The man who coached Steve Jobs
10 lessons from a Silicon Valley legend
Welcome to The Process. Every week, I share lessons and insights from world-class people that make you better.
If you’re not subscribed, subscribe below and join 20,700+ leaders.
Now, onto Issue 45.
The man who coached Steve Jobs
Bill Campbell was an unlikely choice.
Of all the people who’d shape the most iconic companies in Silicon Valley, you probably wouldn’t expect one to be a former college football coach from Homestead, Pennsylvania.
But that was Bill.
He played football at Columbia, then later was the Lions’ head coach from 1974-79.
After leaving football, he went into business and eventually became Intuit’s CEO.
Bill then became an executive coach, working with visionaries like Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt.
By the time he passed away in 2016, Bill was revered throughout Silicon Valley, having made an impact on companies like Apple, Google, eBay, Facebook, Twitter and many others.
In the book Trillion Dollar Coach, Google execs Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle share Bill’s leadership playbook.
Here are 10 lessons Bill taught some of the highest-profile leaders in business:
1. No cookie-cutter leadership
Many leaders have one “style” of leadership.
They apply that style to whomever they’re leading.
Bill didn’t believe in a cookie-cutter approach to leadership.
He’d spend a Sunday afternoon walking around Palo Alto with Steve Jobs, listening and asking about a variety of subjects.
The next day he’d be sitting in the office shoulder-to-shoulder with a manager.
Bill appreciated that each person is unique, with a different story and background. He was nuanced in how he approached growth and leadership challenges.
He always reminded leaders: people are individuals — meet them and lead them from where they are.
2. Build coaching skills
Bill’s experience as a football coach gave him an unfair advantage in business.
In sports, he became a master of molding individuals into teams. He brought the same principles to Silicon Valley.
He coached leaders on how to work together, and then coached them on how to coach their teams to do the same.
The compounding effect through an organization like Google was immeasurable.
One thing every Google leader learned from Bill:
Great teams need coaching, and being a good coach is essential to being a good manager and leader.
Many management skills can be delegated. Coaching cannot.
3. Good managers support, respect and trust
Bill believed good management was the foundation of success.
“People who are successful run their companies well,” he said. “They have good processes. They make sure their people are accountable. They know how to hire great people, how to evaluate them and give them feedback, and they pay them well.”
Good managers support, respect and trust.
Support: give people the tools, information and development needed to be successful.
Respect: understand peoples’ unique career goals and be sensitive to their life choices.
Trust: know people want to do well, believe they will and free them to do their jobs.
These were fundamental principles Bill taught managers.
4. 1:1s and staff meetings are essential
Bill believed 1:1s and staff meetings were the two most important tools available to executives in running a company.
Bill’s framework for 1:1s covered 5 topics:
Personal: how you and the family are doing
Peer relationships: how teams are working together
Performance: how the business is doing (with metrics)
Management / leadership: how you’re handling people issues
Innovation: how you’re continuously driving the company forward
He’d begin staff meetings with “Trip Reports.”
Trip Reports were personal updates on anything interesting you recently did.
They seem like “small talk,” but they served two key purposes:
Help people get to know each other
Get everyone involved in the meeting in a fun way
Bill believed there’s a direct correlation between fun work environments and higher performance.
5. Coach the coachable
Bill interviewed every person before he started coaching them.
These were some of the smartest people in business, but he didn’t care about that. He had only one question:
“How coachable are you?”
He looked for certain traits:
Openness to learning
Bill believed good leaders grow over time. They’re curious and continuously want to learn new things. They serve a mission bigger than himself.
He would never coach, in his words, “bullshitters.”
Recruit coachable people in your organization.
6. Statements and facts
Bill had a saying: “no gap between statements and facts.”
Be honest. No hidden agenda.
When Bill spoke, his statements and the facts were the same.
Bill applied this principle most often in feedback.
He’d provide tough feedback, but it was fair and fact-based.
Bill spared nobody. Once, he coached an eighth-grade flag football team. One game against their rival, Bill’s quarterback threw a late interception that led to a loss.
Walking off the field, Bill came up to the quarterback. Bill stuck his finger in his own cheek, popped it out and said, “Mason, what’s that?”
The eighth-grader replied: “It’s the sound of my head coming out of my ass?”, repeating one of Bill’s famous phrases.
“That’s right,” Bill responded. “Get your head up! We lost as a team.”
Relentlessly honest, genuinely caring.
7. Be an evangelist for courage
Bill believed a manager’s job is to push teams to be more courageous.
Courage leads to success, but most people are risk-averse.
Google executive Shona Brown called it being an “evangelist for courage.”
Bill “blew confidence into people,” investor and entrepreneur Bill Gurley said.
He brought boldness and energy to situations. It was a hallmark of who he was as a coach and a principle he instilled in leaders.
8. Work the team, not the problem
When leadership teams faced conflict, Bill wouldn’t start by analyzing the problem.
He’d start by analyzing the dynamic of the team.
At Google, one of Bill’s key roles was to ensure the management team communicated well.
He was adept at noticing unspoken tensions and disagreements, and he didn’t let people avoid them. He forced them to the surface.
Bill knew that if he could get people to listen, observe and come together, they’d solve whatever problem was at hand.
“You always had the sense he was building a team,” says Sheryl Sandberg. “With Bill, it was never just about me. It was always about the team.”
Work the team, then let the team solve the problem.
9. Smarts and hearts
Bill built teams in business just like he did in football.
A team full of quarterbacks isn’t a team. There needs to be different positions, and those positions need to fit together as one.
At Google, the leadership team developed a saying for this: “smarts and hearts.”
They valued high-cognitive and technical talent (”smarts”), and Bill got them to understand the critical important of soft skills (”hearts”) in building great companies.
Bill respected experience but didn’t overvalue it.
He evaluated mindset, character and potential. He had the ability to see what someone could become, and he infused that into the management culture of companies he worked with.
Building great companies is just as much “art” as it is “science.”
10. Loyalty, commitment and integrity
When Bill coached football at Columbia, his teams lost a lot.
One of the first startups he joined after football, a company called GO, lost $75 million.
So, Bill learned a bit about leading through hard times.
During hard times, leaders need to show three things:
Bill believed these to be bedrock principles all the time, but even more so when a team is “losing.”
Losing times are when leaders are made. Commit to the cause.
The 10 lessons from Bill Campbell:
Smarts and hearts
Build coaching skills
Coach the coachable
No cookie-cutter leadership
Be an evangelist for courage
Work the team, not the problem
Loyalty, commitment and integrity
No gap between statements and fact
1:1s and staff meetings are everything
Good managers support, respect and trust
I hope these lessons are impactful and make you a bit better leader.
Idea for the Week
When things get difficult, zoom out.
A powerful perspective for this week:
When things get difficult, zoom out.
Don't let one bad day or moment overshadow all the progress you, your team, your company, your family, etc have made.
Have a great week, y'all.
— Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis)
Sep 11, 2023
I’d love to hear from you
What’s your biggest takeaway from this issue?
Reply to this email and let me know.
I personally read every email.
Thanks for reading.
See you next Sunday.