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Trillion Dollar Coach

Book Summary, January 2020, Susan Alban

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TLDR: While some might knock this book for being a bit heavy on business platitudes, I laud it for accomplishing two things in a relatively succinct 240 pages ー (1) it tells the biographical story about Bill Campbell, who was clearly a very special person, and (2) it extracts the wisdom that resonated with the lives (and broader organizations) of those he touched.
In my humble opinion, I think the book may be a bit too general for a less experienced business person, whom might not have contextual examples in which to imagine applying Bill’s suggestions. (I personally would have fallen into this camp in the first ~5 years of my own career). However, such a reader might still enjoy the biographical aspects and general business teachings to imagine the kind of organizations they want to build or work at.
Things I like
Bill’s approach to organizations recognizes that humans are at their core and as such, his teachings are heavily focused on the personal, the humanity, and even the
His quote that sums this up for me is: “to care about people you have to care about people"
His heavy focus on operational management - business roadmapping, incentives, strategic plans, and the enablers that must exist - resonates with me in our practice at Renegade Partners. Ie, Business mission → strategy → drives everything else.
When to fire versus help someone: I've quoted him numerous times, when he says, and I’m paraphrasing, “No one is ever successful on their third chance”
His counsel to always lead with love for founders:
Bill to Dick Costolo when he came into Twitter as CEO: “Today you are the CEO and they are the founders, but someday you will be the ex-CEO and they’ll still be the founders. It’s not you versus them; it’s you and them. You are here to help them"

Things I probably wouldn’t do
Nothing stands out to me, which is also probably a bit of evidence that the book is fairly general... if it got more specific I’d probably find something to object to. 🙃


Coaching is one of the managerial responsibilities that cannot be delegated.

Deep focus on Ops & tactical management

Bill had heavy focus on these areas. Was interested in strategy, but weighed in much more on ensuring the company had a strong operating plan to go with its strategy; had a handle on current crises and plan for managing out of them, hows hiring going, how are teams being developed, how are staff meetings going, were we getting input from everyone, what was being said (and not said)
First principles
Define what those are for an org - what are the fundamental immutable truths that are the foundation of the company/product.
And then lead from there. Much easier to field difficult decisions when you do this.


Honesty - being open and vulnerable. Being honest enough to being open to the light of self-awareness, talking about flaws, etc.
Humility - leadership is doing something beyond yourself.
Bill believes you should hire on coachability.

Building trust

Makes people feel valued.
Even just chatting and respectful inquiry where you ask open questions and listen to the answers - heightens the person’s feelings of competence, relatedness, and autonomy.
Don’t think about what you’re going to say next.
Ask questions to get to the real issue.
Don’t have gaps between statements and facts.
Be yourself; dress how you’re comfortable… people are most effective when they can be themselves; others smell out a front.

Coaching tactics

Enable Courage
Challenge people to do the courageous thing - be the evangelist of courage.
Work the team then the problem
ie, focus on the team’s dynamics, less so on trying to solve the team’s particular challenge (that’s the team’s job)
Who is working the problem?
Was the right team in play?
Did they have what they needed to be successful?
Confront the hard problems
A litmus test is if an issue is being described as “political”, or if the team can’t have an honest conversation about a particular issue. It is likely too charged and wrapped up in personalities rather than data. Pay attention to people in a meeting or a room who are holding back or simmering or appear frustrated.
Culture of winning
WIN - build a culture of winning and aiming to win. But win with integrity and teamwork.
Empathy plus...
Show empathy when a person hasn’t had something go their way, but also encourage them to buck up.


Two valid modes

During implementation, teams benefit from managers who coordinate resources and resolve conflicts
2017 study on manufacturing plants demonstrated that performance-oriented management techniques (monitoring, targeting, incentives() performed better than other plans and that those practices were as important as R&D and IT investments and worker skill level.
2012 study showed that strong middle management accounted for 22 percent of variance in revenue while game creative design accounted for only 7 percent
When creativity needed, better to have more network-oriented/self-managed management (over hierarchical)


Be tolerant of “aberrant geniuses” but stop tolerating if they are hurting team communications (interrupting, attacking people, making people fearful); taking up too much management time .
“When you fire someone, you feel terrible for about a day, then you say to yourself that you should have done it sooner. No one ever succeeds at their third chance

Getting results

Don’t tell people what to do, tell them stories about why they are doing it. Tell them about the circumstances, the challenges, the issues at hand; see if they can develop the play.
Pair people up
Rather than telling people what to do, take a complex problem and assign it to a pair of people who don’t usually work together (e.g., reporting, offsite, ladders for a company, internal tools or processes)
Negativity - If the team needs to confront negativity, do it, but don’t dwell for too long.
Commit - you need to commit as a leader (or lead). If you’re not committed, your team won’t be either.


