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bill campbell

Steve Jobs’s coach: “Trillion Dollar” mentor Bill Campbell’s top four traits

The Silicon Valley coach and the four characteristics he loved best

bill campbell
In this undated photo provided by Intuit Inc., Intuit Chairman Emeritus Bill Campbell discusses his career as the head coach of the Columbia University NCAA college football team and confidante to executives in Silicon Valley, while at a company event. Campbell died Monday, April 18, 2016, at age 75. Campbell served on Intuit’s board of directors from 1994 through his retirement in 2016. (Danny Ortega/Courtesy of Intuit Inc. via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Here’s a story from Trillion Dollar Coach, the book about the late Bill Campbell, Silicon Valley’s hugely powerful but little-known-outside-the-Valley coach to its top performers.

Campbell’s wisdom touched many lives, including Steve Jobs (Apple), Tim Cook, Eric Schmidt and Sundar Pinchai (Google), and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook).
Sandberg, now Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, met Bill in 2001 during her first week at Google.  She’d been hired as “business unit general manager”, a position that didn’t exist before she arrived.  At the time there were no business units, so she had nothing to manage.

“What do you do here?” asked Bill. She answered that she used to be at the Treasury Department.  He stopped her, “Okay, but what do you do here?”  

This time she replied with ideas of what she thought she might do. Bill wasn’t satisfied: “But what do you do here?” Sheryl finally admitted the truth; so far, she didn’t do anything.

“I learned an incredibly important lesson,” she says. “It’s not what you used to do, it’s not what you think, it’s what you do every day.”

The Trillion Dollar Coach authors Eric Schmidt (ex-CEO and Chair of Google), Jonathan Rosenberg (a senior vice-president at Alphabet) and Alan Eagle (a director at Google) all experienced Bill’s coaching firsthand, and say this story illustrates the most important characteristic Bill looked for in his players; people who show up, work hard, and have an impact every day. Doers.

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Here are the four characteristics Bill Campbell looked for 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 then make connections. Bill called this the ability to make “far analogies.”
  • The person has to work hard (the “doers”).
  • The person has to have integrity.
  • 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.

Bill would tolerate a lot of other faults if he thought a person had those four characteristics, say the authors. 

When he interviewed job candidates to assess those points, he wouldn’t just ask about what a person did, he would ask how they did it.

Asking them to explain exactly how they “led a project that led to revenue growth’ gave Bill indications of whether they were a team-player, a doer, hands-on, or a team builder.

A big turn-off for Bill, say the authors, was if his people were no longer learning. Did they have more answers than questions?

That was a bad sign for Bill, the man who wrote the leadership playbook for Silicon Valley's top performers.

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