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Book notes: Trillion dollar coach

Book notes: Trillion dollar coach


I don’t read book summaries. Neither should you. The following are mostly notes to myself for later reference, and are my interpretations.

I picked up Trillion Dollar Coach a while ago after getting a lot of recommendations from friends. Picking this up felt timely too as I was starting to materialise an official coaching program for the team. By the way, read this only if you're in leadership or transitioning into a manager or leadership role else you will find the stuff inside interesting but hard to apply on a day-to-day basis.

I have typically recommended this to folks who have been managers for a while or becoming one. They typically don't understand if the success of their reports are because of the report's smartness or the manager's great ability to train & coach.

Manager's role

  • Experiment mixing fitness and work calls. Take at least 50% of 1:1 calls during a week over phone and go for a walk in the park.

  • "You don't want to channel Bill, because no one can be him. But I learned from him how to get better: a higher level of honesty, a better understanding of people and management" — Ben Horowitz

  • Your title makes you a manager. Your people make you a leader.

  • Great people flourish in an environment that liberates and amplifies good energy. Managers create this environment through support, respect, and trust.

  • Support means giving people the tools, information, training, and coaching they need to succeed. It means continuous effort to develop people's skills. Great managers help people excel and grow.

  • Respect means understanding people's unique career goals and being sensitive to their life choices. It means helping people achieve these career goals in a way that's consistent with the needs of the company.

  • Trust means freeing people to do their jobs and to make decisions. It means knowing people want to do well and believing that they will.

  • No gap between statements and fact — be relentlessly honest and candid. Couple negative feedback with caring. Give feedback as soon as possible, and if the feedback is negative, deliver it privately.

  • Don't tell people what to do; offer stories and help guide them to the best decisions for them.

  • Believe in people more than they believe in themselves, and push them to be more courageous.

  • People are most effective when they can be completely themselves and bring their full identity to work.

  • Work the team, then the problem — when faced with a problem or opportunity, the first step is to ensure the right team is in place and working on it.

  • Start team meetings with trip reports — to build better rapport and better relationships among team members, start team meetings with trip reports, or other types of more personal, non-business topics.

  • When you're having 1:1s with a team member, write down your top 5 priorities and ask them to do the same. The overlapping items become key priorities.

  • Have a structure for 1:1s, and take the time to prepare for them, as they are the best way to help people be more effective and to grow.

  • The manager's job is to run a decision-making process that ensures all perspectives get heard and considered, and, if necessary, to break ties and make the decision.

  • Lead based on first principles — define the first-principles for the situation, the immutable truths that are the foundation for the company or product, and help guide the decision from those principles

  • Manage the aberrant genius — Aberrant geniuses are high performing but difficult team members. They should be tolerated and even protected, as long as their behaviour isn't unethical or abusive and their value outweighs the toll their behaviour takes on management, colleagues, and teams.

  • Compensating people well demonstrates love and respect and ties them strongly to the goals of the company.

  • Innovation is where the crazy people have stature — the purpose of a company is to bring a product vision to life. All the other components are in service to the product.

Bill's framework for 1:1s and reviews

Performance on job requirements

  • Could be sales figures

  • Could be product delivery or product milestones

  • Could be customer feedback or product quality

  • Could be budget numbers

Relationship with peer groups

  • This is critical for company integration and cohesiveness

  • Product and engineering

  • Marketing and product

  • Sales and engineering

Management/ leadership

  • Are you guiding/ coaching your people?

  • Are you weeding out the bad ones?

  • Are you working hard at hiring?

  • Are you able to get your people do do heroic things?

Innovation best practices

  • Are you constantly moving ahead… thinking about how to continually get better?

  • Are you constantly evaluating new technologies, new products, new practices?

  • Do you measure yourself against the best in the industry/ world?

Other notes

  • A coach is someone who tells you what you don't want to hear, who has you see what you don't want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.

  • Only coach the coachable — the traits that make a person coachable include honesty and humility, the willingness to persevere and work hard, and a constant openness to learning.

  • Practice free-form listening — listen to people with your full and undivided attention — don't think ahead to what you're going to say next, and ask questions to get to the real issue.

  • Air all the negative issues, but don't dwell on them. Move on as fast as possible.

  • Strive to win, but always win right, with commitment, teamwork, and integrity.

  • When things are going bad, teams are looking for even more loyalty, commitment, and decisiveness from their leaders


  • Bill looked for four characteristics in people.

  • The person has to be smart.

  • The person has to work hard.

  • The person has to have high integrity.

  • The person should have that hard-to-define characteristic: grit. The ability to get knocked down and have the passion and perseverance to get up and go at it again.

  • A big turnoff for Bill was if they were no longer learning. Do they have more answers than questions? That's a bad sign!

Peer-feedback survey

Core attributes: For the past 12 months, to what extent do you agree/ disagree that each person:

  • Displayed extraordinary in-role performance

  • Exemplified world-class leadership

  • Achieved outcomes that were in the best interest of both the company as a whole and his/her function

  • Expanded the boundaries of what is possible for Google through innovation and/or application of best practices

  • Collaborated effectively with peers (for example, worked well together, resolved barriers/issues with others) and championed the same in his/her team

  • Contributed effectively during senior team meetings (for example, was prepare, participated actively, listened well, was open and respectful to others, disagreed constructively).

Product leader attributes: For the past 12 months, to what extent do you agree/ disagree that person demonstrated exemplary leadership in the following areas:

  • Product vision

  • Product quality

  • Product execution

Open-text questions

  • What differentiates each SVP and makes him/her effective today?

  • What advice would you give each SVP to be more effective and/or have greater impact?

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