Trillion Dollar Coach — Summary of each chapter

Synopsis of the book The Trillion Dollar Coach: the short summary, the long summary and the takeaways. The most important points of each chapter.

Trillion Dollar Coach — Summary of each chapter
Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle

Trillion Dollar Coach - The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell is what it claims to be.

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and other Google Executives give an actionable overview of management advice for running effective teams. Bill Campbell helped, among others, grow Google as an early coach for the management team.

His advice is outlined in the Trillion Dollar Coach and underpinned with scientific findings. It is a must-read for every aspiring manager, entrepreneur and executive.

Chapter 1: Who Was Bill Campbell?

Bill Campbell transitioned from being a football coach to becoming an influential executive coach and mentor in Silicon Valley. He guided and advised many top tech leaders like Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, and Sheryl Sandberg, emphasizing teamwork, operational excellence, and sound decision-making.

Campbell earned immense respect across the tech industry for his humble, selfless approach to coaching and mentoring until his passing in 2016.

Chapter 2: Your Title Makes You a Manager. Your People Make You a Leader

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Main takeaway: The well-being and success of the people should be the top priority of any manager. 

In the early days of Google - when they had only several hundred employees - a former executive was unhappy about the performance of his managers. Coming from an academic background Larry Page and Sergey Brin - the founder of Google - decided to get rid of managers altogether. They loved the idea and went on with it for more than a year.

Nonetheless, to the displeasure of the founders, Bill suggested bringing on managers. They asked the Google engineers how they felt about it and surprisingly they liked being managed. As long - and this is important - the managers are someone they can learn from and someone who helps them make decisions.

Dictatory managers that operate top-down, however, are not effective. The authoritarian management style would make people chafe against it and employees are more likely to leave the team due to authoritarian leaders.

This realization is a main pillar of Bill's philosophy. **"It's the people. People are the foundation of any company's success. The primary job of each manager is to help people be more effective in their jobs and to grow and develop.

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Gain authority, don't demand it.
”If you're a great manager, your people will make you a leader. They acclaim that, not you.” — Bill Campbell

In short: The manager should behave more like a coach.

With this in mind, a manager can overthink their daily behavior. How do I manage conflicts and the tension between creativity and operational efficiency? How do I create a great team culture? How do I structure team meetings in a way that makes the employee grow and learn to make good decisions? "Get the 1:1 right and get the staff meeting right are tops on the list."

Create Better Relationships with Trip Reports in Meetings

One simple but effective measure implemented at Google was the so-called _trip report in meetings__. Before going into the business topics of a staff meeting, they would all share and listen to a quick report of a weekend trip of the participants.

"To build rapport and better relationships among team members, start team meetings with trip reports or, other types of more personal, non-business topics."

The effectiveness is surprising. First of all, people connect on a personal level, creating a better team spirit. Secondly, people like this kind of interaction and get involved in the meeting. They stop checking their Mails and start paying attention. Lastly and most importantly, being involved in the meeting and used to speaking, they tend to jump in easier on business-related discussions later in the meeting.

5 Words on a Whiteboard for 1:1 meetings

Bill used to define 5 words (or others would call them topics) as an outline before each 1:1. Sometimes he prepared the agenda, and sometimes he helped the other person to come up with those words and they defined them together. That itself helps managers to understand the important issues of employees and employees to structure their meetings themselves.

Others may not write 5 words on a whiteboard, but the idea is to take time for preparation and define an agenda for each 1:1.

"Have a structure for 1:1s, and take the time to prepare for them, as they are the best way to help people be more effective and to grow."

A framework for 1:1s and review meetings

As cited in The Trillion Dollar Coach, this is Bill Campbell's effective framework for personal meetings:

  1. Performance on Job Requirements: This could be sales figures, delivery or product milestones. It could be customer feedback, product quality or budget numbers.
  2. Relationship with Peer Groups: This is critical for company integration and cohesiveness. This could be between Product and Engineering, Marketing and Product or Sales and Engineering.
  3. Management/Leadership: Are you guiding/coaching your people? Are you weeding out the bad ones? Are you working hard at hiring? Are you able to get your people to do heroic things?
  4. Innovation (Best Practices) Are you constantly moving ahead ... thinking about how to continuously get better? Are you constantly evaluating new technologies, new products, and new practices? Do you measure yourself against the best in the industry/world?

