Book Review: Trillion Dollar Coach

Google alumni Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle wrote Trillion Dollar Coach as a tribute to their late friend and coach, Bill Campbell. In the book, Campbell is memorialized as a larger than life personality, with a role in helping to shape leadership and business strategy for companies like Apple, Intuit, and Google.

Campbell, a former football player and coach for the football team at Columbia University, ended up in Silicon Valley in the 1980s and became the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Apple. After his experience at apple, he went on to lead several companies, including Intuit. Later in life, Bill Campbell became a confidant and coach for some of Silicon Valley’s titans, such as Steve Jobs, Ben Horowitz, and Sheryl Sandberg.

TrillionDollarCoachThe book is filled with Campbell’s wisdom as a business veteran, successful leader, and a warm and principled person. To begin, the book shares an account of Campbell’s funeral, which was attended by a wide range of Bill’s friends including his regular golf caddie at his home in Mexico, as well as Silicon Valley’s most well-known tech leaders. Campbell was known for his hugs, treating everybody the same, and his community building opportunities, like the annual Super Bowl trip, which he endowed in his will.

Campbell had all the characteristics of a good coach: brutal honesty, wisdom, complete confidentiality, loyalty, and accessibility, to name just a few. He imparted lessons to already extremely successful people in values-based leadership, how to run an impactful meeting, putting the team first, and achieving organizational and product alignment.

To get access to more of Campbell’s rich wisdom, you are going to have to buy the book, which I recommend partly because of the lessons within it and partly because coaching is an often overlooked, but necessary quality, for the most successful leaders.

If you think about it, leaders of companies play the role of a coach. In many businesses, the front-line, customer-facing staff and product developers are not in management roles. Like a sports coach, who plays the game through the players, management is almost always in the role of working to deliver a product or service through the employees. Reading this book will help give leaders insight over how to coach employees towards success.

Coaching is also not just the role of the leaders, including the CEO, but also a resource that leaders, especially CEOs, should invest in for themselves. Campbell was an outside eye, an adviser, almost like an organizational doctor, who could diagnose problems and work through solutions with the CEO. Often, leadership at the top of an organization can be lonely and isolating. Having a coach can help the CEO improve and be exposed to things he may not otherwise see.

To understand this point in greater detail, I recommend you watch Atul Gawande’s 2017 TED Talk on coaching. Gawande, a world-class surgeon, learned a lot about improving his surgery technique when he hired a coach. He believes that coaching is essential to becoming great in any field.

If Steve Jobs needed a coach, all of us probably do as well. I am sure many readers of this book will feel as I do, that it would have been a rare privilege to get to meet Campbell before he passed away. May his memory continue to be for a blessing.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Coaching is a core competency for successful leaders. The right coach can help a leader achieve greatness by showing them dynamics in the organization that they may not otherwise see. A leader who coaches their team members can open up incredible potential in the entire organization.

Trillion Dollar Coach is being released today and is available for purchase on Amazon for $28.99 (does not include Prime discount).

Leaving a legacy in a role with no job description: The Gatekeepers and the Chiefs of Staff to the President

The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple is an enjoyable read all about the role of the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States and the men (so far only men have served in the role) who have held the title.

The President’s Chief of Staff is a peculiar, non-elected and non-Senate confirmed role and its definition is wholly dependent on how the President and his Chief of Staff craft it intentionally or by inertia. The amorphous nature of the role is part of what makes it so unique and extremely personality-dependent, which gives depth to both the stories and the characters in the book.

The GatekeepersThe Gatekeepers is filled with many excellent anecdotes that give the reader an insider’s view into the workings of the White House during different administrations. For example, Donald Regan, President Reagan’s second Chief of Staff was not long for the job after hanging up on the First Lady.

Each Chief of Staff defines the job a little bit differently such as using different analogies or nicknames; a CEO and COO, Chairman of the Board and CEO, spokes of a wheel, reality therapist, heat shield, or the Secretary of S**t. But, what they all had in common was a seemingly impossible job, with no clear job description, that serves at the pleasure of the most powerful person in the country.

There are descriptions of the men who performed the job exceptionally, such as H.R. Haldeman (Nixon), Vice President Dick Cheney (Ford), James A. Baker III (Reagan and Bush 41), and Leon Panetta (Clinton). They all approached the job humbly, taking advice from many past Chiefs of Staff and studying the role. They had a plan coming in and clarified their role with the President, the Cabinet, and other advisors. Finally, they were all able to play both good cop and bad cop when needed.

