Turn the Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders

by CAPT (R) L. David MarquetTurn Ship

This book lays out several techniques for developing competent, motivated, leaders at every level of an organization. CAPT Marquet effectively turned his submarine into a leadership laboratory, implementing several policies that completely contradicted long-held military leadership truisms and relying heavily on common sense and trust. The three most important points he makes are
implanting a “Leader-Leader” mindset, thinking out loud, and creating a learning organization. The climate he describes makes you want to serve on his team, even if you must journey into the depths of the sea. Rather than the traditional “Leader-Follower” mindset that is the bedrock of military organizations, he argues that if you really want to instill competence, initiative, integrity etc. into your team members, than you must truly treat everyone as a leader. He calls this the “Leader-Leader” model. Rather than focusing on “empowering” people, which implies that the leaders must bestow this power, every person takes ownership for their skills, accomplishments, mistakes, failures, etc. Rather than waiting for the leader to articulate the next step, team members are already thinking about what needs to happen next, making recommendations, or moving forward with the mission. On the submarine – a highly controlled environment – rather than having sailors say, “request permission to X” they would tell their supervisor, “I intend to X” which both informed the supervisor of their next action, ensured they had already thought about whether they were making the correct move, and truly gave them responsibility for leading in their job. Leader-Leader actively involves every team member in the decisions, successes, and failures of their organization. Because team members are practicing leading every day, they become better leaders – they learn by doing. Leader-leader also eliminates top down tracking mechanisms because people hold themselves responsible for knowing what needs to be done and accomplishing their task – they aren’t waiting for someone to tell them an NCOER or award is due.


The second key recommendation he makes is for leaders to think out loud – voice their thought process. This involves other people in the decision, helps them understand background and reasoning for a decision, and also enables them to take initiative when they know which way the boss is leaning. This does require a high degree of trust between all levels because it will reveal when the leader does not have all the answers, is uncertain, or lacks experience in a certain area. This can certainly be uncomfortable in the military where leaders must always appear decisive, all-knowing, etc. In reality, it increases trust and cohesion when the leader shows he/she is open to criticism, recommendations, etc and truly needs the rest of the team because he/she cannot know everything all the time. Moreover, this method turns an organization itself into a leadership development program. Instead of one person always thinking of the next step, every person is thinking and preparing to act, determining what they would do as the leader, etc. Again, learning leadership by doing leadership.


Finally, CAPT Marquet ensured his submariners were constantly learning. He makes the point that training is something that is done to you while learning is something you do for yourself. In a learning organization – where everyone is expected to be a leader – people have an extra incentive to understand everything about their job, ensure their subordinates are competent, and strive to constantly improve the capability of every member of the team. Learning organizations also consider mistakes to be teaching opportunities – when people see they will not be punished for errors, but rather that both they and the team will benefit from knowing how to avoid the same error in the future, team members will be more willing to admit mistakes and not hesitate to try new things.

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