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David Marquet

January 27, 2015 by Speakers' Spotlight

Turn Your Ship Around: A Workbook for Implementing Intent-Based Leadership in Your Organization

Captain David Marquet imagines a work place where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity, a place where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work–a place where everyone is a leader. The bestselling author of Turn Your Ship Around, today David has released its companion workbook, and we’re pleased to share this excerpt with you:

December 26, 1998: On Board USS Santa Fe, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
(fourteen days to change of command)

It was a quiet day over Christmas break. Only a skeleton watch section remained on board, and they were not doing any maintenance. The men were just taking logs and completing daily rou- tines like loading potable water and pumping the sanitary tanks.

I wandered about the ship with my flashlight and made my way to the engine room. En route I passed the maneuvering room, which is the control room for the reactor and the propulsion plant. Formality here is to be stressed at all times. All personnel

must ask permission to enter. It doesn’t matter how senior you are; even admirals have to ask to be admitted. To be informal in the maneuvering room is detrimental to the safe operation of the ship, and thus a huge taboo.

I recalled the photo I had seen during PCO training that showed a bunch of shaggy-looking guys. They weren’t just infor- mal; they were cracking up. To make matters worse, this picture had gone around the Internet, and you could see in the back- ground some of the dials and instruments for the reactor plant. The point of showing us the photograph during PCO training was to demonstrate how bad things could get without proper enforcement of standards. And, yes, the guys in the photo were crewmen on board Santa Fe.

I recognized some of the watch standers from the picture. I wondered if they knew how famous, or infamous, they were. Prob- ably not. I stopped to chat with a first class petty officer on watch in the engine room. First class petty officers are one rank below chief. They are the workhorses of the Navy, doing a tremendous amount of watch standing, hands- on maintenance, as well as training of the junior enlisted men. They are considered to be budding leaders.

“Hi, what do you do on board?” By asking open-ended questions like this, I could better gauge what the crew thought their job was.

“Whatever they tell me to do,” he immediately replied with unmistakable cynicism. He knew he was a follower, and not happy with it, but he also was not taking responsibility. He was throwing it back in my face that the command was all screwed up. It was a stunningly insulting thing to say, yet a brilliantly clear description of the problem. I should have been irate. Instead I felt strangely detached—like a scientific observer.

“Whatever they tell me to do.” That was the attitude all over the ship. I began to see things in a new light.

On the Santa Fe I was startled to find that the mentality of the crew reinforced the notion that the people at the top are the leaders and everyone else is simply a follower.

Leaders often recognize they have the same problem I had: a passive team; motivated to avoid mistakes and biased toward inactivity. In effect, they ask the leader “tell me what to do.” Try as they might, the leader can’t move his team toward proactivity and empowerment.

What goes on in your workplace that reproduces this same notion? Begin by answering the series of questions below. Then, share, brainstorm and discuss your answers with your team.

Why is doing what you are told so appealing to some? Do people really just want to do as they are told?

If a snapshot of your business went viral on the internet, what would it reveal about your workers? Are they passive followers, motivated primarily to avoid making mistakes?

Do your procedures reinforce the leader-follower model? in what ways are you either reinforcing or breaking away from this model?

How about implementing a “daily intentions” e-mail where team members state their intentions at the beginning of the day in an e-mail to the team leader and copy all team members. How about building on that to include a “what i achieved yesterday” section. What would such an e-mail from you to your supervisor look like?

The next time an employee comes to you with “tell me what to do,” try to act out this exercise by asking them what they see or think. Some questions you might ask could be:

  • If you were me, what would I be worried about?
  • Can you describe the decision we need to make here?
  • Can you describe the pros and cons of each decision?
  • What do you hope or wish could happen here?
  • If I weren’t here, what would you do?
Adapted from Turn Your Ship Around: A Workbook for Implementing Intent-Based Leadership in Your Organization by L. David Marquet with permission of Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) Louis David Marquet, 2014.