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Conversations with L. David Marquet on Turn the Ship Around!

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Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to a riveting discussion on leadership and empowerment. Today, we have the incredible privilege of interviewing L. David Marquet, a true maverick in the realm of leadership development and organizational transformation.

Marquet, a former nuclear submarine captain, defied the stereotypical top-down command structure in the military and spearheaded a revolutionary approach to leadership that empowered his crew to take ownership and responsibility for their actions.

Building on his rich experiences, he went on to pen the bestselling book, “Turn the Ship Around!”, and became a sought-after speaker, consultant, and educator, sharing his invaluable insights with leaders across industries globally. In this candid conversation, we delve into Marquet’s incredible journey, explore his groundbreaking concept of “leader-leader” instead of “leader-follower,” and uncover the strategies he used to foster a culture of trust, autonomy, and high performance within his crew.

Join us now for an enlightening conversation that will challenge conventional wisdom and leave you inspired to transform your own leadership style.

Who is L. David Marquet?

L. David Marquet is a highly respected leadership speaker, consultant, and former submarine commander known for his transformative approach to leadership and management. With an illustrious career in the United States Navy, Marquet has become a prominent advocate for empowering individuals and fostering a culture of decentralized decision-making.

Marquet gained widespread recognition for his groundbreaking book, “Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders.” In this captivating memoir, he recounts his experiences as captain of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine facing numerous challenges. Through a radical shift in leadership style, Marquet successfully transformed the ship’s crew from a traditional command-and-control structure into a highly engaged team of leaders at every level.

His unique philosophy centers on empowering those closest to the action with decision-making authority, challenging conventional hierarchical systems. Marquet highlights the importance of fostering a sense of ownership, trust, and accountability among team members to create a resilient and adaptable organization.

With a passion for developing leaders who can thrive in complex and ever-changing environments, L. David Marquet continues to inspire individuals and organizations to rethink their approach to leadership. His innovative ideas have made a profound impact, guiding leaders towards building cultures that foster autonomy, responsibility, and continuous growth.

Here you can get more information about him by clicking L. David Marquets Twitter.

20 Thought-Provoking Questions with L. David Marquet

1.Can you provide ten Turn the Ship Around quotes to our readers?

“I intend to push for leadership at every level. To insist that everyone at whatever level take responsibility for whatever they can take responsibility for.

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”

“Leadership is not for the select few at the top. It’s an attitude, not a position.”

“Greatness is not the work of a few heroic individuals; it’s the product of creating an environment in which ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.”

“In the end, leaders don’t need to provide answers, they need to facilitate the conditions so that everyone can figure out the answers together.”

“Competence and clarity precede motivation.”

“One’s voice, plus choice, equals ownership.”

“Leadership is about creating an environment where people’s natural inclination is to support others and achieve the mission.”

“The leader’s role is to create more leaders.”

“Imagine a workplace 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.”

2.Your book Turn the Ship Around!explores the concept of leader-leader instead of leader-follower. Can you explain this shift in leadership approach and its benefits?

The concept of leader-leader, as explored in my book “Turn the Ship Around!”, focuses on shifting the traditional leader-follower dynamic to a more empowering and decentralized form of leadership. In this approach, leaders aim to create an environment where everyone is encouraged and enabled to become a leader in their respective roles.

Rather than relying on a single leader to make all decisions and provide all guidance, the leader-leader approach aims to distribute decision-making authority and accountability throughout the organization. It encourages individuals to take ownership of their work, think critically, and make informed decisions.

One of the key benefits of this shift is that it fosters a sense of ownership and engagement at all levels of the organization. By granting people more responsibility and trust, leader-leader creates a culture of empowerment, where individuals are motivated to bring their best selves to work. This autonomy and engagement lead to increased initiative, creativity, and innovation within the organization.

Another benefit is that leader-leader facilitates better decision-making. When decision-making authority is decentralized, it allows for greater access to diverse perspectives and expertise within the organization. This enables faster and more effective decision-making, as it eliminates the bottlenecks and delays often associated with a leader-follower model, where decisions flow through a single individual.

3.In “Turn the Ship Around!,” you discuss your experiences as a submarine captain and the challenges you faced. Can you share some key lessons or insights you learned during that time?

1. Leadership by empowering your crew: Rather than leading through strict top-down authority, I discovered the power of empowering my crew members to take ownership and make decisions. By creating a work environment where everyone felt valued and had a voice, I fostered a culture of active engagement and initiative.

