Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.


  1. This is a “help-others” rather than a self-help book. It will teach you how to better help and coach others so that they can flourish

Key Takeaways

  1. Bill Campbell
    1. Bill began every relationship with a foundation of trust. This was essential to him and everybody he worked with felt it. He showed, from the beginning, and regardless of who the person was, that he cared
    2. He always preferred to be behind the scenes but is given credit for helping Apple, Google, and various other companies reach their full potential – totaling over $2T in market cap! Bill was always looking to help others with great compassion and empathy. He helped make sure the problems, ideas, and frustrations were flushed out rather than swept under the rug, making sure everyone was on the same page whether they all agreed with the decision or not
    3. Bill played football at Columbia but was severely undersized, yet led the team due to his effort and attitude. He later coached Columbia but failed and moved into the business world at 39. After only 5 years, he rose up the ranks as a senior executive, first at Kodak, then Pepsi and Apple, later as CEO of Intuit
    4. Bill was always happy and nice to everyone – he showed everyone, regardless of who they, were dignity and respect
    5. Bill was never afraid of crossing divisions within a company he was a sales and marketing guy to start out with but would go talk to the engineers directly and get their point of view, understand them, and help everyone work together
    6. Bill always advocated for more generosity rather than less – he thought that this was an easy and important thing to do for good people
    7. One of Bill‘s main roles was to shine the light on the elephant in the room. He would bring it front and center, expose it, and have people talk about it openly and honestly.
    8. Bill worked from first principles and invariant strategies. It didn’t matter if he was dealing with Steve Jobs and Apple or the flag football team he coached at Sacred Heart. He would treat everyone the same, be present, and follow his same game plan
    9. Bill saw all the chess pieces all the time because he wasn’t on the board! Can often be more effective when you’re not part of the system. Bill did this by not sitting on many boards and by also not taking any cash, or equity. “I don’t take cash, I don’t take equity, I don’t take shit.”
    10. Bill was huge on community and had many yearly trips with different groups – a Super Bowl trip, boys trip, family trip, and he always paid for everything. Even when he died, he set up an endowment to make sure that the tradition continued. He really understood the power of moments and ritual. Bill was heavily focused on building community always connecting people and building deep emotional ties 
  2. Was all about the people and wrote his “It’s the People” Manifesto to capture this idea
    1. “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. A manager’s job is to help their people become as effective as possible, to ensure their well-being and success 
    3. Develop a relationship with everyone – don’t be dictatorial, establish credibility, show you really care and love them
    4. Your title makes you a manager, your people make you a leader
    5. People will crown you as a good leader, a good manager – this never comes from yourself.
    6. A manager‘s role is firstly to help his people grow and fulfill their potential but also to help facilitate decisions and remove roadblocks from their people‘s paths. However he hated consensus as he believed this led to group-think. He wanted to air out all the ideas and give everyone a chance to voice their opinion‘s but ultimately the decision is the leader’s. 
  3. Teams > Individuals, Teams > Problems
    1. Bill coached teams and not individuals. When he met with Larry and Sergei of Google, he met with their whole staff not just the founders. He coached them on how to be better managers and leaders of their teams and also how to be better people overall
    2. Always focus on the team rather than the problem
    3. Begin every meeting with some social talk – asking about trips, weekends, plans, anything outside of work that people are passionate about. Deep relationships and clear communication are absolutely vital. Use meetings to get everyone together, build relationships, see each other’s strengths, get everyone on the same page, and make decisions
    4. Bill started meetings by writing five words on the whiteboard that he wanted to cover. He would sometimes ask the person he was coaching to write his top 5 – 9 words. This would help prioritize and show what each thought were the most important topics
    5. The leader should speak last and let everyone voice their opinion‘s. Getting the right answer is important but how you get there is just as important. Sometimes you have to make a hard and unpopular decision but it is the right thing to do – at this point the team has to “disagree and commit”
    6. Winning is important but winning right, winning as a team, is more important
    7. Leaders communicate effectively and clearly. When they see fissures developing, they stop them in their tracks. They fill in the gaps and make sure everyone is on the same page
  4. Other
    1. While a genius can help you in many ways, if they’re sucking up too much management time and aren’t able to work well with others, they shouldn’t be around
    2. An important lesson to learn is that you should only coach the coachable. Those who are coachable are honest and humble, persevere and work hard, and are open to hearing negative feedback.
    3. He always asked a ton of questions – “I would never tell anyone what to do, but I would help people get to the root of the problem or help them get to the key question themselves.” Because everyone knew Bill cared and that he was coming from a place of trust and love, he could be extremely candid and blunt in his feedback. He was constantly giving feedback but, if it was critical, he would do it in private
    4. Listening and making sure whoever you’re with is being heard is vital – be present don’t be distracted. Truly listen to people
    5. Don’t tell people what to do. Instead, tell them stories about where you want to end up and let them figure out how to get there
    6. As a leader, you must be an “evangelist for courage” – giving people a greater ability to push past the fear and go for big, bold outcomes. When you set the bar higher for people than they otherwise would, you can get greater results than they thought imaginable
    7. Have the courage to be your authentic, full self. Do not water it down or hide it – this will help you gain people’s trust
    8. Seek people who have “smarts and hearts,”, integrity, work ethic, and are team players
    9. Solve the biggest problems and solve them first
    10. When things aren’t looking good, when you’re losing, recommit! Be positive, be decisive, infect others with this determination and positivity 

What I got out of it

  1. A really inspiring man who dedicated his life to giving back and helping others flourish – focus on the team rather than the problem or any specific individual, establish trust in every relationship, air out any problems even though it may be uncomfortable

In the Latticework, we've distilled, curated, and interconnected the 750+book summaries from The Rabbit Hole. If you're looking to make the ideas from these books actionable in your day-to-day life and join a global tribe of lifelong learners, you'll love The Latticework. Join us today.