Eric Schmidt’s rule of 2 - if the org is having a conflict and does know what to do, get the two people closest to a decision to go off, work together and then make a recommendation themselves
Helps build collegiality, gives ownership over decisions.


Money is about money, but it’s also about the emotional value of the money - it can be a signaling device for recognition, respect, status; ties people to the success of the company. Everyone is human and needs to be appreciated, including people who are already financially secure.

Product as a driver

Bill: “why is marketing losing its clout? Because it forgot its first name: product"
CEO and key execs should spend a lot of time with product and engineers - go to lunch, spend time, understand what they’re excited and worried about

Hiring & teams

See note above on
Learners -
Find people who are still learning.
More answers than questions is a bad sign.
Find out what people do — not their title, not what they used to do or want to do, not what they think. What they actually contribute.
Founders - love the founders and make sure they stay engaged in a meaningful way regardless of their operating role
To Dick Costolo when he came into Twitter as CEO: “Today you are the CEO and they are the founder, but someday you will be the ex-CEO and they’ll still be the founders. It’s not you versus them; it’s you and them. You are here to help them"
Extends to people who are the heart and soul of an organization. Revere them.


Human side

Always start with a non-business topic to get to know people (e.g., trip reports where anyone who took a trip recently shares something about it, or red/green/yellow)
Labeling conflict differently (SA note - this is very parallel to Annie Duke)
Rename disagreement / conflict - debate, cognitive dispersion. —> people will be more likely to share information and think others will be more open to hearing dissenting opinions.
If you’re the leader of a group, even if you think you know the answer, talk last.
Helps the group get to a decision themselves.

Board meetings

Send out financial and ops metrics ahead of time and expect members to review them and come with questions. Board members who don’t do their homework shouldn’t stick around.
In the meeting, Share out highlights and lowlights — push the team to really include lowlights. Important for board to know where team is struggling and it models openness and transparency from top down. (Don’t send in advance or board will spend too much time on lowlights)


Human side
Same as meeting suggestion: start with more substantial personal talk (not small talk) - get to know the person sincerely - these more substantive conversations make people happier.
Agenda and topics
Tactic: Let each person put his/her list of topics on a whiteboard and do a simultaneous reveal; process of merging the list is an important process.
Day job -
What are you working on? How can I help?
Goals and milestones? Budgets, customer feedback, roadmap, etc.
Peer relationships (heavy focus of Bill’s) -
Key stakeholders? (Technical, nontech, go to market)
What do teammates think of you?
Teams -
are you setting clear direction? Do you know what they’re doing?
How’s hiring? (Firing?)
What are your own coaching practices?
Innovation - how are you balancing execution and innovation?
Do you measure yourself against the best in the industry/world?

Teams = Communities

(or they should be)
Need to function as communities. - when people feel like they are part of a community they are more engaged with their jobs and more productive; conversely a lack of community leads to burnout.
Group coaching can be very effective - models security / confidence.
Accepting a coach shows fallibility. Resisting shows insecurity.
Google takeaway: best teams are those with the most psychological safety. Starts with trust.

Love & Relationships

“to care about people you have to care about people"
Friendship - When you have a friend who is injured or ill or in need , you drop everything and just go. Just go.
Compassion - Have compassion for people. Legitimize and spread empathy. Show you care.
Clap - applause for people (5 loud claps) - tells people you appreciate their work and moves things along. (meeting tactic especially)
Help - help people, do favors (make sure it’s the right thing to do and that everyone will be better off)
Walk the halls… ask people how it’s going and what they’re working on… practice and it will get more natural.
Pay it forward - “if you’ve been blessed, be a blessing"

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