Book Summary - Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell

April 5, 2022
HR & People Stuff
Blog Cover_Trillion Dollar Coach The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell

In their 2019 book, Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle profiled Bill Campbell – the Silicon Valley super-coach famous for mentoring the senior management teams at Google, Apple, and numerous other startups through their periods of hyper-growth – and distilled his unique approach to business coaching into 32 principles that team managers and coaches can follow to create and get the most out of high-performing teams.

Trillion Dollar Coach is written in 6 Chapters, with each of the 32 business coaching principles spread across the chapters. Here’s the breakdown:

Chapter 1: The Caddie and the CEO

Introduction, Bill Campbell’s Biography, Bill Campbell’s Work At Google

Chapter 2: Your Title Makes You a Manager. Your People Make You a Leader.

1. It's The People

The top priority of any manager is the well-being and success of her people.

‘It's The People’ Manifesto

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.

2. Start With Trip Reports

To build rapport and better relationships among team members, start team meetings with trip reports, or other types of more personal, non-business topics.

3. Five Words On A Whiteboard

Have a structure for 1:1s, and take time to prepare for them, as they are the best way to help people be more effective and to grow.


Performance on Job Requirements

  • Could be sales figures
  • Could be product deliver or product milestones
  • Could be customer feedback or product quality
  • Could be budget numbers

Relationship with Peer Groups

  • Product & Engineering
  • Marketing & Product
  • Sales & Engineering


  • Are you guiding/coaching your people?
  • Are you weeding out the bad ones?
  • Are you working hard at hiring?
  • Are you able to get your people to do heroic things?

Innovation (Best Practices)

  • Are you constantly moving ahead...thinking about how to continually get better?
  • Are you constantly evaluating new technologies, new products, new practices?
  • Do you measure yourself against the best in the industry/world?

4. The Throne Behind The Round Table

The manager's job is to run a decision-making process that ensures all perspectives get heard and considered, and, if necessary, to break ties and make the decision.

5. Lead Based On First Principles

Define the "First Principles" for the situation, the immutable truths that are the foundation for the company or product, and help guide the decision from those principles.

6. Manage The Aberrant Genius

Aberrant geniuses – high-performing but difficult team members – should be tolerated and even protected, as long as their behavior isn't unethical or abusive and their value outweighs the toll their behavior takes on management, colleagues, and teams.

7. Money's Not About Money

Compensating people well demonstrates love and respect and ties them strongly to the goals of the company.

8. Innovation Is Where The Crazy People Have Stature

The purpose of a company is to bring a product vision to life. All the other components are in service to product.

9. Heads Held High

If you have to let people go, be generous, treat them well, and celebrate their accomplishments.

10. Bill On Boards

It's the CEO's job to manage boards, not the other way around.

Chapter 3: Build an Envelope of Trust

11. Only Coach The Coachable

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

12. Practice Free-Form Listening

Listen to people with you full and undivided attention – don't think ahead to what you're going to say next – and ask questions to get to the real issue.

13. No Gap Between Statements And Fact

Be relentlessly honest and candid, couple negative feedback with caring, give feedback as soon as possible, and if the feedback is negative, deliver it privately.

14. Don't Stick It In Their Ear

Don't tell people what to do; offer stories and help guide them to the best decisions for them.

15. Be The Evangelist For Courage

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

16. Full Identity Front And Center

People are most effective when they can be completely themselves and bring their full identity to work.

Chapter 4: Team First

17. Work The Team, Then The Problem

When faced with a problem or opportunity, the first step is to ensure the right team is in place and working on it.

18. Pick The Right Players

The top characteristics to look for are smarts and hearts: the ability to learn fast, a willingness to work hard, integrity, grit, empathy, and a team-first attitude.

19. Pair People

Peer relationships are critical and often overlooked, so seek opportunities to pair people up on projects or decisions.

20. Get To The Table

Winning depends on having the best team, and the best teams have more women.

21. Solve The Biggest Problem

Identify the biggest problem, the "elephant in the room," bring it front and center, and tackle it first.

22. Don't Let The Bitch Sessions Last

Air all the negative issues, but don't dwell on them. Move on as fast as possible.

23. Winning Right

Strive to win, but always win right, with commitment, teamwork, and integrity.