Embed from Getty Images

There are also descriptions of the lackluster Chiefs of Staff, such as Hamilton Jordan (Carter), Donald Regan (Reagan), and John Sununu (Bush 41). These men approached the job arrogantly, had oversized egos, couldn’t manage, some became the subject of scandal and did not generally treat people in and out of the White House well or fairly.

Other than just being an enjoyable, interesting, and provoking read, The Gatekeepers has been on my mind for two other reasons: 1) The emphasis on the structure, or lack there of, of the role and 2) The beyond-partisan bond that the Chiefs of Staff share with each other.

In my current role, I am the first full time executive leader of patient experience for our health care system. I frequently think about structure and foundation of the position in order to make sure the role is successful well beyond my tenure.

The book describes how H.R. Haldeman’s “staff system” was the foundational structure for every Chief of Staff that followed his tenure. The great Chiefs of Staff who followed like Cheney, Baker, and Panetta used Haldeman’s system as a starting point and tailored the role to the current administration from there. Haldeman also correctly identified that his main job was to protect the President’s most important asset: his time.

My goal is to create a similar approach and program that serves as a solid foundation for getting the job done today and in the future. I work tirelessly to read and research, as Haldeman did, to make sure that I am setting up patient experience at the organization for success in the future. I still have more work to do, but I believe it is critical work in starting a new function, no matter what the size or the scope of the organization.

The Chiefs of Staff are a bit like a fraternity and usually get together at the beginning of a new administration. This bi-partisan group shares wisdom with the incoming Chief of Staff and shares their experience and answers any questions. Meeting past Chiefs provides an opportunity for a new person in the role is indispensable, especially because the job description is so malleable. The humble Chiefs understand this dynamic and take the advice seriously. It seems that the current Chief of Staff can always call any of the others for guidance or advice.

Not only a great read, The Gatekeepers contains many good lessons in leadership and “followership”, helping an executive leader accomplish their goals. It is a great read for anyone interested in politics, business, or organizational development.

KEY TAKEAWAY: In a role without a real job description, relationships, structure, and adaptation are essential. Further, understanding your role in relation to a CEO when you are in the senior leadership of an organization involves humility, keeping your ego in check, and establishing and following clear rules for communication, preserving everyones most important asset: their time.

The Gatekeepers is available for purchase on Amazon for $17.00 (does not include Prime discount)

If you work with people, work on culture

In my current role as a patient experience leader for a health care system, a large part of my focus is on culture. If you are already familiar with this blog, you have already seen me discuss culture a lot in the context of leadership and in book reviews. I talk so much about culture because it is what makes systems and processes work reliably and without constant auditing.

For years, I have been working to put the pieces together in terms of how to build culture. Using ideas from authors like Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell, Joseph Michelli, and Adam Grant (to name a few), I have created my own definition of leadership and have advocated for articulating a vision and creating systems and processes to bring that vision to life. However putting the pieces together both from research and experience, has at times has felt like a struggle.

Culture CodeThen along comes Daniel Coyle, author of the best-selling book The Culture Code. In this book, Coyle has compiled a clear and well explained definition around the common characteristics of organizations with exceptional cultures that lead to consistently excellent outcomes. Using examples from organizations like Pixar, the San Antonio Spurs, the famous Upright Citizens Brigade improv group, and Navy SEALs, Coyle shows us what these organizations do differently that allows them to deliver results for the enterprise and its people.

The three over-arching characteristics that every group has in common are:

  1. Build Safety
  2. Share Vulnerability
  3. Establish Purpose

Under each of these simple two-word ideas are many different anecdotes, research studies, and case studies that show not only what these concepts mean, but what building them entails for leaders.

He also delves into the nuances of these concepts that may vary depending on the business. For example, in the book he compares organizations that build a culture for high service reliability (Union Square Hospitality Group – think Shake Shack) vs. creativity and innovation (Pixar).

Health care service delivery is an example of a setting where the culture must be built for high service reliability. Much of this work involves creating genuine connections with patients and their families, which helps determine how to meet their needs both including bridging the gaps in their understanding of their condition, the treatment, the workings of a hospital, and the health care system at-large.

Coyle covers the impact of empathizing with the patients in order to the increase their health outcomes and covers how to create an environment for the staff that promotes empathic behavior.

In the book, Coyle discusses a Harvard neurologist named Marci who researched the impact of listening in the medical setting. She studied non-western healers who used methods that were scientifically questionable, yet found that some practitioners had remarkable results.