2. Intent-based leadership: Instead of directing my crew on how to accomplish a task, I learned to clearly communicate the goals and objectives, allowing them the freedom to figure out the best way to achieve those goals. This approach empowered individuals to think critically, be innovative, and take responsibility for their actions.

3. Competence over compliance: Instead of emphasizing blind obedience, I found it more effective to focus on developing competent individuals who possess the skills and knowledge required to handle any situation. This required investing time in training, cross-training, and continual learning, ensuring that each crew member had a deep understanding of the ship’s systems and operations.

4.Can you provide examples from your own journey of implementing empowerment and decentralized decision-making within your submarine crew?

Certainly! During my tenure as a submarine commander, I emphasized empowering my crew and implementing decentralized decision-making. Here are a few examples from my own journey:

1. Intent-based leadership: One crucial aspect of empowerment was changing the command structure. Instead of being the traditional top-down leader, I shifted to an intent-based leadership approach. This meant that I would communicate the what and why of our mission, allowing my crew to determine the how. By clearly articulating the intent, I empowered them to make decisions based on their expertise and the situation at hand.

2. Control of work: I encouraged my crew to take control of their work processes and make their own decisions. For instance, in the past, only officers were allowed to give orders for various tasks. However, by moving away from this culture, I enabled everyone to initiate and lead those tasks. This created a sense of ownership among the crew and allowed them to develop their decision-making skills.

3. Training and development: Empowerment doesn’t happen overnight; it requires proper training and development. I focused on providing my crew with the necessary tools, training, and knowledge to make informed decisions. By investing in their professional growth, we fostered an environment where individuals felt confident in their abilities and trusted to take charge of their responsibilities.

5.Your book Turn the Ship Around! emphasizes the importance of creating a culture of excellence and accountability. How can leaders foster such a culture within their teams or organizations?

Creating a culture of excellence and accountability is crucial for any leader looking to drive high-performance within their teams or organizations. Here are a few key steps leaders can take to foster such a culture:

1. Empowerment: Give your team members the authority and autonomy to make decisions related to their work. This encourages ownership, responsibility, and fosters a sense of accountability. Allow them to take charge of their own work and trust in their capabilities.

2. Clarity of Goals and Expectations: Clearly communicate the organization’s goals, objectives, and expectations. Ensure that every team member understands their role in achieving these goals and how their individual contributions impact the overall success. This helps align everyone towards a shared purpose.

3. Delegate Authority, Not Tasks: Instead of micromanaging and telling people what to do, delegate authority to your team members. Enable them to take charge and make decisions, and provide them with the resources and support they need to succeed. This allows for greater ownership and accountability.

6.”Turn the Ship Around!” discusses the role of clear communication and intent-based leadership. Can you elaborate on the principles of intent-based leadership and how it differs from traditional command and control?

“Turn the Ship Around!” highlights the significance of clear communication and intent-based leadership in transforming an underperforming team into a highly effective one. Intent-based leadership is a paradigm shift from traditional command and control, emphasizing empowerment and distributed decision-making. Instead of relying on a single leader making all the decisions, intent-based leadership distributes authority and encourages individuals at every level to actively contribute their expertise.

The principles of intent-based leadership can be summarized as follows:

1. Control by giving control: Traditional command and control environments emphasize strict obedience to orders. In contrast, intent-based leadership involves giving control to those closest to the information and allowing them to make decisions based on the commander’s intent. By granting control, individuals feel a sense of ownership and responsibility, leading to higher levels of engagement and innovation.

2. Communicate intent, not just orders: Instead of simply providing orders, intent-based leaders communicate the desired outcome or end-state and provide the necessary context or guidelines. This empowers the team members to adapt and make decisions according to the evolving situation, without constantly seeking permission. By focusing on the “what” and “why,” rather than the “how,” teams can tap into their collective creativity and problem-solving abilities.

3. Competence over compliance: Intent-based leadership focuses on developing competent and capable individuals through rigorous training and continuous learning. Rather than expecting blind compliance, leaders encourage team members to be proactive in developing their skills, asking questions, and seeking clarification. This emphasis on competence fosters a culture of growth and improvement.

turn the ship around-book

7.Can you provide strategies or advice for leaders who are looking to empower their teams and create a sense of ownership and responsibility?

