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Google CEO Sundar Pichai Says His Mentor Asked Him 1 Question Over and Over–and It Changed the Way He Leads

Years ago, Columbia University football coach turned business coach Bill Campbell taught Pichai to ask himself a pivotal question. Pichai is still asking that question today


As CEO of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai is responsible for making sure his companies continue to move forward, continue to evolve to keep up with the demands of millions of users and customers around the world.

That’s no easy job. But Pichai once shared with me a single question that helps him to remember his role. He learned the question from his mentor, former Columbia University football coach turned business coach Bill Campbell.

Whenever they met, says Pichai, Campbell would ask him:

“What ties did you break this week?”

Campbell wasn’t speaking about breaking ties as in cutting off relationships. Rather, he was teaching Pichai that he needed to break stalemates. 

Pichai got the point.

Oftentimes, when an issue makes it to a leader, there are (at least) two good options available with which to move forward. Both options will have pros and cons, and both will have their share of supporters. Making a decision could alienate the leader from half of their team–at least temporarily.

But, as a leader, Pichai’s job isn’t to keep everyone happy. Nor should he allow things to stay still, hoping that one half of the team will change their minds or that the “right” path forward will miraculously become obvious. Rather, his job is to move things forward. 

There’s a major lesson here for new leaders, and some longtime ones:

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