• Toby Sinclair

Book Summary: Trillion-Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt et al. | Silicon Valley Coaching


Trillion Dollar Coach

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⭐ Toby's Rating: 8/10 - Recommended For: Technology Leaders


3 Big Ideas 💡

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

  • Don't focus on building consensus. Instead, focus on helping teams find the best possible idea. If a deadlock happens only then should the manager decide.

  • The primary job of a manager is to help people be more effective in their job. To help people grow and develop. It is not to provide solutions or tell team members what to do. Coaching is the primary mechanism managers use to do this.

2 Most Tweetable Quotes 💬


“This is the power of coaching in general: the ability to offer a different perspective, one unaffected by being “in the game.”
"....this form of “respectful inquiry,” where the leader asks open questions and listens attentively to the response, is effective because it heightens the “follower’s” feelings of competence (feeling challenged and experiencing mastery), relatedness (feeling of belonging), and autonomy (feeling in control and having options)."

Eric Schmidt Coaching Quote

1 Top Takeaway


An inside look at how the worlds biggest CEO's leverage coaching to improve. It is easy to assume that the most successful don't need coaching. This book highlights that no matter how successful you are, coaching can add value. The authors share the value of having a coach who is not "in the game" shift perspectives and enable growth.


One caution for readers is the broad definition of coaching within the book. Coaching is not clearly defined within the book. However, there is a clear emphasis on helping people grow and improve. It would have been great to hear more about Bill Campbell's principles about when to ask vs tell. It was very clear throughout the book that Bill was comfortable doing both. Readers of this book will also enjoy Challenging Coaching by Ian Day.


Big Ideas Expanded



Who is Bill Campbell?


Bill Campbell, an ex-football coach came to work at Apple in 1983 and ended up one of the most effective, beloved, and storied players in Silicon Valley history. For more than 15 years Campbell coached, among others, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Sundar Pichai at Google, Steve Jobs at Apple, and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook.


Stories about Campbell, his style, and his executive teachings still float around Silicon Valley, three years after his death from cancer in 2016. He fought against Steve Jobs getting forced out of Apple while both were there, and helped him grow into a leader. Campbell famously hugged everybody–including the notoriously unhuggable Bill Gates. In 2001 Campbell asked Sheryl Sandberg (then at Google), “What do you do here?” and he refused all her answers until she explained how she contributed every day.


You need managers and their primary role is to help people grow


In 2001 when Google was almost three years old, Schmidt, Rosenberg and Eagle recollect that founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page made a structural decision to get rid of the managers in the engineering area. Neither of Google’s founders had traditional business training or experience. Due to their academic backgrounds, they were dubious about having managers. The authors show some sympathy for their basic question: why not let superior engineers do their work without bosses?


Campbell advised Brin they needed managers. After debate the a survey was conducted to find out what Google engineers wanted. It was clear that engineers did want managers. The engineers wanted managers to teach them, help them make decisions and run interference if people disagreed. Bill Campbell saw management as essential to a company’s ability to create “operational excellence.” It’s especially necessary for Tech Teams to avoid people following their ideas rather than focusing on business results.


Schmidt, Rosenberg and Eagle believe that leadership emerges as managers develop credibility. The people a manager directs can make him or her into a leader. Being a trustworthy manager means respecting people, trusting and supporting them, and making sure they have the necessary tools and training. Managers must ensure that their people succeed and that they are happy and healthy.


“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 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 their jobs and to make decisions. It means knowing people want to do well and believing that they will.”

Bill Campbell put much emphasis on the one-on-one. He helped managers develop a structure for one-on-ones and take the time to prepare for them. Bill believed they are the most important meetings to help people be more effective and grow.


Four areas to be discussed in one-on-ones:

  • Performance against outcomes - How are you impacting outcomes?

  • Relationships with peer groups - How are you working across teams?

  • Management and Leadership - How are you demonstrating leadership?

  • Innovation - How are you bringing new ideas to the table?

“Believe in people more than they believe in themselves, and push them to be more courageous.”

Use company values to drive decision making


When you are faced with a tough decision, Bill Campbell used the following approach.


Ask the two people most directly involved to gather data and work on a solution. Then return to share a clear recommendation and the information that had led to it. Most of the time the two individuals would return with a clear recommendation. On the occasion of deadlock, only then would the manager make a decision. This decision is made on the basis of company values.


Every team member needs to feel that the manager heard his or her perspective and made a fair, considered choice. Making the call is the manager’s job. Managers should base their decisions on the company’s first principles or core values. Everyone should be aware of these values, which should guide all employees.


Through the decision-making process, Bill would avoid consensus. The preference would be to find the best idea:

“He believed in striving for the best idea, not consensus (“I hate consensus!” he would growl), intuitively understanding what numerous academic studies have shown: that the goal of consensus leads to “groupthink” and inferior decisions.”

Psychological Safety is critical


Schmidt, Rosenberg and Eagle find that several factors feed into trust, including doing what you’ll say you do and showing integrity, loyalty and discretion. Trust doesn’t mean people always agree. On the contrary, trust makes it easier for people to disagree and keep going.

Saying that trust is important in business may sound obvious, but it is more of a stretch to put trust first consistently – as Campbell did.


“The common notions that the best teams are made up of people with complementary skill sets or similar personalities were disproven; the best teams are the ones with the most psychological safety. And that starts with trust.”

The authors report that Campbell put trust first; he urged leaders to build trust with people before turning their attention to tasks. This is essential for building successful athletic teams and for building “psychological safety” for business teams. Within the atmosphere of trust, you need “coachable” people.


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

Active, attentive listening is a critical component in building trust. Leaders must give their people complete attention.


Teams are the building blocks for success


When hiring, Bill looked for people who had a “team-first” attitude. Campbell argued that to do anything important, you needed a team and that all employees must be loyal to their team. Teams need coaching even at the highest level including senior leadership teams.


"Excellent teams at Google had psychological safety (people knew that if they took risks, their manager would have their back). The teams had clear goals, each role was meaningful, and members were reliable and confident that the team’s mission would make a difference. You’ll see that Bill was a master at establishing those conditions: he went to extraordinary lengths to build safety, clarity, meaning, dependability, and impact into each team he coached.”

Often when a senior leadership team faces challenges they will work on the problem, not the people. Bill Campbell would do the opposite. He would work on the team and how they worked first. Helping them develop better routines so that they could avoid similar issues in the future. This could help them solve any number of problems.


Bill focused on hiring the right people and building the right skills in teams. When you’re hiring, make sure candidates and their values fit your organization. Hire people with grit, integrity and empathy. They must learn well, be willing to work hard and put teams first.

Managers must pay attention to their people over time, make sure they commit to their teams first and emphasize loyalty above personal success.