24. Leaders Lead

When things are going bad, teams are looking for even more loyalty, commitment, and decisiveness from their leaders.

25. Fill The Gaps Between People

Listen, observe, and fill the communication and understanding gaps between people.

26. Permission To Be Empathetic

Leading teams becomes a lot more joyful, and the teams more effective, when you know and care about the people.

Chapter 5: The Power of Love

27. The Lovely Reset

To care about people you have to care about people: ask about their lives outside of work, understand their families, and when things get rough, show up.

28. The Percussive Clap

Cheer demonstrably for people and their successes.

29. Always Build Communities

Build communities inside and outside of work. A place is much stronger when people are connected.

30. Help People

Be generous with your time, connections, and other resources.

31. Love The Founders

Hold a special reverence for – and protect – the people with the most vision and passion for the company.

32. The Elevator Chat

Loving colleagues in the workplace may be challenging, so practice it until it becomes more natural.

Chapter 6: The Yardstick

Wrap-Up & Notes About Applying Bill Campbell’s Principles To The Author’s Life

Key Excerpts & Quotes From The Book

There is another, equally critical, factor for success in companies: teams that act as communities, integrating interest and putting aside differences to be individually and collectively obsessed with what's good for the company. Research shows that when people feel like they are part of a supportive community at work, they are more engaged with their jobs and more productive. Conversely, a lack of community is a leading factor in job burnout.

But to be most effective – and this was Bill's model – the coach works with the entire team. At Google, Bill didn't just meet with Eric. He worked with Jonathan and several other people, and he attended Eric's staff meetings on a regular basis. This can be a hard thing for an executive to accept – having a "coach" getting involved in staff meetings and other things can seem like a sign of lack of confidence. And a 2010 article notes that "group coaching" is effective but generally underused as a way to improve team or group performance (which the authors call "goal-focused change").

He came to master the art of identifying tensions among teammates and figuring out how to resolve them.

Every sports team needs a coach, and the best coaches make good teams great. The same goes in business: any company that wants to succeed in a time where technology has suffused every industry and most aspects of consumer life, where speed and innovation are paramount, must have team coaching as part of its culture. Coaching is the best way to mold effective people into powerful teams.

The best coach for any team is the manager who leads that team. Being a good coach is essential to being a good manager and leader. Coaching is no longer a specialty; you cannot be a good manager without being a good coach.


Bill could keep a secret, even from Eric, and so could act as a confidant to anyone on the team. This is very valuable to a coach, who always needs to know what's going on, but also needs to be seen by his coachees as someone who honors their privacy.

You could trust Bill. His success stemmed from that.

When Google conducted a study to determine the factors behind high-performing teams, psychological safety came out at the top of the list.

How did Bill do it? First, he only coached the coachable. Then, if you passed that test, he listened intently, practiced complete candor, believe that his coachees could achieve remarkable things, and was intensely loyal.

Bill sat back down and talked about how he chose the people he was going to work with based on humility. Leadership is not about you, it's about service to something bigger: the company, the team. Bill believed that good leaders grow over time, that leadership accrues to them from their teams. He thought people who were curious and wanted to learn new things were best suited for this. There was no room in this formula for smart alecks and their hubris.

"A coach is someone who tells you what you don't want to hear, who has you see what you don't want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be." - Jonathan Rosenberg

The coachable people are the ones who can see that they are part of something bigger than themselves. You can have a considerable ego and still be part of an even bigger cause.

The essence of Bill was the essence of just about any sports coach: team first. All players, from stars to scrubs, must be ready to place the needs of the team above the needs of the individual. Given that commitment, teams can accomplish great things. That's why, when faced with an issue, his first question wasn't about the issue itself, it was about the team tasked with tackling the issue. Get the team right and you'll get the issue right.

Bill grasped that there are things we all care about as people – love, family, money, attention, power, meaning, purpose – that are factors in any business situation. That to create effective teams, you need to understand and pay attention to these human values. They are part of who we all are, regardless of our age, level, or status. Bill would get to know people as people, and by doing so he could motivate them to perform as business people. He understood that positive human values generate positive business outcomes.

Because the world faces many challenges, and they can only be solved by teams. Those teams need coaches.