Book review: Turn the ship around (Marquet)

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Turn the Ship Around is a leadership book written by retired U.S. Navy Captain David Marquet, published in 2013. The book describes Captain Marquet’s experiences as the commander of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine, and how he transformed its traditional hierarchical leadership structure into a more empowering and decentralized system.

In the book, Marquet introduces the concept of ”leader-leader” instead of ”leader-follower” paradigm. He emphasizes that by distributing decision-making authority and encouraging every member of the team to take ownership of their responsibilities, organizations can become more agile, innovative, and effective.

Marquet introduces several key principles and practices he implemented on the nuclear submarine USS Santa Fe:

  1. Intent-Based Leadership: Instead of giving explicit orders, Marquet encouraged his crew to understand the intent behind tasks and make decisions accordingly. This approach empowered individuals to act based on their expertise and the situation, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability.
  2. Pushing Authority Down: Marquet pushed decision-making authority down the chain of command, allowing more junior members to make important decisions, which both improved decision quality and allowed senior leaders to focus on higher-level strategy.
  3. Continuous Learning and Improvement: Marquet promoted a culture of continuous learning, where mistakes were seen as opportunities for growth rather than as failures. This created an environment in which the crew felt comfortable admitting errors and finding ways to prevent them in the future.
  4. Empowerment and Competence: Marquet believed in training his crew to be experts in multiple areas, enabling them to step in and make informed decisions whenever needed. This cross-training enhanced the crew’s confidence and competence.
  5. Clear Communication: Effective communication was crucial in Marquet’s approach. He encouraged open dialogue and active listening, ensuring that information flowed freely throughout the organization.

The book has gained popularity beyond the military as a valuable guide for modern leadership. The book’s principles have been applied in various industries to foster more adaptive and accountable organizational cultures. The book’s central message is about empowering individuals at all levels of an organization to take ownership and contribute their expertise, ultimately leading to more effective and innovative outcomes.

Above my takeaways from the book as mindmap. According to Marquet we should emancipate or ”free” rather than empower people. Empowerment assumes than someone owns the power and gives it away but still have it. A confusing message or perhaps only semantics. He talks a lot of going from leader-follower to a leader-leader model and i am very impressed by how he succeded in a such complex and traditional environment.

I have previously ”read” the book as audio book twice and met the author in person at a workshop where we discussed the book and applied it to agile ways of working. But this time i read it as ”real” book and it gave me a lot more this time. Many times my thoughts were pondering about the similarities with my current workplace where we have great people but no leadership like this. In the forewords David writes this and it is exactly what i feel at work:

Most of us are ready to give it all when we start a new job. We are usually full of ideas how to do things better. We eagerly offer our full intellectual capacity just to be told it’s not our job, it has been tried before or we shouldn’t rock the boat. Initiative is viewed with skepticism. Our suggestions are ignored. We are told to follow instructions. Our work is reduced to follow a set of prescriptions. Our creativity and innovation goes unappreciated. Eventually, we stop trying and just toe the line.

David Marquet

With these words a pass the book on to my managers at my current workplace as a last cry for improvement.

This post was one in my series of book reviews. This is why i do them (in Swedish)

Ove Holmberg

Doubter, gaffer, author