Life and Leadership Lessons learned from Bill Campbell – the ultimate coach of Billionaire CEOs including Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin


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I first read about Bill Campbell from “Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal” by Nick Bilton. Bill was brought into Twitter to mentor the CEO Evan Williams.

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Bill was described as a legendary coach who coached Steve Jobs, Eric Schmitz, Larry Page, Sergey Brins. From the first meeting, Bill fearlessly pointed out to Evan that the biggest mistake a CEO can make is to “Hire your fucking friends.” Bill often sat on Twitter’s board meeting.

Later I read about Bill Campbell in The Amazon Way.

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Bill was brought into Amazon by the board to help deal with Amazon’s leadership crisis. Amazon employees were complaining about Jeff Bezos’ controlling and demanding styles. The board was considering whether to ask Jeff Bezos to step aside and let someone else be the CEO. “Campbell had a reputation for being an astute listener who could parachute into difficult corporate situations and get executives to confront their own shortcomings. Steve Jobs considered him a confidant and got him to join the Apple board when Jobs returned to the helm of that company in 1997.

After meeting Jeff Bezos, Bill concluded that “Why would you ever replace him [Jeff Bezos]?’ He’s out of his mind, so brilliant about what he does.

I read about Bill Campbell from Ben Horowitz’s book: The Hard Things about Hard Things.

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Ben described Bill as “At the time, Bill was in his sixties, with gray hair and a gruff voice, yet he had the energy of a twenty-year-old….Bill is extremely smart, super-charismatic, and elite operationally, but the key to his success goes beyond those attributes. In any situation—whether it’s the board of Apple, where he’s served for over a decade; the Columbia University Board of Trustees, where he is chairman; or the girls’ football team that he coaches—Bill is inevitably everybody’s favorite person…..
No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong—when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be? Bill Campbell is both of those friends.

Several valuable advices Bill Campbell gave Ben Horowitz:

  1. In preparing to fire an executive: “Ben, you cannot let him keep his job, but you absolutely can let him keep his respect.
  2. When announcing a layoff: “The message is for the people who are staying.

The most noticeable journey of Bill Campbell was his journey as GO corporation’s CEO. GO was the startup on pen computers in late 80s. GO raised more venture capital than most other startups and lost it all. However, “The amazing thing was that every one of those GO employees counted GO as one of the greatest work experiences of their lives. The best work experience ever despite the fact that their careers stood still, they made no money, and they were front-page failures. GO was a good place to work.

Jerry Kaplan, GO’s founder, described Bill Campbell in his book “The Startup” as “he was passionate about whatever he was doing, and he placed the welfare of his employees above all else, including his own.

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Jerry learned from Bill that the key skill is not in convincing people of your point of view with rational arguments, but, when circumstances require, in building a feeling of consensus in the face of uncertainty or adversity.
Bill worked only face to face or on the phone.
Bill’s trademark was to give people who wandered by his office a big bear hug.
For a man pushing fifty, Bill was in remarkable mental and physical shape. He worked out for an hour every morning before coming to the office while he read the trades, newspapers, and analysts’ reports.
He took great delight in his ability to outlast whomever he was traveling with, staying out late with customers and getting up early for pre-breakfast briefings.
Wherever we went, Bill seemed to know everyone, and everyone considered him a personal friend.
He’d sit with individual executives and ask them about their families, and tell a story or two in his colloquial way, and gradually he’d learn how they felt about the issue at hand. He had a remarkable way of getting people to agree in advance before they came into the room.
For Bill, it was always about the team, the company. He was devoid of private motives or agendas. The mission was paramount. Bill was a master leader who developed great leaders.
Among many lessons, Bill taught us the importance of a team’s dignity, especially when a company fails.

 

In his latest book “Measure What Matters”, John Doerr dedicated one chapter to Bill Campbell and Larry Page wrote the rare foreword because of Bill Campbell.

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John Doerr described Bill’s role as “Kleiner invests, Doerr sponsors, Doerr calls Campbell, Campbell coaches the team. We ran that game plan again and again.

He coached in his characteristic style, one part Zen and one part Bud Light. Bill gave little direction. He’d ask a very few questions, invariably the right ones. But mostly he listened. He knew that most times in business there were several right answers, and the leader’s job was to pick one. “Just make a decision,” he’d say. Or: “Are you moving forward? Are you breaking ties? Let’s keep rolling.

People are discouraged from bringing love into business settings, but love was Bill’s most distinguishing trait.
Sometimes it was love by faux insult. (If you came to work in an ugly sweater, he’d ask, “Did you roll some guy in the restroom to get that thing?”) But you always knew the Coach cared. You always knew he had your back. You always knew he was there for the team. You don’t find many leaders who can convey love and fearless feedback at the same time. Bill Campbell was a tough coach, but he was always a players’ coach.
And you’d never find the Coach distractedly checking his cell phone in the sixth inning. He was completely present. He sparkled in that setting.
Bill’s moto: Get better everyday.

From Forbes article: What are some of the key fundamentals you do when you go to work for a company?

Campbell: First of all, I don’t really take the company unless the founder is passionate and really wants to create something durable. Once you get the founder and CEO, you just want to find out what makes them tick. You’re trying to understand what they want to get out of their management team. Then you try to spend time with the team. And then put processes in place. I’m not going to tell Larry Page and Sergey Brin how to do their search algorithms. I just try to bring what they’re doing to life.

More articles about Bill Campbell:

  1. http://fortune.com/2016/07/13/leadership-lessons-from-ceo-coach-bill-campbell/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthof/2011/07/27/startups-secrets-of-bill-campbell-the-coach-of-silicon-valley/#5d73d0546931
  3. http://fortune.com/2008/07/01/bill-campbell/

Books:

  1. The Hard Things about Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
  2. Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal – Nick Bilton
  3. The Hard Things about Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
  4. The Startup – Jerry Kaplan
  5. Measure What Matters – John Doerr
  6. Playbook: The Coach – Lessons Learned from Bill Campbell – Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle

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About the author: Hoan Do is a certified leadership coach with John Maxwell Team. Hoan have led multiple teams at Symantec Inc. across the globe delivering world-class solutions to protect consumers and businesses. Hoan is an expert in building highly performing teams. He believes that the best leader is the leader that could grow his followers to be leaders. Hoan has been organizing mastermind groups at work to share with other leaders about transformational leadership and coaching. He has trained many leaders both inside and outside Symantec via mastermind groups, workshops, and one-on-one coaching.
Coaching inquiry can be sent to coach@hoanmdo.com

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