Leadership Lessons from Bill Campbell – The CEO Coach to Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and Jeff Bezos

The book “Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell” by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle was one of the best books on management and leadership that I’ve read in the past decade.

Bill Campbell was the coach to some of the best CEOs in high tech and coached them on developed trusting relationships, growing their people and teams, infusing courage into them, creating operational excellence, and reducing tensions on the teams. The 4 key themes for me were: People, Trust, Team & Love.



  • “Your title makes you a manager. Your people make you a leader”
  • Leaders cannot demand respect
  • Humility, selflessness and showing you care about the people will get respect
  • Begin weekly meetings with informal communication which helps build connections and empathy


  • Trust was Bill Campbell’s “superpower”
  • Trust – integrity, ability, discretion, loyalty, and willingness to be OK to be vulnerable
  • It helps build rapport, comfort and protection in teams (“psychological safety”).
  • Trust reduces conflict, helps deal with arguments professionally, and overcome the fear of risk-taking.
  • To be coachable (separately: this applies well to sales teams), people have to be self-aware, humble, honest, learners: “A successful coaching relationship requires a high degree of vulnerability”
  • Leaders and coaches have to be active listeners – listening makes people feel valued, respected, understood, supported, and improves the sense of belonging.
  • Praise should be given in public, and negative comments should be given privately (can be preceded with “by the way”)
  • Tough love – feedback should be prompt & candid, also caring & constructive
  • Diversity is important and people are most effective when they can bring their full identity to work which applies to gender, race, or even the way they choose to dress (leaders must be accepting and supportive)


  • Work the team, then the problem
  • Leaders resolve the tensions during decisions that challenge pride, ambition and ego
  • The toughest problems can be tackled by the right teams
  • Team players have 4 characteristics: smarts, hard work, integrity and grit. They should be able to learn fast, make connections across fields (“far analogies”), have empathy, and be able to put the team first
  • Pick team members not only based on experience and diversity but also future potential
  • Observe meetings, watch body language, and what is not said
  • Have 1-on-1s to fill the gaps
  • Empathy helps improve connections on teams and can help identify those who don’t fit


  • “Love is part of what makes a great team great” – Bill Campbell was known for showing warm displays of love to colleagues – he was viewed by all as compassionate and endearing
  • Great coaches and leaders can break down the walls between professional and a human being to embrace the whole person with love
  • Bill also took time to get to know the families of his colleagues and he helped them during difficult times