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Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle

The leadership book about top Silicon Valley coach Bill Campbell {Interview}

Behind the success of Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos and dozens of other Silicon Valley senior executives was one much-loved man.

He was the late Bill Campbell, a former American college football coach, who helped leaders at companies, including Google, Apple, Intuit, and Amazon. 

Co-authors of Trillion Dollar Coach Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle knew Bill at Google, and spoke to The Growth Faculty about the book they penned with former Google CEO and Chair Eric Schmidt. Below is an edited snippet from that interview.

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Alan: Bill was an excellent manager. He emphasised getting the management fundamentals right. He was in demand because he executed well in rapid growth environments.

Jonathan: Bill knew that to get to great leadership you needed to build trust.  He let people see his own vulnerabilities and they shared their own. He understood the dynamics of how to pull people together as members of a team.

Alan: It’s almost impossible to understand Bill’s impact in growing Apple.  Bill was against Steve Jobs’s removal from the company, and Bill was the first person Steve brought onto the board when he was reinstated. They would talk once a week; he was a close confidante of Steve’s.

Jonathan: My first meeting with Bill. I arrived at Google to collect what I thought was my job offer. This old guy comes in and says “I’ve heard …you’re smart and work hard. I really don’t give a s**t about any of that, Rosenberg. I just want to know…are you coachable?” 

Jonathan: [There's] a saying from American football coach Tom Landry:“A coach is someone who can see the things you can’t see, hear the things you don’t want to hear, and help you become the person you always wanted to be.”  

Jonathan: He didn’t sleep much. He worked all the time. He didn’t believe in work/life balance. He merged his professional and personal lives; he made friends with the people at work.

Jonathan: Bill was very selective. He would look for people who had some level of ability or greatness or creativity or desire, and try to help them become better.  He was there to help people who had a great opportunity ahead of them. 

Jonathan: For 1:1 meetings, he would have a rubric: Performance against the job, relationships with peers, what you were doing to innovate within the company, and how strong your management practices were.  If he didn’t agree with your priorities, he’d set your priorities straight.

 Alan: I never thought about my one on ones, you just show up and you talk right? Bill thought about 1:1s as his main opportunity to coach people. He had a structure, tweaked to suit the needs of the coachee.

Alan: A lot of people say “I want a coach. How do I find a Bill Campbell?” [Instead] you need to be a coach. Get to know people. Bring love into the workplace. You can start being the Bill Campbell. Get to know people at work as friends.

Jonathan: Pair people when you get an action item. When you get a task, even when it’s easy, assign it to two people, to force them to work together. That way when there’s a much more controversial thing to work on, they’ll already have established a basis for working together and have a basis for trust. 

Jonathan: Run your staff meeting so that you are building relationships, not just getting stuff done today.

Jonathan and Alan’s GREAT EIGHT, eight getting-to-know-you questions we ask all our authors

Recommended book: Alan: I’ve just been given One Giant Leap about the Apollo 11 mission, and I recommend Rocket Men by Robert Kurson.  Jonathan: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would they be and what’s the book title? Jonathan: A management and team leadership book with Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Alan: A novel with Stephen King, scary, a thriller, with music in it.

What’s a great piece of advice you could share? Alan:  How important it is to bring love into the workplace. People talk about how they loved Bill Campbell.  You don’t hear that in business. You don’t hear the word 'love'. Bill made that okay. It wasn’t work to him. It was fun. I’ve tried to be more human at work.   Jonathan: A quote from John Wooden, the basketball coach for UCLA, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” 

What’s been your lowest moment and how did you recover from it? Alan: I’ve been laid off or fired from three different start-ups in Silicon Valley. Here in the Valley, failure is usually not personal. I chose a couple of start-ups that didn’t go, but I tried to learn from it and get up the next day and get back to work.   Jonathan: Alan was there for one [they went to high school together]. In the spring of 1977, Mr Glendenning gave me an 'F' on my Tale of Two Cities essay in 10th grade. He gave me an 'F' because I cheated with Cliffs Notes [book summaries], and I never did that again.  

How do you relax? Alan: We both like to watch sports. I enjoy skiing, sailing, hiking, anything outdoors. Jonathan: The answer would be the same for me, but I would bring my dog.

What’s a fun fact that’s not widely known about you? Alan: We both attended our 40th high school reunion on Saturday night.  Jonathan: I grew up the son of a college professor, and we moved so many times, I didn’t go to the same school until I went to high school in Palo Alto [in California] in 9th grade.

What is your secret of success? Jonathan: Make your own luck. You can’t make yourself smarter, make the most of your IQ points. Don’t be afraid to fail. Say yes to every opportunity.

Alan: When Jonathan hired me at Google to be Eric Schmidt’s speech writer, I’d never really done speech writing but I said yes. Understand what you really love, and go after that.

What’s your prediction for 2025? Jonathan: Machine learning and artificial intelligence will be even more important than people perceive now. They won’t be destroying jobs, they will be making life safer, they’ll be making the workplace better and they’ll be driving the economies of the countries that invested in them, and their workforce, heavily. Alan: And, the people who understand how machine learning works, and think about how to take that sort of technology and apply it to their business, will be very successful, in any business; not just technology or a few fields. This will have an impact, large and small. You don’t have to be an expert, you do have to understand where you have data, where can that data be used to make human decisions and make your company work smarter.  

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