Making Decisions with Integrity: The Throne Behind the Round Table

Bill hated decisions made in consensus (e.g. majority vote) or by politics (e.g. who is best at convincing the manager). These methods lead to inferior decisions and group thinking. As a coach, you should equip your team with all means necessary to make great decisions themselves.

That can be facilitated by a decision-making process. Make the problem transparent and give everyone the possibility to provide honest and authentic opinions - even if they are dissenting. The discussion should be led by either the functional expert (e.g. a marketing decision should be led by the responsible marketing expert) or the team leader if it cuts across multiple functional areas.

To facilitate honest opinions, Bill would often talk to participants before the meeting. That way he was already aware of the main arguments but more importantly it triggered the employees to (mentally) prepare for the argument and make up their minds. Which in consequence led to a more productive and open discussion.

If in a well-led meeting, no decision can be made, it is ultimately the manager's job to decide. Not making a decision can be just as harmful as making a wrong decision. Make this decision with integrity. Always prioritize what is right for the company rather than individuals. Commit to your call and expect others to commit that as well.

"The managers'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." Like the throne behind the table.

First Principles Leadership

Besides a good decision-making process, it helps to define first principles. Those are the facts that everybody agrees upon. The undebatable truth. It could be market developments, bare sales figures or technological advantage. "You can argue opinions, but you [...] can't argue principles, since everyone has already agreed upon them."

When faced with tough decisions, a true leader is reminded of those first principles. This common ground makes the decision itself much easier.

"Define the first principles for the situation, the immutable truths that are the foundation for the company or product and help guide the decision from those principles."

Manage the Aberrant Genius

"Aberrant geniuses - high-performing but difficult team members - should be tolerated and even protected, as long as their behavior isn't unethical or abusive and their value outweighs the toll their behavior takes on management, colleagues, and teams."

For aberrant geniuses, it is more important than ever to focus on coaching as a leader. Help them to overcome the aberrant behavior and minimize the time fighting them. They have to be able to work in a team. If they can't - even after coaching - you need to let them go.

Money is not about money

According to Bill, a good salary has much more meaning than just earning more money. Better compensation is tied to emotional value. It signals recognition, respect, and status.

"Compensating people well demonstrates love and respect and ties them strongly to the goals of the company."

Innovation is Where the Crazy People Have Stature

A product market fit includes, not surprisingly, the product as well as the market. In Bill's understanding, people understanding the market and customers, such as marketing or sales, need to give this context to the product team. Ultimately it is the job of the product and engineering team, to figure out, how a product solves the problems in the market.

The Product Manager, Marketing Manager or Sales representatives should not give a feature list to be implemented, but rather the context needed, so that the engineering team can create a market-fitting* product*.

"The purpose of a company is to bring a product vision to life. All the other components are in service to product."

Heads Held High: How to Let Go of People

Layoffs and firings are failures of management, not one of any of the people leaving says Bill Campbell. Therefore, it is the job of the management that fired people can leave with respect.

People leaving have built relationships with the employees who stay on board. Letting people go therefore always affects the remaining employees as well. That is why how letting people go, matters.

Give clear and understandable reasoning as to why you need to let people go and be generous with severance packages. Give the reasoning not only when taking the decision, but it should be no surprise for the employee that she or he will be let go. Do not postpone such a difficult decision. "When you fire someone, you feel terrible for about a day, then you say to yourself that you should have done it sooner."

Celebrate what they have achieved. It is important that they experience respect and "leave with their heads held high".

"If you have to let people go, be generous, treat them well, and celebrate their accomplishments."

How to Handle Board (Meetings): Bill on Boards

"A good and effective board can be a tremendous asset to a company, while a weak one just sucks up time." It's the job of the CEO to prepare and follow the agenda. Bill suggests a specific agenda for board meetings:

  1. Operational updates: Answers the question of how is the company doing? It includes financial or sales reports, product status, key metrics for supporting functions such as hiring, marketing and customer service. This should be a frank and concise discussion about the company's performance. In order to be succinct, a CEO should prepare and send out the material for operational updates beforehand and expect board members to review the material** ahead of time. If needed, board members can come up with relevant questions in advance.
  2. Highlights and Lowlights: This can be coupled with the operational updates* but should NOT be sent out beforehand. If you do that, the board wants to jump on the lowlights right away. It is important to push teams to give authentic and honest _lowlights*. This way the bad news could be presented together with the good

Board members who fail to prepare for board meetings and do not read the briefings, should not stick around.

