Turn the Ship Around Summary (L. David Marquet)

After tried and tested leadership strategies?

This Turn the Ship Around Summary, based on a book by L. David Marquet is a fantastic start.

Taking over the dissatisfied nuclear submarine crew as Captain, Marquet transformed them into one of the most respected teams in the US Navy.

This book doesn’t deal with hypotheticals, having been written by a man graduating at the top of his class before applying his tactics in the real world.

So for battle-hardened lessons in business and life leadership, let’s dive in.

Turn a team around

As a manager it’s essential that we lead our teams with purpose and direction.

However, often we discover the opposite, with staff uninspired and listless by the work we assign.

Marquet encountered such a problem after being assigned the captaincy of one of the worst-performing crews in the fleet.

By encouraging his crew, he was able to create a ripple effect, transforming them into a well-oiled machine.

The leadership model

In a study from 2004 to 2012 it was shown that over half of American employees are dissatisfied in their jobs.

This crisis in employee happiness is also associated by a steep drop in productivity, with the economy losing up to $300 billion in the US.

To understand why, let’s examine the structure of our organisations, which traditionally have been created in a top-down formation.

The leader-follower approach was harnessed as far back as the Egyptians to build their pyramids and was foundational in the emergence of the industrial revolution.

For menial tasks and manual labour, having a leader at the apex of the pyramid issuing instructions worked well, but in our increasingly complex world of knowledge work and cognitive application, it falls short.

Therefore, we must re-imagine our leadership styles altogether.

Leader-leader system

The leader-leader system is the alternative, whereby everyone in the team is recognised as a leader and contributes as necessary.

The main difference between the two systems is found in decision making.

Whereas in the leader-follower system, information is passed up the chain of command to be acted upon by the head honchos, in the leader-leader system, everyone is recognised for their ability to act upon the information they receive and make an appropriate decision.

This saves time and increases effectiveness.

An example would be a navigator realising the submarine is off course in shallow water and making the necessary adjustments himself without going to the Captain first.

By adopting the leader-leader strategy, the Santa Fe became one of the best crews, with soaring retention rates and an award for the most improved ship in the fleet.

“Don’t move information to authority, move authority to information”

Giving responsibility

How do you start transforming your organisation or team? It starts by creating new mindsets.

Where before leaders are used to making all of the decisions, in the new system they must relinquish some of their power and place it in the hands of those who can use it more effectively.

On the ship, one of the first things Marquet did was meet with his chiefs of each division, who asked for more power in granting leave for the crew.

Ending the previously inefficient hierarchical process, the chiefs felt newly empowered and began seeking other ways to improve the efficiency of their teams.

Marquet also changed belief systems by changing the language used on the ship.

Instead of asking permission, when the navigator wanted to change course, for example, he prefaced it with “I intend to”, giving him responsibility for the decision.

Handling responsibility

When giving more responsibility, leaders must ensure their teams are in a position to handle it.

In response to a lapse in protocol by one of the crew members due to inattention, Marquet introduced pillars of competence and clarity.

  • Taking deliberate action – whenever performing an action, the crew member would pause and vocalise what he was doing before doing it, making the unconscious conscious and allowing teammates to error check. This gave the Santa Fe the highest grade ever awarded on a nuclear submarine operations inspection.
  • Briefing to certifying – When we’re being briefed, we have a tendency to switch off, especially when we’ve heard it all before. To counter this, Marquet changed the format, whereby those being briefed actively answered questions about the upcoming task. This process of engagement certified a team’s understanding of their role and was foundational in helping them handle their extra responsibilities.

Core values

Organisations must clearly define their goals to ensure that all team members are one the same page and working towards the same end.

One way to do this is through core values and tying individuals actions and their pride to something greater than themselves, like a legacy.

  • On the Santa Fe, this was achieved by making an announcement every time they passed a sunken sub, tying their work to the greater good of the US military and its history
  • At Apple, they achieve this by continually re-emphasising the company’s track- record of “thinking differently”.

To strengthen core values, we can issue performance-related praise to staff.

For it to be more effective, it should be announced immediately after a positive action, thereby re-inforcing the values of the organisation.

The structure of the reward can also have a significant impact on productivity and motivation.

  • Man-versus-man rewards – competition between individuals on your team isn’t as effective.
  • Man-versus-nature rewards – much more effective. Pit your team against an external enemy, encouraging them to work together, boosting teamwork and motivation. Outside of the military arena, this could involve trying to increase market share compared to a competitor.

Turn the Ship Around summary

Changing our leadership style can yield transformative performance results.

However, we must first overhaul our leadership beliefs and embrace the leader at every level approach.

The following are key:

  • Giving responsibility
  • Effective communication
  • Ensuring team-driven competence
  • Defining core values
  • Issuing appropriate praise

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