The Difference Between Mentors And (Trillion Dollar) Coaches

What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor? Mentors believe in our potential, coaches get in the arena with us. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell is all about stepping into the arena. It applies as much to our client relationships as it does to those of our coworkers and employees.  There’s value in not just suggesting what to do, but being actively involved in creating the results. 


To give some brief history on Campbell and his character, when the high school track coach needed someone to run hurdles, he volunteered. He couldn’t jump over them very well, but he bruised his way to states. After playing football in college, he went on to coach but never produced much of a “winning” record (they went 12-41-1). Campbell had a pesky habit of playing the most driven walk-on players and sitting the more talented, yet lazier prima donnas. He was always more interested in preparing them for life than just to win a game of football.


After coaching he moved on to business. He ran European sales for Kodak and then was the VP of Marketing at Apple, overseeing the release of the now iconic 1984 Super Bowl ad. He went on to run a few companies as CEO (Claris, GO, Intuit) and ultimately found plenty of success. Along the way, the real constant was his uncanny ability to coach and lead people. The stories from executive after executive of how significantly Campbell contributed to their success ended up mythologizing him.


While handling his day jobs, he continued to make the time to coach youth sports too. When Campbell was focused on you, he was focused on you. There are plenty of stories about him glancing at the caller ID on his cell phone while coaching his Sacred Heart flag football teams and refusing to take calls from the likes of Steve Jobs. The commitment and loyalty he valued so highly were always a two way street in his eyes – he expected it from his players (and executives) towards him, and he gave it right back to them. 


As we think about building our own personal and professional relationships, there is so much to take away from Campbell. He believed a coach only became successful if he was able to help others become successful. He believed that in order to see the blind spots, one had to be accountable to the sore spots. He embodied Tom Landry’s definition of a coach as “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.” He did all of this because he loved to help people get better at whatever they did.


As we help those around us to drive the progress they seek, we should remember that we add the most value when we too are in the arena with them. Channel some Campbell, the world can always use more quality coaches.  

See also: “A (Trillion Dollar) Coaches Mindset

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