The board should be equipped with smart people, who care about the company and see their job as supporting the CEO. They should have operational experience in relevant fields as well so that they can understand the CEO's situation and give practical advice.

"It's the CEO's job to manage boards, not the other way around."

Chapter 3: Build an Envelope of Trust

Although theoretically being on the top of each list of leadership skills and business advice, trust is not that often taken into account in the daily business.

Bill Campbell established trust in every (business) relationship. It was his fundament to work. Trust is "the first thing to create if you want a relationship to be successful. It is the foundation."

Teams who trust each other can have disagreements but are accompanied by less emotional rancor. So-called task conflict__, concludes academic research, is important to get the best decision. _Relation conflict on the other hand leads to poorer morale and results. Trust enables focus on task conflict and avoids relation conflicts. Trust creates psychological safety in teams.

But how did Bill create trust, in a high-stakes, big-ego world of executives? It starts with selecting only the people who prove to be coachable.

Only coach the coachable

"Smart alecks are not coachable". Bill chose people to work with based on humility. "Leadership is not about you, it's about service to something bigger: the company, the team."

Bill therefore tended to ask in interviews with executive candidates: "What do you want to get out of a coach?"

"The traits that make a person coachable include honesty and humility, the willingness to persevere and work hard, and a constant openness to learning."

Practice Free-Form Listening

No e-mail checking, no glancing at the notifications on the phone. "Give them your full, undivided attention, really listening carefully. Only then do you go into the issue" was the credo of Bill.

Academics call it active listening. The basketball coach John Wooden framed it as: "Not just hearing the words, but listening and not thinking about what we're going to say."

Even more, Bill would not tell directly what to do but ask more questions to get to the bottom of the issue.

Listening to people also makes them feel valued. Academic research suggests that listening and chatting makes "people feel more respected, visible and less anonymous, and included in teamwork."

"Listen to people with your full and undivided attention - don't think ahead to what you're going to say next - and ask questions to get to the real issue."

No Gap between Statements and Fact - or Simply Candor

After Dan Rosensweig, former CEO at the then-ailing company Chegg, presented stable numbers to the board he was in a celebratory mood. Bill, hugging Dan, said "Congratulations! [...] You are now the most successful nongrowth CEO in the valley! The accountants may be happy, but that's about it because that's not what you came here do to, is it?"

Bill told the truth and offered his harsh opinions, but always from a caring position. Remember that trust is the first thing he built in a relationship, so people trusted him and knew he had no hidden agenda.

Another important aspect of candid feedback is the timing. Whenever possible give it right away in the moment. Do not wait until the next performance review or 1:1. Give the feedback as soon as possible.

And give it privately, if it is negative. Never embarrass someone publicly.

All of this made people feel better, even if the feedback itself was brutal. "Even if people were disappointed, they were charged up about it!"

"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."

Don't Stick it in Their Ear

Managers should not walk in with an idea and "stick it in their ear. Don't tell people what to do, tell them stories about why they are doing it". Give people the context they need, so that they can figure out what to do themselves.

"Don't tell poeple what to do; offer stories and help guide them to the best decisions for them."

Be the Evangelist for Courage

"It's the manager's job to push [employees] past their reticence. Bill conveyed boldness and courage. People left meetings thinking "I can do this". He helped people (re)gain confidence in their judgment.

"Believe in people more than they believe in themselves, and push them to be more courageous."

Full Identity Front and Center

Today it's almost a meme. But bringing the _whole self, your identity and roots to work was encouraged by Bill long ago. That helped everyone who was not a heterosexual white man who attended a top-tier university to feel respected and self-conscious. Shellye Archambeau even discovered that "people prefer leaders who are different because it makes leadership seem more attainable".

"People are most effective when they can be completely themselves and bring their full identity to work."

Chapter 4: Theam First

Bills had a team-first attitude. Teams are only successful if every team member is loyal and able to put their own agenda behind the one of the team.

For example, he appealed to Eric Schmidt's decision to leave Google in the process of the IPO with his loyalty to the company. He offered a reasonable compromise and together with Eric's loyalty convinced him to stay on board.

Bill was described as being the glue in the community aspect of the senior team at Google. As a coach, he would always work on the team first, not the problem.

Work the Team, Then the Problem

In one circumstance the team at Google was discussing raising costs in a part of the developing business. They thought of getting more details on the developments when Bill spoke up saying that there is no reason to be worried as the right team is tackling the issue.

