Trillion Dollar Coach – Summary

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell is a book about a man who helped build some of America’s greatest companies, including Apple and Google. A former college football player and coach, Bill didn’t enter the business world until he was thirty nine. Moving quickly though through executive roles, he went on to coach the likes of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Ben Horowitz and Bill Gurley, to name just a few. He passed away in 2016, leaving a legacy of growing companies, successful people and an enormous amount of respect. The book is essential reading for any manager or leader operating in a fast-moving, high growth business.

Coach Bill Campbell
Bill Campbell (67) for Columbia during their 26-14 victory over Harvard (courtesy of Columbia University Athletics)

There was only one Bill Campbell, perhaps the most extraordinary individual we have had the honour to meet and befriend. But much of the what and the how of his coaching, we believe, can be replicated by others. If you are a manager, executive or any other kind of leader of teams, in any kind of business or organisation, you can be more effective and help your team perform better (and be happier) by becoming the coach of that team. Bill’s principles have helped us and many others do that; we believe they can help you too.

A summary of Bill Campbell’s approach

  • Bill insisted on management excellence, he hammered home the importance of simple practices that added up to a strong operation.
  • Believed that managers who put their people first and run a strong operation are held as leaders by their employees: these managers don’t assume leadership they earn it: “Your title makes your a manager, your people make you a leader.”
  • Prized decisiveness; strong managers recognise when the time for debate is over and make a decision.
  • Appreciated the ‘aberrant genius’, the strong performer whose behaviour can stray outside the norm. He also advocated moving them on quickly if their behaviour endangered the team.
  • Believed that great products and the teams that create them are at the core of a great company. Everything else should be in service to that core.
  • Understood that sometimes managers need to let people go, but they should also allow them to leave with their dignity intact.Believed that relationships are built on trust.
  • Prioritised building trust and loyalty with the people he worked with.
  • Listened completely, was relentlessly candid and believed in his people more than they believed in themselves: “How do you bring people around and help them flourish in your environment? It’s not by being a dictator. It’s not by telling them what the hell to do. It’s making sure that they feel valued by being in the room with you. Listen. Pay attention. This is what great managers do.”
  • Focused on coaching teams as much as individuals. For Bill, the team was paramount, he insisted on team first behaviour, and when faced with any issue his first step was to look at the team, not the problem. Bill mastered the art of identifying tensions among teammates and figuring out how to resolve them.
  • Sorted out the biggest problems, the elephants in the room, and brought them front and centre, ensuring they got looked at first.
  • Pushed leaders to lead, especially when things were bleak.
  • Believed in diversity and being completely yourself in the workplace.
  • Loved people. Brought that love to communities he created or joined. He made it OK to bring it into the workplace.

Bill Campbell, RIP

Being a good coach is no longer a speciality; you cannot be a good manager without being a good coach. The path to success in a fast moving, highly competitive, technology-driven business world is to form high-performing teams and give them the resources and freedom to do great things. And an essential component of high-performing teams is a leader who is both a savvy manager and caring coach.

Bill Campbell was a true coach. He helped people figure out the best next steps for them. He did not tell people what to do; he helped them devise their own plan. 

If you enjoyed this, you might like:

Tim Ferris interviewing Eric Schmidt about the incredible character that was Bill Campbell. This is a great summary if you’ve not yet had chance to read the book.

8 books all new leaders should read is my recommended reading list for 21st Century leaders. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell (Amazon UK, US) is on the list!

In Why new leaders need a coach, mentor & therapist, I explain why, like any high-performing individual, new leaders need to wrap a professional support team around them to give themselves the best chance of success.

In Leading on the job: advice for new leaders, I pass on advice based on what I’ve learnt coaching new leaders in high growth, venture capital and private equity backed businesses.