Why is it that bookstores seem to have endless rows replete with self-help books, yet no section on helping others? Adam Grant introduces this question in the foreword of one of my favorite new business books, Trillion Dollar Coach. It details the story of Bill Campbell, a Silicon Valley unicorn magnate. Campbell coached the who's who of technology's most significant giants. The authors, including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and SVP of product Jonathan Rosenberg, credit Campbell with being one of the most integral factors to Google's success. As if that were not impressive enough, Campbell also coached Steve Jobs (former CEO of Apple), Brad Smith (former CEO of Intuit), John Donahoe (former CEO of eBay), Dick Costolo (former CEO of Twitter), and Al Gore (former U.S. vice president), in addition to countless others.
Shining the spotlight on the formation of Silicon Valley wealth while working alongside some of the region's most acclaimed inhabitants as a trusted ally is a fascinating story in and of itself. Yet it isn't the reason this book ought to become mandatory reading for high-growth managers. Campbell's message and leadership style was so unique, especially for the time, that it struck a chord with many and seemed to fill a gap for high-growth tech companies. To understand what made Campbell different, you first have to consider his past.
From gridiron to Googleplex
Campbell's career started in the most auspicious way. As the head coach of Cornell's football team, Campbell learned lessons about management early on--lessons he would later leverage to guide C-suite titans. With a knack for creativity and an affinity for human psychology, Campbell left football for the renowned ad agency J. Walter Thompson. Then, in the 1980s, he rose quickly through the ranks to become vice president of marketing at Apple during some of its most tumultuous times. Campbell was later hand-selected to become the CEO of Intuit. After his technology career came to an end, Campbell went back to advise and coach Steve Jobs at Apple and was introduced to Eric Schmidt, who had assumed the CEO position at Google. He then continued to coach an additional powerhouse of Silicon Valley elite.
Why was Campbell and his message in such high demand at these rapid-growth technology companies? Campbell preached the human side of running a business in a manner that could only be executed by someone who wasn't afraid to stare down a 300-pound lineman and put him back in his place without batting an eye. As a marketer, he was able to quickly calculate how a message would be received and consider the most effective form of communication and delivery.
His book made me reflect on all the impressive coaches I've encountered while playing every sport that was available to me. The magic that a high-fidelity coach emanates cannot be described in just a few words. The feeling you get when you find that extra push to accomplish acts that even the most confident people deemed simply out of reach. Coaches not only teach and manage their teams but also inspire, push, and occasionally play referee.
While this book highlights the value that a coach like Campbell can offer an organization, it also acknowledges the fact that many companies don't have the resources to make this type of hire. This book it not about hiring a coach. Instead, it is about learning how to become one. Throughout the narrative, the authors highlight several themes that managers can adopt to elevate themselves--from managing effectively to leading with purpose. As Campbell states, "Your title makes you a manager. It is the people that dictate if you are a leader."
Shift your focus to that of the team
If you've ever worked at a startup, one of the hardest problems in the early days is getting everyone on the same page, and moving in the right direction together. Contrary to popular belief, the task seems to be even more challenging for teams filled with high performers, who are typically ambitious, opinionated, and competitive. Turning your company into a community of people is arduous, as differing opinions frequently cause tensions to rise. But the authors point out that we should not fear tension. In fact, tension can be a positive force if you're able to effectively coach people to deal with conflict and roadblocks productively and not let them derail the group. Coaches don't just work toward the company goal. They don't just focus on the individuals. Coaches spend their time on transforming their team into a community. Campbell didn't just work with Eric Schmidt. He worked with the entire team, with the goal of uniting the group in such a way that the whole was greater than the sum of the individual parts.
One of the most fascinating chapters in the book details how Campbell solved problems by looking beyond the boardroom. He truly wanted to get to know people for what they were--human beings. Campbell practiced and preached EQ (emotional intelligence) well before it became a buzzword. He encouraged people to look beyond the spreadsheets to understand what made everyone tick--strengths, fears, weaknesses, dreams. He acknowledged that everyone was different and emphasized that this could be used in the team's favor.
For many fast-paced startup executives, walking into a boardroom can sometimes feel like entering a battleground. As you take a seat, you silently acknowledge the reality that the next hour could spiral into a heated debate. Campbell urged teams to start team meetings by simply asking what people did during the past weekend. While this may not sound like a genius strategy for coaxing people into playing nice in the boardroom, it's actually quite brilliant (and effective) because of its simplicity. The goal is to cajole people into friendly banter prior to combat. This practice helps remind attendees that their colleagues have lives outside of the office walls and that the people that they will ultimately find themselves debating against during the next hour are, well, human too. In my opinion, it is also far less contrived than those painful "bonding" exercises that far too many companies rely on.
Too many business settings are cutthroat battlegrounds, rife with conflict. Campbell humanized the workplace. From his bear hugs to his words of encouragement, he was a much needed cheerleader who united employees to become a close-knit community. All leaders can benefit from following Campbell's lead. As the book astutely concludes, "You cannot be a good manager without being a good coach ... An essential component of high-performing teams is a leader who is both a savvy manager and a caring coach."