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Book Summary — Trillion Dollar Coach

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1 paragraph summary:

Bill Campbell is one of the legendary Silicon Valley coaches. If I had to summarise his approach I’d say he’s got a Team First approach focused on people. Everything he did comes from a place of love and care. The book gives a good overview of the various ways he coached.

This book belongs in the help-others section: it’s a guide for bringing out the best in others, for being simultaneously supportive and challenging, and for giving more than lip service to the notion of putting people first.

Bill Campbell

Bill was a master in establishing the right conditions — build safety, clarity, meaning, dependability, and impact into each team he coached.

Bill had opinions about produce and strategy, he usually kept them to himself. But he made sure the team was communicating, that tensions and disagreements were brought to the surface and discussed, so that when the big decisions were made, everyone was on board, whether they agreed or not.

Bill was known for many things, but perhaps his most notable characteristic, his signature, was the hug. Bill hugged everybody.

Below are some ways Bill coached and showcase his mindset:

1) Your Title Makes You a Manager, Your People Make You a Leader

What was discussed with Bill first and foremost: operations and tactics

  • What were the current crises?
  • How quickly were you going to manage your way out of them?
  • How was hiring going?
  • How were we developing our teams?
  • How were our staff meetings going?
  • Were we getting input from everyone?
  • What was being said, what wasn’t being said?

‘It’s the People’ Manifesto

People are the foundation of any company’s success. The primary job of each manager is to help people be more effective in their job and to grow and develop. We have great people who want to do well, are capable of doing great things, and come to work fired up to do them. Great people flourish in an environment that liberates and amplifies that energy. Managers create this environment through support, respect, and trust.

Support means giving people the tools, information, training, and coaching they need to succeed. It means they need to succeed. It means continuous effort to develop people’s skills. Great managers help people excel and grow.

Respect means understanding people’s unique career goals and being sensitive to their life choices. It means helping people achieve these career goals in a way that’s consistent with the needs of the company.

Trust means freeing people to do well and believing that they will.

Great coaches lie awake at night thinking about how to make you better. They relish creating an environment where you get more out of yourself.

Coaches are like great artists getting the stroke exactly right on a painting. They painting relationships.

Trip Reports

When everyone had come into the room and gotten settled, he’d start by asking what people did for the weekend, or, if they had just come back from a trip, he’d ask for an informal trip report.

The objective was two-fold:

  1. For team members to get to know each other as people, with families and interesting lives outside of work
  2. To get everyone involved in the meeting from the outset in a fun way, Googlers and human beings, and not just as experts and owners of their particular roles.

An alternative is what Marissa Mayer did:

My staff called it family prayer. You have to thank another team for something that happened last week. You can’t thank yourself, and you can’t repeat what someone else said.

Meeting Structure

Have a structure for your 1:1s and prepare for it.

  1. Small Talk

The talk isn’t really small. Bill really cared about people and had deep personal conversations.

2. Performance

After talking about family and other non-work stuff, Bill would ask Jonathan what his top 5 items were. It was Bill’s way of seeing how Jonathan prioritised his time.

  • What are you working on?
  • How is it going?
  • How could he help?

3. Peer Relationships

He also always thought that peer relationships were more important than with higher-ups.

4. Teams

Are you setting a clear direction for the team? and constantly reinforcing it?

Do you understand what the team is doing?

“Help them course correct, make them better”

5. Innovation

Are you making space for it on your teams? How do we balance the inherent tension of innovation vs execution?

The Throne behind the Round Table

In conflict situations, Eric liked to use a management technique he called the “rule of two”. He would get the two people most closely involved in the decision to gather more information and work together on the best solution, and usually, they would come back a week or two later having decided together on the best course of action. The team almost always agreed with their recommendation, because it was usually quite obvious that it was the best idea. The rule of two not only generates the best solution in most cases, it also promotes collegiality.

If there is still disagreement, you say, all right, either you two break that tie, or I will. If they fail, you make the call.

Bill believed that one of a manager’s main jobs is to facilitate decisions, and he had a particular framework for doing so. He didn’t encourage democracy.

He believed in striving for the best idea, not consensus.

The way to get the best idea, he believed, was to get all the opinions and ideas out in the open, on the table for the group to discuss. Air the problem honestly, and make sure people have the opportunity to provide their authentic opinions, especially if they are dissenting. If the problem or decision at hand is more functional in nature, then the discussion should be led by the person with the functional expertise. When it is a broader decision cutting across multiple functional areas, then the leader owns the discussion.

Call it a debate, not a disagreement — participants are more likely to share information.

Failure to make a decision can be as damaging as a wrong decision. There’s indecision in business all the time, because there’s no perfect answer. Do something, even if it’s wrong.

The manager’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.

Lead based on First Principles

In any situation there are certain immutable truths upon which everyone can agree. These are the “first principles”. You can argue opinions, but you can generally not argue principles since everyone has already agreed upon them.

It’s the leaders job to remind everyone of first principles, that’s when the decision becomes easier to make.

Manage the Aberrant Genius

Support them as they continue to perform, and minimise time spent fighting them. Instead, invest that energy in trying as hard as possible to coach them past their aberrant behaviour. As long as you can do this successfully, the rewards can be tremendous.

Never put up with people who cross ethical lines: lying, lapses of integrity or ethics, harassing, or mistreating colleagues.

What can’t be tolerated is when the aberrant genius continually puts him- and herself above the team.

Geniuses — high-performing but difficult team members — should be tolerated and even protected, as long as their behaviour isn’t unethical or abusive and their value outweighs the toll behaviour takes on management, colleagues, and teams.

