Book readings

Trillion Dollar Coach

Read Time:8 Minute

Sangeeta Sumesh:
As a business coach, Bill Campbell coached many bigwigs of Silicon Valley–Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Sundar Pitchai, Sheryl Sandberg, and the list goes on. If I were to sum up this book in just one sentence, it would be: ‘The Trillion Dollar Coach will help you to become a better leader at work.’

Bill Campbell helped build multibillion dollar businesses in Silicon Valley. He managed to shape many of these companies. What you can also learn from this book is that you get to know about coaching, how it works and what it is to work with a coach.

The book breaks three myths:

Myth 1: I don’t need a coach.
Many of us think that we don’t need a coach and that we are good enough. The fact is that everybody needs a coach. In the sports world, even the best of players work with a coach. So why should the business world be any different?

Myth 2: Mentoring and coaching are same.
The book gives a very subtle difference between mentoring and coaching. A coach doesn’t tell you what to do. He makes you to reflect, challenges you and helps you to come out with the best solution for the problem on hand.

Myth 3: A coach must be a domain expert.
The coach need not be a domain expert. Bill Campbell coached both the competitors – Apple and Google. He did not coach them on strategy. He coached them on being better leaders, better team members and how to build trust with people, which is the essence of leadership.

Bill Campbell was a football coach and then he moved to the business world. He was working with companies like Kodak, Apple and many others and then he became a business coach. He made a great impact on these leaders. We may wonder how a coach could manage to do this. One of the simplest ways that Bill followed was just listening to others. He was known to focus his full attention on the people when they talked and ask the right questions. In our busy world, we often don’t have enough time to listen to other people.

Another special thing I liked about Bill Campbell’s methods was that he brought in many women to the Board. He made the women sit through and be part of board meetings. He continued to support women in the business throughout his career. Here are the top three things that stood out for me from the book:
People are the foundation of any company’s success and people should be treated as an asset.

The framework of coaching used by Bill: He would focus on the performance for the job, relationship with peers and the management and leadership style. He encouraged innovation and best practices on how the business can move forward.

Bill says compensation–that is salary and perks–is not about the value of money. It is an emotional value.
Sandeep Kher:

The book tells how to hire, lead, conduct meetings, give feedback and bring love into the workplace. I learnt that the way we greet people in a lift or a cafeteria can give us cues about what people think about us. I liked Bill’s philosophy of pushing oneself to do till it becomes one’s second nature. Bill was not a great football player when he started playing for his school, yet he was the most valued player.

Sakaar Anand:
Key lessons I picked up from the book:
Be an authentic leader and it is okay to show emotions. People should know the person who you are.
Bill used to visit Steve Jobs when he was in the hospital. It touched me.

When he started in Silicon Valley, it was dominated by men. Bill believed in what we call today diversity and inclusion. He made sure that every idea counts.

On Coaching Culture

Sandeep Kher:
Eric Schmidt says that even after 17 years as Chairman of Google, he needed a coach. The question of whether a coach is required or not is not relevant. The right question we should ask must be: When do you need a coach?

When is the right time to seek a coach? Very early in my career, my CFO suggested the idea of a coach for me. I was repulsive of the proposal and wondered what was wrong with me. It took some time for me to accept it. When I went through the process, I realised the power of coaching.

Sakaar Anand:
There are Type A personalities in an organisation who may be highly successful as individuals but not as team members. It is a coach who converts them as team players. Coaching can also be done by the leader of a group, sometimes CEO of the company. But it is better to have someone as a coach who is not burdened by the day–to–day pressures of operations. As a HR professional, we have to understand the needs of a team.

The team leader must use 3Ds–Data, Demonstrate and Demand. Put out data of the team performance figures against targets. Demonstrate to the team the benefits derived by other teams who used a coach and how they could grow exponentially. Then you can demand what is required of the team. Coaching is not about fixing something broken. It is about operating at a different level.

Psychological Safety

When Google did a survey of its employees, the issue of ‘psychological safety,’ came up on top. How can we handle this in the current scenario of WFH?

Sakaar Anand:
Human beings are wired in a way that they fear failure. As a leader, it is important to reduce that fear by encouraging them to try new things and chart new territories. We should also celebrate failures. It is a celebration of courage and the learnings from failures. This culture should be inculcated. It does not matter whether it is in the physical world or virtual world.

I am reminded of Dr Abdul Kalam’s recollection of how his leader Satish Dhawan addressed the press conference when their SLV3 mission failed and asking Dr Kalam to address the press conference when the mission subsequently succeeded. If the employee has the feeling that he has the might of the organisation behind him, he will always have the psychological safety.

The Motivators

For high performance teams, apart from money, what else play a role?
Sandeep Kher:
Outside of money, there are many other motivators. No two human beings are same. We have to reach out to each individual, emotionally and rationally.

What sort of support should the investors extend to companies and motivate them?

Sandeep Kher:
From the experience of my company, I can tell you that we do not just stop with providing money. We have a team of specialists in almost all the areas and help our companies navigate challenges in any of these areas. We talk to the CFOs and make sure they don’t feel lonely, especially in startups. We also do many programs. We do a programme called–Surge, which is about early stage investing. We exchange a lot of knowledge.

Emotional Bonds

How can we create emotional bonds in companies, especially in the current times of virtual world?

Sakaar Anand:
Whether it is in person or online, we need to know the real person behind the name and the face. Leaders must celebrate the individualities of everyone. They must get to know about the employees, what excites them, their families and hobbies. Once they know all these, they end up spending more time with employees and the bonds are automatically developed. When the conversation is only about work, things become monotonous.

Handling Geniuses

Sakaar Anand:
Geniuses come with a chip on their shoulder. If their idiosyncrasies do not affect others in the team and they deliver high output, you can learn to live with them. But if the way they work disrupts your team and organisational culture, then it is not acceptable. You have to explain to them. You always hire people for attitude while aptitude can be taught.


To avoid micromanaging teams, organisations must set the culture. Culture flows from the top. Top management must see to it that teams are prepared to manage themselves.

Sakaar Anand:
You must look if there are interpersonal issues in the team and resolve them. It is said that for any problem, Bill Campbell always looked at the people and dug into the teams.

Coaching: Overcoming Hesitancy in India

A lot of awareness has to come about coaching. When people see others who have benefited from coaching, they will start to realise the importance of coaching. Books like ‘Trillion Dollar Coach’ will open up the mindsets of people.

Sakaar Anand:
In the Indian context, as children, we all are brought up to be the best in the class. So when we grow up, we think we are the best. Only when we see smarter people around us, we realise that we can improve. In an organisation, the leader must set the tone for coaching. He must tell that he doesn’t have all the answers and that he is not the smartest person around.

When we have a culture where we listen to each other, are willing to take feedback and are not competing against each other, we will be open to have a coach.

Sandeep Kher:
When I was offered to be coached, I had reservations. But my CFO told me that he too underwent coaching with the same coach three months back. That cleared all my misgivings.

Consultant vs. Coach

A consultant is a domain expert. He tells you what to do. A coach does not give you solutions. A coach kindles your thoughts and helps you to find your best solution. A coach is your accountability partner.