Ram Shriram remembered: "Billd didn't work the problem first, he worked the team. We didn't talk about the problem analytically. We talked about the people on the team and if they could get it done." That is the instinct of a coach:

  • Who is working on the problem?
  • Is the right team in place?
  • Does the team have what they need to solve the problem?

"When faced with a problem or opportunity, the first step is to ensure the right team is in place and working on it."

Pick the Right Players

When Bill looked for new team members he would focus on four essential characteristics:

  1. Smart: being able to get up to speed quickly and to connect different areas and sides of the professional life. The ability to make "far analogies".
  2. Working hard
  3. High integrity
  4. Grit: "the ability to get knocked down and have the passion and perseverance to get up and go at it again"

Discovering those traits is not easy. An important step is to ask how people worked and achieved the milestones in their careers. Was that a team first ("we did") or a personal agenda ("I did") approach? Do they want to learn more and are keen to discover new ways of doing things together with a team?

Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google) resumes "Sometimes decisions come up and people have to give up things. I over-index on those signals when people give something up. And also when someone is excited because something else is working well in the company. It isn't related to them, but they are excited."

Sundar also notes "There are people who are team players and really care about the company. When they speak up, it matters a lot to me because I know they are coming from the right place."

Bill therefore did not emphasize experience on the resume but looked for skills and the correct mindset. He looked for doers

"The top characteristics to look for are smarts and hearts: the ability to learn fast, a willingness to work hard, integrity, grit, empathy, and a team-first-attitude."

Pair People

As an effective and good leader, the team is your priority. You develop talent. But more importantly, you should develop relationships within the team. Let people who usually do not work together tackle a problem and most of the time they build trust, regardless of the nature of the work.

"Peer relationships are critical and often overlooked, so seek opportunities to pair people up on projects or decisions."

The Peer Feedback Survey

An artifact of the importance of the team relationships is the peer feedback - to Bill the most important feedback there is for employees as well as leaders. The feedback included job performance, relationship with peer groups, management and leadership, and innovation. Later on, the aspect of meeting behavior was added.

Core Attributes

For the past 12 months, to what extent do you agree/disagree that each person:

  • Displayed extraordinary in-role performance.
  • Exemplified world-class leadership
  • Achieved outcomes that were in the best interest of both Google as a whole and his/her organization.
  • Expanded the boundaries of what is possible for Google through innovation and/or application of best practices.
  • Collaborated effectively with peers (for example, worked well together, resolved barriers/issues with others) and championed the same in his/her team.
  • Contributed effectively during senior team meetings (for example, was prepared, participated actively, listened well, was open and respectful to others, disagreed constructively).

Product leader attributes

For the past 12 months, to what extent do you agree/disagree that each person demonstrated exemplary leadership in the following areas:

  • Product Vision
  • Product Quality
  • Product Execution

Open-Text Questions

  • What differentiates each SVP and makes him/her effective today?
  • What advice would you give each SVP to be more effective and/or have a greater impact?

Get to the Table

Science backs that women tend to have a better ability to read emotional states. That is why Bill pushed to to consider women for senior positions: "You can always find a woman for a job, it may just take a little longer."

"Winning depends on having the best team, and the best teams have more women." And I personally would add that the best teams not only have more women, but more diversity in general.

Solve the Biggest Problem

Analytical people might subestimate emotional issues within teams, a fast-growing company might not tackle operational problems and all of that is easy to ignore in the daily business. Those elephants in the room need to be present and the first thing to address.

"Another word for tension is politics. When you hear people saying that things are getting "political," that often means that problems have arisen because the data or process hasn't led to the best decision." Bill said, "For us political stuff is toxic". At Google, it was eliminated by tackling the toughest and ugliest problems first.

"Identify the biggest problem, the "elephant in the room," bring it front and center and tackle it first."

Don't let the Bitch Sessions Last

When Apple launched the iPhone 3G together with an iOS update, the company had severe issues with its servers. People could not activate their newly purchased iPhones or update their existing ones. In the meeting about the server problems, Bill made sure to air the problems transparently and immediately moved on to find potential solutions.

"When it gets to the negative, get it out, get to the issues, but don't let the damn meeting dwell on that. Don't let bitch sessions last for very long," remembers Eddy Cue, one of the responsible Apple employees.

This approach is called "problem-focused coping". It contrasts the "emotion-focused coping", which is adequate in circumstances where no solution is to be found. Thus problem-focused coping makes more sense in a business environment, where solutions depend greatly on the company's actions.