Money’s Not About Money

He understood something about compensation that many people do not: the money isn’t always about the money.

Compensation isn’t just about the economic value of the money, it’s about the emotional value. It’s a signaling device for recognition, respect, and status, and it ties people strongly to the goals of the company. Bill knew that everyone is human and needs to be appreciated, including people who are already financially secure.

Innovation is Where the Crazy People have Stature

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

Head Held High

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

Bill on Boards

The first order of business always needs to be a frank, open, succinct discussion about how the company is performing.

That includes financial and sales reports, product status, and metrics around operational rigor.

It’s the CEO’s job to manage the board, not the other way around.

2) Build an Envelope of Trust

Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what the debate is about, you just have to bet on people and trust them.

Trust is the willingness to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations about another’s behaviour.

Trust means people feel safe to be vulnerable.

Establishing trust is a key component to building what is now called “psychological safety” in teams. Team psychological safety is a “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking… a team climate… in which people are comfortable being themselves”.

To be yourself without fear.

Only Coach the Coachable

“What do you want to get out of a coach?”

A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.

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

Practice Free-Form Listening

Give people your full, undivided attention, really listening carefully.

Often when people ask for advice, all they are really asking for is approval. “CEOs always feel like they need to know the answer,” Ben says. “So when they ask for advice, I’m always getting a prepared question. I never answer those.” Instead, like Bill, he asks more questions, trying to understand the multiple facets of a situation. This helps him get past the prepared question (and answer) and discover the heart of an issue.

No Gap Between Statements and Facts

Bill was always transparent, there was no hidden agenda. There was no gap between statement and fact. They were always the same.

It’s about saying things in a way that still lets people know you care.

An important component of providing candid feedback is not to wait.

Don’t Stick it in their Ear

Don’t tell people what to do, tell them the stories about why they are doing it.

You want to be supportive and demanding, holding high standards and expectations but giving the encouragement necessary to reach them. Basically, tough love.

Be the Evangelist of Courage

Bill’s perspective was that it’s the manager’s job to push the team to be more courageous. Courage is hard. People are naturally afraid of taking risks for fear of failure. It’s the manager’s job to push them past their reticence.

Full Identity Front and Center

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

3) Team First

That the team wins is the most important thing.

What would Bill do?

His first instinct was 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. His job was team building, assessing people’s talents, and finding the doers. He ran toward the biggest problems, the stinkers that fester and cause tension.

Work the Team, then the Problem

Get the team right and you’ll get the issue right.

Pick the Right Players

Bill looked for 4 characteristics in people.

The person has to be smart, not necessarily academically but more from the standpoint of being able to get up to speed quickly in different areas and the make connections. Bill called this the ability to make “far analogies”. The person has to work hard, and has to have high integrity. Finally, the person should have that hard-to-define characteristic: grit. The ability to get knocked down and have the passion and perseverance to get up and go at it again.

A big turnoff was if they were no longer learning.

He looked at the commitment to the cause and not just to their own success. Team first!

Keep note of the times when they give up things, and when they are excited for someone else’s success.

It’s not what you used to do, it’s not what you think, it’s what you do every day.

People who show up, work hard, and have an impact every day. Doers.

Pair People

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

The Peer Feedback Survey

Peers are the most important people to ask for feedback.

In the past 12 months to what extent do you agree/disagree:

  1. Extraordinary in-role performance
  2. World-class leadership
  3. Outcomes best for company
  4. Expanded boundaries
  5. Collaborated effectively
  6. Contributed effectively during meetings

Get to the Table

You can always find a woman for a job, it may just take a little longer.

Solve the Biggest Problem

With Bill there was never an elephant in the room. Or more accurately there might have been an elephant, but it wasn’t hiding in the corner. Bill wouldn’t allow that. He brought the thing front and center.

Don’t let the Bitch Sessions Last

Bill always made sure that problems were aired completely and transparently. And then, once that was accomplished, he moved on.

When it gets to 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.

Winning Right

Winning right is winning as a team.

Whether in business or in sports, it’s amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.

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

This is not an unusual story. It happens every day: the offhand comment, the quickly drafted email or text, and people careen off in emotional directions way out of whack with reality.

When he sensed those moments he’d work behind the scenes, drawing out people’s points of view, closing communication gaps, and fixing miscommunications.

Tension is the smoke of the problem’s fire.

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

Permission to be empathetic

Bill’s approach was to make the human connection first, then approach the work with that understanding.

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

4) The Power of Love

The Lovely Reset

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

With one gesture, short outburst of enthusiastic clapping, he would both tell the team that he loved their work, giving them all a big pat on the back and keep things moving. Bill’s raucous cheerleading didn’t just signal his approval, it generated momentum among the entire group in the room. What a brilliant technique!

All it needed to be was not a full round of applause, just five loud claps.

The Bill Campbell clap — the BCC

Always Build Communities

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

Help People

Do favors. Apply judgement in making sure that they are the right thing to do, and ensure that everyone will be better off as a result.

Love the Founders

He held a very special place in the heart for the people who have the guts and skills to start companies.

Vision is an important role. Heart and soul matters. Often that is embodied in the founder, but many other people may also embody what the company stands for, its mission and spirit.

The Elevator Chat

The principles we outline in this book may not feel natural, but they can be learned. The key is pushing yourself to do it. When you’re in the elevator, passing someone in the hallway, or seeing a group from your team in the cafeteria, take a moment to stop and chat. Bruce’s lines are as good a starter as any: “How’s it going? What are you working on?” In time, it becomes natural.

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