David Marquet In Conversation
The Small Giants Community recently took some time to sit down for a conversation with retired US Navy Captain, leadership expert, and bestselling author of Turn the Ship Around, David Marquet:
It’s a very natural inclination to look to the military for inspiration. But when the topic is “redefining” leadership, David Marquet’s unique military experience serves as a powerful counterpoint to what we thought we knew about being a leader. David spent some time with Inc. Small Giants Community Executive Director Raul Candeloro to learn more about what David’s book Turn the Ship Around, published by Penguin Portfolio, means for turning around our views on getting the most out of employees.
Inc. Small Giants Community: Let’s begin by talking about yourself, so our readers can get to know you better. Can you briefly describe your life journey prior to writing Turn the Ship Around?
L. David Marquet: I went to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and graduated in 1981. I was taught a very command-and-control approach to leadership. Leadership was all about getting things done using the people who worked for you. It wasn’t about developing the people into better people and it wasn’t about getting people to think. It was about getting people to comply.
As I moved up the ranks in the submarine force, I realized the high cost of this approach in terms of my own contribution. This experience weighed on me when I was ordered in to take command of the USS Santa Fe.
ISGC: Now about the book. With already so many leadership books out there, what new information does Turn the Ship Around offer?
Marquet: Most leadership books are not about leadership. They are about accomplishment, or achievement. Both are important, but they’re not leadership. Leadership means embedding the capacity for achievement in your people, so that they will succeed even when you are not there. Turn the Ship Around not only offers this fresh perspective, but also describes the specific mechanisms we used to achieve the dramatic success we saw. Finally, it’s a true story, not some fable. We know it works.
ISGC: Could you give us an example out of Turn the Ship Around that reflects your main ideas or concepts?
Marquet: All I wanted was to be a submarine commander and I wanted my submarine to be great. I thought we achieved greatness as leaders by giving great orders, great instructions, and great directions. Turns out that’s wrong. I gave an order early in my tour that didn’t make sense, yet the Officer of the Deck repeated it. He knew it didn’t make sense but he still ordered it! We train people to comply, not to think critically. So I had to throw out everything I knew about leadership because it was all about telling people what to do. I needed to get people to think. I had to give control to create leaders, rather than take control and attract followers.
ISGC: In a short sentence, what kind of person should be attracted to your book? What kind of advice should they be looking for? Or what kind of problem should they be looking to solve?
Marquet: Anyone who deals with people would be interested. It’s not a submarine story; it’s a people story that takes place on a submarine.
Here’s the problem: most people don’t love their jobs. Most people are not fully engaged and invested in their jobs. Subordinates are fed up with over-controlling bosses who sap all passion; bosses are unhappy with subordinates who don’t get involved.
This book tells you the problem (leader-follower) and the solution (leader-leader).
ISGC: What’s the first thing you would like a reader to do after finishing Turn the Ship Around?
Tell others about it. I want to spread the word. It’s a manifesto for a new movement that is dedicated to humans treating other humans better, the leader-leader movement.
ISGC: What other books would you recommend for someone that wants more information about this?
Simon Sinek’s Start With Why is great in it’s clarity of message. Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers is perfect for the academic underpinnings of this approach.
About your work as a consultant / business expert:
ISGC: What is the biggest mistake you see small business owners making in the areas covered by Turn the Ship Around?
Marquet: They believe they must be invaluable. They want to be missed after they leave. Then they go to exit the business and find there is no enterprise value without them.
ISGC: What suggestions would you give them to improve? Where should they start?
Marquet: It’s ok to start as indispensable, but you want to make consistent progress toward being dispensable. After all, you don’t want to be the worker; you want to be the owner who has created other leaders who can go on to their own successes in support of your business or on their own.
ISGC: What about managers and team leaders? In general, what do you think they should STOP doing if they want to improve their results?
Marquet: Greatness cannot be ordered. Greatness will not emerge in a compliance environment. So, if you want greatness, then stop telling people what to do and get them thinking. The trick is: how do you let people make their own decisions, but still achieve unity of effort?
Also, stop talking. Instead create mechanisms that cause the behaviors you want to occur to arise naturally. Example: you want your people to act more like a team. Will a speech about teamwork do it? No. That has zero impact over the long run. Instead, discover the behaviors that would result in actual teamwork happening.
ISGC: Anything they should start doing more?
Marquet: Give control.
ISGC: After all the research you did for Turn the Ship Around and based on all your experience in this area, what kind advice you see out there that you disagree with or think that is misleading?
Marquet: There’s a lot of bad advice. The problem is that for 500 generations we have been focused on producing, controlling, and educating people for physical work. Now, in the course of 2 generations we want mental work. It’s totally different and applying the practices for physical work just don’t make help.
My response is: don’t take control, give control. Don’t treat people like followers, treat them like leaders. Don’t move information to the authority, move the authority to the information. Don’t brief, certify. Don’t attempt to manipulate behavior through reward systems. Do I have to go on?
ISGC: What are the VALUES than your company lives and dies by? Why is this so important to you?
Marquet: on’t sell, instead, be helpful to the client. We don’t have time or energy for anything that’s not focused on helping our clients. When you see a company selling, you think those are resources not going to their clients.
ISGC: Any additional comments or thoughts for our readers?
Marquet: Create leaders, not followers!