[Excerpt from How Google Works, Rosenberg Eagle and Schmidt, page 170]
The World’s Best Athletes Need Coaches, and You Don’t?
In the summer of 2002, when Eric had been on the job as Google CEO for about a year, he wrote a self- review of his performance and shared it with his team. The document included highlights (“developed proper business processes”), objectives for the next year (“run the clock faster without compromising the future”), and areas where he could have performed better. The last category included several points, but one self-critique stands out as the most important: Bill Campbell has been very helpful in coaching all of us. In hindsight, his role was needed from the beginning. I should have encouraged this structure sooner, ideally the moment I started at Google.
This was a 180- degree turnaround from a year earlier: When Eric started at Google, board member John Doerr suggested that he work with Bill as his coach. Eric’s reply? “I don’t need a coach. I know what I’m doing.” Whenever you watch a world-class athlete perform, you can be sure that there is a great coach behind her success. It’s not that the coach is better at playing the sport than the player, in fact that is almost never the case. But the coaches have a different skill: They can observe players in action and tell them how to be better. So why is it that in the business world coaches are so unusual? Are we all like Eric when he started at Google, so confident of ourselves that we can’t imagine someone helping us to be better? If so, this is a fallacy.
As a business leader, you need a coach. The first ingredient of a successful coaching relationship is a student who is willing to listen and learn. Just like there are hard-to-coach athletes, there are hard-to-coach executives. But once they get past that initial reticence, they find there are always things to learn. Business coaches, like all coaches, are at heart teachers, and Bill Campbell, the best coach around, tells us he believes that management is a skill that is completely learnable.
For Jonathan, class began right around the time when Larry Page was calling the regimented product plan that he created “stupid.” The following week, Jonathan was sitting in Coach Campbell’s office, wondering why he had ever joined this chaotic start-up and contemplating quitting. Don’t quit, Bill implored him. Stick it out. Maybe you’ll even learn something. For that, and everything else you have done for us, thank you, Coach.