6 Career Lessons From the CEO Coach Who Trained Steve Jobs

Sophie Miura
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Suvi Kesalainen

We know mentorships are a great way to learn from someone you admire, but where do mentors go when they need advice? Bill Campbell, also known as Silicon Valley's secret CEO coach, has been guiding top-level entrepreneurs for over three decades. He has worked with tech giants like Google, Apple, and Amazon, and was a close confidant and mentor to Steve Jobs. In a Ventured podcast, Randy Komisar spoke to the business legend about his most valuable lessons. Read on to find out what advice Bill Campbell gives CEOs, and how it could accelerate your career. 

Mentors Are Only Part of the Solution

Mentors are often expected to hold all of the answers to our career woes, but Campbell says two-way relationships are the strongest relationships. His style inverts the typical structure: The mentor asks questions and spurs the CEO to suggest a solution. "I think mentoring has lost its meaning," he says. "It's an ongoing dialogue. You're not looking to the person for an answer." In Campbell's coaching sessions, he asks questions that encourage self-reflection, such as, "What are we trying to fix? How much of it is about people? How do we expect people to participate?"

Define Your Values

One of the most important exercises Campbell did when starting his own business was writing down the company's operating values. "We decided this is what we represent and we need to call each other on it if we're not doing that," he says. "When you're the CEO of a company you can't neglect those values." It's not as simple as sticking a value statement on the office wall. Campbell encourages CEOs to dig deep and question how the company behaves and how people interact. 

Re-Examine the Basics

Career coaching might seem top-line, but Campbell says he often starts by re-examining basic practices. While they might seem trivial to a CEO, they're key to creating a successful business. "I ask them everything from 'Tell me how you run a staff meeting,' to 'What are you trying to get out of a one-on-one?'" he says. 

Don't Be Afraid to Break Ties

"When you're the CEO of a company, the No. 1 role is to break ties," he says. Managers not only need to get better at identifying problems, they need to surround themselves with people who share the same skill. "I'm good at breaking ties, but I can't see every problem. You need people who are going to say, 'If we don't fix this, it's going to get ugly.'"

Focus on Culture

Above all else, Campbell says culture is key. As people step in to management positions, it's often an area that becomes neglected. He tells his clients to know what the company culture is and "coach your own people to say, 'Do not accept anything other than this.'" 

Continue to Innovate

One of the main problems companies encounter as they age is apathy. According to Campbell, it's your job to champion change and value innovation. "If [companies] don't continue to innovate, they're going to die," he says, stressing that too many businesses have a follower mentality. "I didn't say iterate, I said innovate!"

Looking for leadership advice? Shop the books below to kick-start your career, visit Ventured for more advice from Bill Campbell. 

What's the best advice you've received about taking your career to the next level? Tell us in the comments below. 

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