The Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt describes the coaching style of Bill Campbell, a former football coach turned silicon valley and venture capital exec that played a critical role in the development of individuals such as Eric Schmidt and Steve Jobs.
If there is any lesson I feel like this book is imparting, it is about the need to focus and be heavily invested in the individual. Bill Campbell is known to have upfront feedback, and be heavily invested in you as a person outside of work. He learns your name, your families name, and their goals and aspirations as well.
Investment in the Individual
Bill Campbell’s coaching style focuses intensely on giving blunt feedback on the situation, and giving relentless support of your ideas. Blunt feedback can sometimes be taken negatively, but built upon a bedrock of clear desire for you to succeed, it can be received less negatively, and maybe even positively.
There are several examples in the book of negative feedback being given, or people laid off, but feeling good about the situation because of the way that Campbell delivered the feedback. Bill’s own quotes on this show that the intention is ingenuous: he feels that it’s important to emphasize that the individual is still valuable and can leave with “their head held high”.
I feel like there is a good lesson to learn here, about leadership: leaders who really care about their people, are leaders who can help their people grow.
If one views leadership solely as a position which is focused on delivering business goals, it’s one where people will not flourish, which may ultimately decided the fate of the company. Talented people like being somewhere where they are valued. Regardless of the compensation or perks, it’s hard to keep talent if they feel like they can be replaced and leadership will not care. That is primarily decided upon by the direct manager.
Focusing on the person also results in building a more personal relationship than what is normally considered okay at an organization. I think there is a concern that this can lead to favoritism, but I think that a good manager can balance this by ensuring that they are caring about all of their direct reports equally.
The other aspect of focusing on the person is backing them on their ideas. Being a person who helps get buy-in on ideas that their directs are trying to move forward, and displays that publicly, can build a strong report between manager and direct. Bill is also willing to go the extra mile, whether it’s connecting the individual, or help get the individual invites into the right organization or group.
Listening and Observing
Reading about Bill Campbell’s leadership, it definitely seems like one where he operates primarily in the background. Rather than be the driver of a big idea, Bill helps support those who wants to drive.
When one request’s Bill’s advice, he likes to jump into the meetings and observe. From there, he gives a recommendation privately to the person driving the initiative.
I think this type of leadership really helps the individual grow. It’s very tempting to go in as a manager and try to drive or fix things yourself, but that doesn’t provide a learning opportunity for the individual. Instead, I’ve found that letting someone take the lead, and rapidly and aggressively giving feedback, allows the person to achieve tremendous growth.
Concerns with The Book
- The book claims to be data driven, but it seems like they are picking and choosing studies that correlated to the philosophy of Bill Campbell, rather than finding studies of effective managers and seeing if Campbell fits them.
I think Trillion Dollar Coach is a very helpful book to help one realize the need to be focused on growing and investing in your directs, rather than driving everything from the top. The book also goes over some great examples to help one understand better what it means to execute on these philosophies.
It’s very easy to get caught in the rat race of an organization and lose sight of what will really ensure sustained growth of a team. Books like these are great because it helps remind me the need to focus on people, and inspiring examples that showcase the impact that kind of leadership can have.