly when it came to interviewing candidates. The person had to…
- “Be smart, not necessarily academically”
- “Work hard”
- “Have high integrity”
- “[Possess] grit… The ability to get knocked down and have the passion and perseverance to get up.”
Bill was also a champion of women in tech – “he connected successful women he knew with other successful women. He had zero tolerance for any gender bias”. And as the book explains, he had not just a brilliant mind, but a big heart:
‘He repeatedly declined offers of compensation for his work at Google, and when he finally accepted some stock, he donated it all to charity.’
Or as Bill himself said: “I don’t take cash, I don’t take stock, and I don’t take shit.”
Trillion Dollar Coach is well worth a read, but if you’re short on time, check out this Medium blog which summarises Bill’s lessons for leaders, or this Leadership Now piece which lists some of his key insights.