Boyden Executive Search

The teachings of legendary Silicon Valley executive coach Bill Campbell inspire new approaches to leadership emphasizing talent development and engagement.

Campbell’s long career in Silicon Valley started in 1988, when he joined Apple as VP of Marketing. He held various other executive roles, at Apple and elsewhere, including two stints as CEO of Intuit. But Campbell is best known as a long-time member of Apple’s board – he was the longest-serving board member in the company’s history – and as a coach to the likes of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Google co-founder Larry Page, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, among others.

In 2001, venture capitalist John Doerr suggested to Eric Schmidt, then Google's newly appointed CEO, that he recruit Campbell as his coach. While Campbell had been a football coach at Columbia University, this was a pivotal event. He helped Schmidt build Google’s leadership team, and in the years that followed, would counsel his many protégés to focus on team building and talent development. As his motto stated, “Your title makes you a manager, your people make you a leader.”

Campbell continued to serve as an executive coach at Google until his death in 2016, and as The Economist notes, he has not been replaced. Instead, the current leadership team, under CEO Sundar Pichai, wants to incorporate his ethos into the way the company is run. The fundamental idea is that every manager should also be a coach.

In the best-selling book Trillion Dollar Coach, on the “leadership playbook” of Bill Campbell, their mentor, Google executives Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle stress the need for all managers to focus on talent development in order to build higher-performing teams, cultures and companies.

A similar priority emerges in It’s the Manager, subtitled “Gallup finds the quality of managers and team leaders is the single biggest factor in your organization’s long-term success,” which delves into findings from Gallup’s biggest study on the future of work. It devotes an entire chapter to coaching, called “Boss to Coach.” This represents a cultural shift to a high degree of employee development and engagement.

For managers at all levels, the top priority should be to help others be more effective in their jobs. This includes giving employees greater latitude in setting their own goals, offering feedback on a regular basis, and empowering people to pursue growth opportunities within the company – otherwise they will look outside of it. Crucially, this approach has to come from the top. Executives can and should help team leaders find their inner coaches and develop the talent in their ranks.

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