Turn the Ship Around

Turn the Ship Around

Turn the Ship Around, L. David Marquet (London: Portfolio, 2013)

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Turn the Ship Around Synopsis

In Turn the Ship Around, author L. David Marquet takes readers through his journey as the captain of the USS Santa Fe. During his tenure, he transforms the nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine from worst to first. His story illustrates personal examples of the tactical advice he put in place to foster a leader-leader environment. Famous leadership author Stephen R. Covey touts the ship as one of the most empowering organizations he’s witnessed. Below are key highlights on how to reinvigorate an organization that is plagued with obedience and technical competency atrophy.

Key idea #1 – Leader-Leader framework

The leader-leader framework breaks the traditional leader-follower framework that is common in the military. This framework takes the perspective that everyone takes on leadership responsibilities. Individuals at all levels practice leadership behaviours. For example, Marquet did not give orders to his crew. Instead gave authority to his crew members to make decisions. He also had crew members express one’s intent prior to performing their actions. These slight changes in the behaviour of the USS Santa Fe crew resulted in the crew receiving outstanding marks year over year.

Key idea #2 – Giving control

Marquet argues that in order to give control to others, there are two pillars that must be met: technical competence and organizational clarity. Having both empowers team members to make the types of decisions that align with the organization’s objectives.

One tool that Marquet uses to relinquish his control is by moving authority to where the information is. This means that instead of sending information up a command chain for a decision, he empowers his crew members to make decisions at their level. The rationale behind this is to let those who have the information make the decision. By doing this, urgent decisions can be made quickly. An evaluation can be done after-the-fact to validate the quality of the decision.

Key idea #3 – Creating change

Marquet believes there are two ways to manifest change. Individuals can either change the way they think or they change the way they act. By changing the way they act, the teams will slowly change the way they think. This was particularly important for Marquet’s team. On the USS Santa Fe, so much focus was on avoiding issues and errors. This meant that the team would sometimes make decisions that were out of line with what needed to be achieved. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, Marquet got his team to focus on achieving results.

Key idea #4 – Psychological Ownership of intent

One powerful tool that Marquet used was deliberate action. He would have his subordinates vocalize their actions and or requests as intent before they took them. This way Marquet only had to say approve or not approve. This is powerful as it forces his subordinates to think about the solution. Rather than taking orders, they must present the order to Marquet for approval, forcing them to think through their intentions. This empowers subordinates with key problem-solving skills and addresses technical atrophy that occurs when lists of commands are spoon-fed to subordinates.

Key idea #5 – Immediate recognition

When a team member does something right, publicly praise them as soon as possible. Doing so reinforces the type of behaviours that you want your team members to exhibit. In the book, Marquet talks about a time on the USS Santa Fe where the submarine was in crisis mode. One crew member handled it with the type of urgency required. He made it a point to immediately reward the crew member.

Key takeaways

  • To give control to your team, ensure that there is technical competence and organizational clarity.
  • Move authority to where the information is.
  • Act your way into change.

Turn the Ship Around author L. David Marquet

David Marquet is the retired United States Navy captain and author. He is famous for his book, Turn the Ship Around, which chronicles his learnings as the commander and captain of the USS Santa Fe submarine. Marquet is teaching his Intent-Based Leadership model through public speaking and consulting engagements.

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