To explain these outcomes, she says, “What these healers all had in common was that they were brilliant listeners. They would sit down, take a long patient history, and really get to know their patients…They were all incredibly empathic people who were really good at connecting with people and forming trusting bonds. So that’s when I realized that the interesting part wasn’t the healing but the listening and the relationship being formed. That’s what we needed to study” (Coyle p.154).

In health care, we tend to think of communication as “provider to patient”, with the patient simply answering the provider’s questions. As I take a few steps back think about it, wouldn’t someone want to feel known as a person, and not just by a diagnosis? Just listening to the patient gives the provider an opportunity to create that relationship.

Culture in the health care setting, because of the nature of the work at times being life-or-death, is especially important. Guides like The Culture Code help us build those cultures in a safe and sustainable way.

KEY TAKEAWAY: The best companies are deliberate about building their cultures. In health care, specifically, culture can deliver superior patient outcomes if there’s a focus on the caregivers and seeing the patient as a person, rather than a diagnosis.

The Culture Code is available for purchase on Amazon for $28.00 (does not include Prime discount)

Book Review: Be our Guest

Disney is known for excellence in customer experience at their parks, hotels, and on their cruise ships. The company formed The Disney Institute so that other companies could learn from Disney’s approach. While a Disney Institute summit may set you back over $4,000, a lot can still be learned from its considerably more affordable book, Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service.

beourguestLike Starbucks and The Ritz Carlton, Disney has a well-defined, self-reinforcing, and rigorous system for customer experience. Disney’s “magic” is delivered through its organizational knowledge of guest psychographics combined with demographics (Disney calls it “Guestology”), its simplicity, and the complete integration and alignment of its system. Disney’s core purpose (like a vision statement) is defined as “We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages everywhere”.


Disney invests time, talent, and treasure in its efforts to not only know who are their guests (demographics), but also what their guests expect and want to feel (psychographics). While demographics are important and relatively easy to access through existing systems, psychographics are even more vital to delivering a superior customer experience.

Disney looks at the mental states of its customers by evaluating all of the parts of their experience through 4 dimensions: Needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions.

Applying this principle to another business, like in an urgent care, for example, this matrix would resemble something like this:

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 11.07.44 AM

This analysis is a helpful tool to get a chance to match your service offerings to the perceptions and emotional states of your customers. Disney implements processes to respond to its guests’ emotions throughout their parks and resorts. For example, Disney was the first to entertain guests who are waiting in long lines to help them be less bored and pass the time quicker. Since guest needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions can change over time, Disney revisits this framework often to match their systems to guest expectations.

The lesson here is that knowing your customer, not just who they are but what they expect and why they expect it, is an essential component of building a superior and lasting customer experience. Another essential component is making sure your system for responding to these factors is actionable by the employees (Disney calls them “cast members”) who are expected to bring it to life. This is accomplished, in part, through simplicity.


Disney’s customer service system has only two components:

  • The Four Quality Standards
    • Safety
    • Courtesy
    • Show
    • Efficiency
  • Three Delivery Systems
    • Cast
    • Setting
    • Process

The four quality standards are listed in order of importance, giving cast members an idea around prioritization. These standards are deployed up and down the organization and are reinforced through constant training and coaching. To build a culture around the two components, Disney uses its own language to refer to customers, employees, and attractions. Further, cast members are given guidelines, not scripts, for them to use to deliver consistent service to guests.

Part of the art of the four quality standards and the three delivery systems are what Disney calls, “Think globally, perform locally”. Doing so allows individual hotels or resorts to integrate their own flavor and uniqueness into Disney’s approach to service delivery. Disney empowers its cast members by soliciting their feedback as well as recognizing and rewarding performance.

Disney’s cast can also then focus on the three delivery systems, including seeing themselves as a part of a larger whole and responsible for themselves as well as the setting and process. That is also where integration and alignment become important.

Integration and Alignment

The Disney Institute defines integration as, “the work of aligning and distributing your service stands over the three delivery systems of cast, setting, and process” (p. 185). Integration is a way to, “build a service organization greater than the sum of its parts” (p. 185).

Disney has built-in accountability to its components of service through its emphasis on integration. It ensures that Disney is staying true to its core purpose by making sure that its cast, setting, and processes are always accounted for in everything they do. It also makes sure that the three delivery systems are developed with the customer needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions of the guest in mind.