"Air all the negative issues, but don't dwell on them. Move on as fast as possible."

Winning Right

Bill established a culture of winning in the teams he worked with (both in the business world as well as Football coaches). Todd Bradley (former executive at Hewlett-Packard) described it as the humanity of winning.

And this attitude included the whole team, not individuals. "Whether in business or in sports, it's amazing what can be accomplished if you don't care who gets the credit".

"Strive to win, but always win right, with commitment, teamwork, and integrity."

Leaders Lead

"When things are going bad, teams are looking for even more loyalty, commitment, and decisiveness from their leaders."

Fill the Gaps Between People

Sometimes a comment or a quickly drafted email may convey a different message for the recipient than for the sender. Bill described his job as a coach to "see little flaws in the organization that with a little message we can make better".

He did so by observing and focusing not only on the said words but also on the body language. And then he sent short, timely and effective messages. Sometimes just acknowledging that situation sucks. He took people quietly aside for a quick few words. Those little talks take time, but he made it a priority.

"Listen, observe, and fill the communication and understanding gaps between people."

Permission to Be Empathetic

It's easy to get consumed by all work-related issues and focus merely on business-related communications. Bill made personal relationships a priority and used that to create momentum in teams.

"Leading teams becomes a lot more joyful, and the teams more effective, when you know and care about the people."

Chapter 5: The Power of Love

The Lovely Reset

"Caring and compassion can have a tremendous impact on an organization." Therefore, a leader needs to show compassion and care about your teammates. Not only in work-related matters but also if they deal with personal or health-related problems.

"To care about people you have to care about people: ask about their lives outside of work, understand their families, and when things get rough, show up."

The Percussive Clap

Sometimes Bill would clap after presentations in board or team meetings. He did this accompanied with expressed excitement and in a cheerful way. This helped to break the ice for other team members to join in the appraisal. Doing so, he created momentum for the whole team and showed a virtual pad on the shoulder.

"Cheer demonstrably for people and their successes."

Always build communities

"Build communities inside and outside of work. A place is much stronger when people are connected."

Help People

Bill's enjoyed helping friends and colleagues and called excuses like "I'm sorry. I can't do this. We have this process in place..." bullshit.

The authors emphasize the importance of self-protective givers. This concept is borrowed from the book Give and Take and describes five-minute favors. "Being an effective giver isn't about dropping everything every time for every person. It's about making sure that the benefits of helping others outweigh the costs to you."

"Be generous with your time, connections, and other resources."

Love the Founders

Many CEOs are great at operational excellence. And although that is important a great part of effective leadership is the company's vision. Founders are excellent at having a vision. Therefore Bill loved the founders and tried to keep them involved, whenever possible.

"Hold a special reverence for - and protect - the people with the most vision and passion for the company."

The elevator chat

As you might have noticed, Bill was a "people guy". It was natural for him to engage with everybody and he made it look easy to create long-lasting relationships at work.

Bruce Chizen, former CEO at Adobe Systems, remembers that he did not have this gift. So he trained to become better at caring for people. He started by remembering as many names as possible and "when I ran into someone in the elevator, I'd start up a dialogue, how's it going, what are you working on? I would put myself in interactions that were not as natural for me, but it made a difference".

In the end, this was a cornerstone of his promotion. He was promoted to become the Product Owner (and later on CEO of Adobe Systems) because engineers from other departments appreciated his willingness to engage.

"Loving colleagues in the workplace may be challenging, so practice it until it becomes more natural."

Chapter 6: The Yardstick

After 17 years at Google, Eric Schmidt stepped down as CEO in 2017. This is a highly emotional process that needs empathy and human behavior to run smoothly for all those involved. Normally Bill would be there to smoothen the transition. Talking to people to address the emotional side and mentoring on the next steps using all tactics described beforehand.

The ending of an important chapter, just like Eric stepping down as CEO, inherently leads to the question What's next?.

The What Next? Decision

  • Be creative: You have wisdom of experience and freedom to apply it where you want.
  • Don't be a dilettante: Whatever you get involved with, have accountability and consequence. Drive it.
  • Find people who have vitality: Surround yourself with them, engage with them. Often they will be younger.
  • Apply your gifts: Figure out what you are uniquely good at. And understand the things inside you that give you a sense of purpose. Then apply them.
  • Don't waste time worrying about the future: Allow serendipity to play a role. Most of the turning points in life cannot be predicted or controlled.