Trillion Dollar Coach: Summary – Lessons from Silicon Valley’s Most Respected Mentor

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a must read. Eric Schmidt, Alan Eagle and Jonathan Rosenberg distill in under 200 pages, the lessons they and other prominent business leaders have learnt from Bill Campbell – notably one of Silicon Valley’s most experienced mentors. Reading the full version will give you an insight into who Bill Campbell was and why he was so respected. It will also teach you important lessons about business, management and life.

Get the book here: Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt, Alan Eagle and Jonathan Rosenberg

1. Management has a purpose

You cannot remove management

In its early days, Google removed all its managers working in the engineering section of the company. The initial thought was that super-talented engineers would be self-sufficient to complete their work and then decide among themselves what they should work on next. However, feedback from the engineering department found that having an effective management structure was desired. The engineers wanted to be able to learn from their manager and have somebody to solve issues the teams could not agree on. This is an interesting point, having a manager for the sake of it is not going to provide much value, however, if you employ talented managers who are respected by the team then it will be appreciated.

But you should hire good managers

Being a good manager involves having effective processes. Good managers make people accountable for what they do, they identify and hire great people into their team and they provide fair, useful and comprehensive feedback (and pay them well too).

Managers need to make the tough decisions

An interesting example in the book is “The rule of two”. This involved sending the two most informed and involved people in a decision to gather more information and work together on a best solution. Usually they would come back with an agreed recommendation which everyone agreed with because it was the best solution, however, sometimes they did not.

A manager needs to be there to sometimes say “Either you come to a decision or I will”. When competing against other fast moving companies, indecisiveness can pose a big risk. A good manager can recognize this and make the tough decisions that must be made if nobody can agree.

Managers need to know what is going on and speak last

Bill Campbell would often sit down with individuals before meetings to find out what they were thinking. This enabled him to understand everybody’s perspective and understand what was motivating each argument. This also helped the team members as it allowed them to go into meetings prepared to talk about their point of view.

Once a meeting has commenced the person with the most influence should speak last. If you have read my Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed: Summary you would understand that hierarchies can be damaging to discourse. Whilst you may have the right answer, do not rob the team of the chance to come together and critically discuss a problem instead of speaking first and possibly influencing how others act.

Managers should care about their people

Academic studies cited in the book show that a company should view its people as an asset as most of a company’s success is determined by its people. A great manager is there to help people be more effective in their job, but to also help employees grow and develop personally. People are more likely to flourish in an environment that liberates them. You can ensure this by creating support, respect and trust.

You can support others by giving them the tools, information, training and coaching they need to succeed. You should continually develop your people’s skills and help them grow and excel.

You can respect others by understanding people’s unique career goals and being sensitive to their life choices. Everybody is different – you are unlikely going to find somebody who thinks exactly like you. You should help these people achieve their respective goals without judgement whilst ensuring they align with the company success.

Meetings can be powerful if they are done right

Staff meetings should be used as a forum to air-out the most important issues and opportunities. They allow everyone to get onto the same page, debate options and make decisions.

The most important issues facing a company cut across functions. Therefore, meetings shouldn’t be exclusive to departments, they should be organisational. This allows everyone to understand what is going on in other teams, understand issues they are facing and emphasize with them.  

2. Working with others is important

Building trust is essential

Trust is an important aspect when building any relationship. It means keeping your word – if you say you will do something, then you should do it. But you shouldn’t try to ignore it and hope it will grow as you get to know the other person. Academic research cited suggests that trust is the first thing you want to work on when creating a relationship before anything else.

When people meet it can be tempting to get to the task at hand and forget about getting to know each other. The author, along with Bill’s advice, suggests otherwise and that getting to know everyone is the first thing you should do before anything else.

The importance of trust becomes apparent when conflicts occur. There are mainly two types of conflicts when working on projects, task conflicts (relating to decisions) and people conflicts (relating to individuals). When you have built trust, conflicts that arise tend to be related to task-conflict. This type of conflict can be beneficial as it pushes the project forwards, unlike people conflicts which can cause politics to arise.

You can only coach the coachable

Everybody has value and potential, however, the limiting factor to helping others is whether they can be coached. Coaching others is a two-way street. Having a coach and a mentor can be an invaluable experience, but to be able to benefit from this you need to be open to listening to others and open to change. According to Bill, the most important traits were honesty, humility, perseverance, hard work and openness to learning new things.

Listening properly is paramount

When talking to others, it is important to be there in the moment. You should try to avoid checking your phone for texts or emails and you should make sure that the other person knows they have your full attention.

You should adopt the Socratic approach by asking questions too. A Harvard Business Review article cited notes that asking questions is essential to being a good listener.

You should coach in the moment

You should aim to coach and provide feedback in the moment. Providing instant feedback is something which people may shy away from and managers may prefer to bring issues up in performance reviews.

Difficult conversations like performance reviews are hard enough. You do not want to be leaving anything to interpretation, coaching and giving feedback in the moment allows you to give applicable and authentic examples of what someone has done wrong, instead of letting them try to interpret an example provided months later when they have forgotten about it.

Praise in public, criticize in private

Out of all the insights in the book, this is probably the most important. You should always aim to praise others in public and never criticize. If somebody has done something wrong – they probably know already – let them know quietly and give them the opportunity to present their view of things before working on a constructive plan to ensure it does not happen again.

3. Put the team first

Picking the right teammates is important

When you are looking to build a team, you need to surround yourself with good people. An interesting example when recruiting others is to not only ask what people have done, but how they have done it. That will help show their contribution to the task and whether they fully understood what was going on.

Don’t let bitch sessions last

You should aspire for positive leadership, instead of opening the door to politics, bitching and backstabbing. Politics can be toxic when working with others. You need to make sure problems are aired fully and transparently and that honest conversations can be had. Make sure emotions are vented quickly so the team can work on problem-focused work.

Studies cited show that exercising positive leadership makes problems easier to solve. You should praise teams when they have done well and you should make others feel valued. You will have to ask tough questions when managing others, when you respect them as an individual, they will understand that you are on their side and that it is nothing personal.

Get the book here: Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt, Alan Eagle and Jonathan Rosenberg