Coach Bill Campbell

I never met Bill Campbell. To be honest, I had never even heard about him until I heard Eric Schmidt speak his praises on the the Tim Ferris Podcast.

I picked up a copy of Trillion Dollar Coach and I’m so very glad I did. This book is easily in the top 5 books I’ve ever read. It’s right up there with Creativity Inc.

I don’t share book reports very often. Probably only 1 out of every 100-150 books I read. But this is one book that I felt compelled to share.

I’ll do my best to theme selected highlights vs. presenting things linearly.

Great coaches:

  • Listen intently.
  • Look for patterns.
  • Assess strengths and weaknesses.
  • Ask questions instead of offering advice.
  • Hold a mirror up so we can see our blind spots.
  • Hold us accountable for working through our sore spots.
  • Take responsibility for making us better without taking credit for our accomplishments.
  • Notice body language and side conversations in addition to listening.
  • Act as a sounding board.
  • Relate stories that help us gain perspective, draw insight, or make a decision without telling us what to do.
  • Keep opinions about product and strategy to themselves.
  • Make sure the team is communicating.
  • Bring disagreements and tensions to the surface.
  • Connect the dots with various stakeholders behind the scenes so that when big decisions come up everyone is on board—whether they agree or not.
  • Don’t voice opinions about which way a decision should go—Just push for the decisions be made.
  • Listen, observe, and feel the communication gaps between people.
  • Lie awake at night thinking about how to make us better.

On coaching

  • The best coach for any team is the manager who leads that team.
  • I’ve come to believe that coaching might be even more essential than mentoring to our careers and our teams.
  • It’s up to all of us to coach our employees, our colleagues, and even sometimes our bosses.
  • Mentors dole out words of wisdom, coaches roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
  • Purpose, pride, ambition, love, family, money, attention, power, meaning, and ego are all primary motivations to consider when coaching someone else.
  • It’s often the highest performing people who feel the most alone.

Excellence in teams comes from

  • Psychological safety
  • Clear goals
  • Meaningful roles
  • Reliable teammates
  • Confidence that the teams mission will make a difference

On trust

  • Perhaps the most important currency in relationship—friendship, romantic, familial, or professional—is trust.
  • Trust means people feel safe to be vulnerable.
  • Trust means loyalty.
  • Trust means integrity.

Wisdom for leaders

  • Leaders lead. You can’t have 1 foot in and 1 foot out. If you aren’t fully committed then the people around you won’t be either.
  • In business there is growing evidence that compassion is a key factor to success.
  • Go to extraordinary lengths to build safety, clarity, meaning, dependability, and impact into each team you lead.
  • Create a climate of communication, respect, feedback, and trust.
  • Listen. Pay attention. This is what great managers do.
  • Managers authority emerges only as the manager establishes credibility with subordinates, peers, and superiors.
  • Your title makes you a manager. You’re people make you a leader.
  • “Get the one on one right” and “get the staff meeting right” were top on Bill’s list of the most important management principles.
  • Failure to make a decision can be as damaging as a wrong decision.
  • Never put up with people who cross ethical lines: Lying, lapses of integrity or ethics, harassing or mistreating colleagues.
  • Letting people go is a failure of management, not one of any of the people who are being let go.
  • It’s a manager’s job to push this team to be more courageous.
  • Don’t just be a dictator assigning tasks, pair people up!

On Teams

  • Coaching is the best way to mold effective people into powerful teams.
  • Start treating teams, not individuals, as the fundamental building block of the organization.
  • Teams need to act as communities, integrating interests and putting aside differences to be individually and collectively obsessed with what’s best for the company.
  • When internal conflict arises the trick is to corral rivals into a community and get them aligned, marching toward a common goal.
  • When team members can’t break the tie themselves, it falls on you to make that decision.
  • When faced with an issue, his first question wasn’t about the issue itself, it was about the team tasked with tackling the issue. Get the team right and you’ll get the issue right.

On meetings

  • He’d start by asking what people did for the weekend.
  • Before decisions were made everyone weighed in, regardless of whether the issue touched on their functional area or not.
  • Bill would often meet with multiple people before an important meeting to find out what they were thinking. This gave members of the team the chance to come into the room prepared to talk about their point of view.
  • When labelled a debate rather than a disagreement, participants are more likely to share information.
  • 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.

On 1:1’s

  • Bill would always start with a hug.
  • Next he’d ask about your personal life, family, and non-work stuff.
  • Bill would write five words on a white board indicating the topics to discuss that day. The words might be about a person, a product, an operational issue, a prospective customer, or an upcoming meeting.
  • Bill took great care in preparing for one-on-one meetings.
  • Bill typically discussed performance, peer relationships, teams, and innovation.
  • Deliver tough messages with respect, warmth, and candor.

Coach Campbell

  • Was tremendously respected and loved.
  • Lit up the room whenever he walked in.
  • Was a straight shooter.
  • Was a hugger.
  • Was generous.
  • Like to help people.
  • Cursed like a sailor.
  • Treated everyone with respect.
  • Believed in diversity on teams.
  • Preferred operating behind the scenes.
  • Saw through the title to who a person was.
  • Always strived for a politics-free environment.
  • Always gave you a call back when you left voicemail.
  • Demanded commitment, passion, and loyalty.
  • Cared about his people fiercely and genuinely.
  • Was always there for you when you needed him, no matter what.
  • Had a way of making you feel better, even if he was sharing bad news.
  • Is sorely missed by many.

As I said, I never met Coach Bill Campbell, but after reading this book I wish I had.

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Published by

Dave Martin

Dave is a designer at Automattic.