To make Disney’s guest experience consistent and reliable, the leadership is committed to this model and includes new initiatives through the lens of integration to provide context for staff at all times. At other companies, initiatives often appear disparate and unrelated due to the lack of context. By using an integrated model like Disney’s, companies can usually avoid this type of cognitive dissonance.


Healthcare organizations can learn a lot from Disney and many have worked with the Disney Institute or read books like If Disney Ran Your Hospital. In order to successfully follow the ways of Disney, the leadership of the organization needs to agree to an aligned model that they will always use as context.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Learning about your customers, developing a simple system for delivering to their expectations, and creating integration and alignment around those elements is how Disney creates its “Magic”. Doing it in your organization requires the same level of intentionality and discipline.

Be our Guest is available for purchase on Amazon for $24.99 (does not include Prime discount)

What is the one book that has had the biggest impact on you?

A colleague of mine suggested that I listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast episode with Naval Ravikant, who is an entrepreneur, investor and CEO of Before I get to the point of this post, I highly recommend this podcast episode. It really made me think long and hard about my own philosophy, the books I read, and on my approach to some important things in life. While I didn’t agree with everything said, I thoroughly appreciated the conversation.

Many of the questions Ferriss asks Ravikant are consistent with the ones he asks in his book, Tribe of Mentors. Towards the end of the episodeFerris asks, “What is the one book that has had the biggest impact on you?”.

ProfilesMy own answer to that question is not hard. For me, the book that has had the biggest impact on me is Profiles in Courage by President John F. Kennedy, which he wrote when he was serving as a United States Senator representing Massachusetts.

This 1957 Pulitzer Prize winning book profiles eight United States Senators who, in their time, demonstrated courage by going against the grain of their party or popular opinion to stand up for their beliefs. My edition of the book (a used copy and a priceless gift from my father) has a powerful forward by Robert F. Kennedy and a rich introduction by the author.

In the introduction, President Kennedy explores the differences in between delegation and representation in government. A delegate’s job is simply to reflect the popular opinion of his constituents in legislative discussions. Representatives are elected to bring their judgment and opinions into legislating. Prior to reading the book, I believed firmly in the “delegate” point of view. Reading it changed my perception entirely to the “representative” camp.

Since reading Profiles in Courage, I have not read anything that so fundamentally changed my understanding of leadership and my expectations for leaders. There are many lessons in the book about the commitment it takes to lead in opposition to popular opinion. It is a nuanced view of how leaders stick to their opinions for better or worse and the consequences one might face for doing so.

For example, President Kennedy quotes Senator Daniel Webster’s last words to the U.S. Senate:

I shall stand by the Union…with absolute disregard of personal consequences. What are personal consequences…in comparison with the good or evil which may befall a great country in a crisis like this?…Let the consequences be what they will, I am careless. No man can suffer too much, and no man can fall too soon, if he suffer or if he fall in defense of the liberties and Constitution of his country.

Concepts like the one explained by Senator Webster in the book were my first exposure both to the notion of serving a greater cause as well as to servant leadership and its true, non-rhetorical, non-clichéd implications. Profiles in Courage is both inspiring and and a healthy warning to aspiring leaders. On the one hand, it praises instances where leaders stood up for their convictions and discussed them openly. On the other hand, it outlines the career, health, and general welfare risks of doing so.

Leadership can be both public and deeply isolating. It can give privilege and freedom, while also limiting rights. The bottom line is that leadership is not an easy or simple endeavor and those who do not want to lead and are not prepared for those dichotomies, probably should not.

When I was in school, I felt like leadership was over-emphasized. While anyone can lead, everyone shouldn’t lead. Leader-follower dynamics are important and followers are far more important in actually making change happen. This is the concept behind the social contract, which inherently produces equally important leaders and followers in a society. “Followership” can be learned too and should be discussed and explored along with leadership in academic settings.

Profiles in Courage inspired me to engage in rigorous reflection and questioning to decide whether I really wanted to live the life of a leader who was willing to stand up in the face of public opinion. Thinking about it during my formative years, I knew that I wanted to be a leader that was principled and values-driven and accept the consequences from there. Being secure, self aware, and not taking things personally are all important tools on the way to our own chapters in Profiles in Courage.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Leadership is a challenging proposition filled with dichotomies and, at times, obstacles. Values-based leaders who possess certain qualities, learned over time, can prepare for these challenges. Profiles in Courage is both an inspiring and cautionary book that I recommend highly to all leaders and aspiring leaders.

Profiles in Courage is available for purchase on Amazon for $24.83 (does not include Prime discount)