The Biggest Principles of Bill Campbell, the Coach Behind Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt

If you dig deeper into the lives of famous Silicon Valley executives, you will see one person everywhere: Bill Campbell.

Bill Campbell coached almost every successful entrepreneur, CEO and executive you can think of, including Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s current CEO Sundar Pichai, Apple’s founder Steve Jobs, Brad Smith of Intuit, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, John Donahoe from eBay and many more.

Let’s look at some of the hallmarks of Bill Campbell’s business and life philosophy.

Informal Relationships

The first lesson from Bill Campbell’s philosophy is to believe in the power of informal relationships at companies. We sometimes get too formal, and don’t speak our heart out. We don’t show love or foster friendships. On the other hand, Bill was a famous “hugger” who used to hug and even blow kisses during board meetings and conferences. He famously welcomed Intuit’s CEO Brad Smith in 2003 by saying ““So you’re the son of a gun who cost me so much money. You better be worth it!”

“Whenever I saw Bill he gave me great perspective about what really matters. At the end of the day, it’s the people in your life. Bill had such strong principles around community and how to bring people together. We used those principles – detailed in Trillion Dollar Coach – to form the foundation of Google’s leadership training, so all of our leaders can continue to learn from Bill.” – Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google)

Minimize Decision Making for Increased Focus

Bill hated cognitive overloading. He believed in minimizing the decision making process so you could focus and decide only about the stuff that matters. If you spend your day taking numerous, small and unimportant decisions, you will end up exhausting all your brain resources, resulting in bad decision making when it comes to important matters.

“Whenever I have a tough decision to make, I think about Bill Campbell. What would Bill do? I owe him so much. He had a gift for helping people to realize their full potential and getting organizations to work well together. Trillion Dollar Coach does a great job of capturing what made Bill special to me and many others.” – Susan Wojcicki (The CEO of Youtube)

Don’t Try to Please Everyone

It’s a natural tendency for us to try and please everyone. Unsurprisingly, Bill strongly advised against people pleasing. If you are running a business, and try to please everyone, your business will eventually run into a disaster. Even in general life, you cannot have goals and please everyone at the same time. Choose your direction, and keep going without even thinking of those who do not matter.

Be Honest

In the politically correct world of today, companies suffer because executives are trying too hard to be nice, whereas the business world is extremely practical. Bill believes in the idea of “being yourself.” You should not be abusive. But you should be honest and straightforward. Otherwise, you are fooling yourself, your colleagues and your company.

Here’s how Bill summarized this philosophy

“I always say that my companies are borderline anarchy. I like people to fight back. I’ve got a temper and I’m angry a lot, not abusive.  I’m like “God damn it, Geoffrey, how the hell come we’re not doing this?  You know, I asked you to do it!” I expect you to respond in kind: “Look, Bill, that was a shit idea. I tried to get it done that way and I put it out to the field sales force, and three customers rejected it.” So them I’m: “Fine, fine, fine, fine, I hear you.” That way I know you’ve gone through things. I expect you to say “[expletive] you, Bill, I’ve got a better way to do it.”

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

The biggest mistake leaders and managers make is that they try to do everything by themselves. They do not delegate, or trust others. They become perfectionists. As a result, they exhaust their physical and mental resources. Their subordinates feel untrustworthy, and never get a chance to learn.

Bill’s single biggest takeaway from his practical management roles was the importance of decision making.

In an interview with Inc. Bill said:

 Delegation was the biggest thing.  I was the ultimate micro-manager at Apple. I was terrible.  I had my [expletive] fingers in everything and basically insisted I was always the victim of a reorganization.  I went there as a VP of marketing, I took over sales, I took over distribution services, then I took over…  It was constant turmoil of different managers and all that, and what I did is I micro-managed everybody because I knew the way I wanted it.  I didn’t have strong people.  I had absorbed some people from different groups and didn’t have enough people that I could really count on”

“When I went to Claris, I hired the people individually, everybody that I wanted, and I started right at the beginning. I still badgered them a little bit about getting it the way I wanted but after I got past the first and second year, I basically was a kind of a referee.  I broke ties and kept the organization from conflict because there was, there’s a lot of natural conflicts, engineering and marketing.”


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