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3 Principles for Becoming a Trusted Coach

The key to catalyzing transformation.

written by ASH MAURYA

Steve Jobs may have arguably been the least-coachable founder. Yet he had a coach - Bill Campbell, who started coaching him in 1997 (when he returned to Apple) and remained a trusted confidant at his deathbed.

Bill Campbell, a former college football player and coach, also coached Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichal, and Sheryl Sandberg, earning him the title Trillion Dollar Coach.

Book cover

How did he manage to get into the inner circle of so many Silicon Valley powerhouses?

The answer: Earned trust.

I have experienced a similar albeit smaller-scale version with the teams I coach. My first session with a team is often guarded as we break the ice. But by the third session, I usually know more about the teams, their progress, and their mental state than their investors and advisers.

Earned trust is a key catalyst for transformation.

Today, I’ll outline three key principles that have repeatedly enabled me to earn the trust of even the most challenging founders.

Here we go:

1. Active Listening

Active listening is an under-appreciated skill. It requires being fully present, curious, and interested in what the other person has to say. It goes beyond what’s being said to notice non-verbal cues and what’s not being said.

All my sessions begin with a 5-minute progress update where I don’t speak unless to ask a clarifying question.

This is the best time to practice active listening.

Not only is this an effective disarming technique, where you learn so much more about what’s happening below the surface, but it also provides founders space to feel heard.

2. Radical Honesty

When confronted with challenging business model problems, offering opinions and solutions is easy. It’s much harder to admit you don’t know. But ironically, that path earns trust over time, provided you stick to first principles.


  • Admit there isn’t enough information to make a sound decision,
  • Rather than rush to a/b testing weak guesses, advocate for problem discovery,
  • Then source, rank, and prioritize possible solutions once the problem is better understood.

Radical honesty also requires knowing when to call a founder’s bullshit, holding them accountable (to their own success metrics), and having tough pivot and pause conversations.

3. Faith in Founders

This last principle comes from the Stockdale Paradox:

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

- Admiral James Stockdale

This requires decoupling faith in an idea from faith in the founders. It requires believing in people more than they believe in themselves.

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