1. Intent-based leadership: Adopt a shift from leader-follower to leader-leader mindset. Encourage your team members to think and take ownership of their decisions, empowering them to be leaders in their own right.

2. Communicate purpose and clarity: Clearly define the overarching mission, values, and objectives of the team. Make sure everyone understands their role and how their individual contributions align with the team’s purpose. This clarity inspires a sense of ownership and responsibility.

3. Delegate decision-making: Distribute decision-making authority as much as possible. Empower team members to make decisions within their areas of expertise, after clarifying the boundaries and guiding principles. This builds trust, encourages growth, and reinforces ownership.

4. Create a learning environment: Encourage a growth mindset where mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn and improve. Foster a psychologically safe environment where team members feel comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas, and trusting their judgment.

8.Your book Turn the Ship Around! addresses the concept of competence and continuous learning. How can leaders help individuals develop and grow their skills, even in high-pressure environments?

In high-pressure environments, leaders play a crucial role in helping individuals develop and grow their skills. Here are a few ways leaders can foster competence and continuous learning:

1. Encourage decentralized decision-making: Leaders should empower their team members to make decisions and take ownership of their work. By providing autonomy and allowing individuals to learn from their mistakes, leaders can foster a culture of continuous learning.

2. Establish a growth mindset: Leaders should promote a growth mindset within their teams. This means emphasizing that abilities and skills can be developed through dedication and hard work. Encouraging individuals to embrace challenges, persevere through setbacks, and embrace feedback creates an environment conducive to growth.

3. Foster psychological safety: In high-pressure environments, individuals may be reluctant to take risks or speak up due to fear of negative consequences. Leaders can create psychological safety by ensuring that team members feel comfortable voicing their opinions and ideas without fear of ridicule or retribution. This open communication allows for continuous learning and skill development.

9.”Turn the Ship Around!” discusses the challenges of overcoming hierarchical structures and instilling a mindset of collaboration and initiative. Can you speak to the potential obstacles and how they can be overcome?

In “Turn the Ship Around!”, I outline my experiences as the captain of the USS Santa Fe submarine and the challenges associated with shifting from a hierarchical structure to a culture of collaboration and initiative. Overcoming these obstacles requires a deliberate effort and a focused approach. Let me address the potential obstacles and how they can be overcome:

1. Fear of losing control: One major obstacle in overcoming hierarchical structures is the fear of losing control, both from the leaders who have traditionally held authority and from the subordinates who are accustomed to following orders. To overcome this, leaders must promote trust and create an environment where control is shared and decision-making is distributed. By setting clear expectations, empowering individuals, and providing training and resources, leaders can gradually build trust and demonstrate that collaboration and initiative enhance overall effectiveness.

2. Lack of clarity and alignment: Hierarchical structures often rely on a top-down approach where directives are passed down without comprehensive understanding. To foster collaboration and initiative, leaders must ensure a clear understanding of their organization’s purpose and goals throughout all levels. By shifting towards a shared purpose and providing a clear line of sight between individual actions and organizational objectives, the organization can align efforts and encourage collaboration among team members.

3. Communication challenges: Hierarchy often leads to a one-way flow of communication, where subordinates are primarily listeners rather than active participants in decision-making. Overcoming this obstacle requires a shift towards open and transparent communication channels. Leaders should actively encourage ideas and suggestions from all levels, utilizing techniques such as active listening, frequent check-ins, and encouraging debate and healthy dissent. By providing avenues for diverse perspectives and utilizing the collective intelligence of the team, a collaborative and innovative culture can be fostered.

10.Can you share any personal stories or experiences that have shaped your understanding of leadership and the principles outlined in your book Turn the Ship Around!?

One particular experience that stands out to me is my time as the commander of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine in the United States Navy. When I first took command of the Santa Fe, it was considered one of the worst-performing submarines in the fleet. It had a lack of morale, low proficiency, and a generally disengaged crew.

With the traditional leadership model, I would have taken control and given orders, expecting my crew to follow them without question. However, I soon realized that this approach was not effective and only created a culture of dependency and disempowerment. I understood that in order to truly turn the ship around, I needed to change my own leadership style and encourage the crew to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities.

One of the pivotal moments that shaped my understanding of leadership came when I made a crucial decision to give up control and empower my crew members. I shifted the traditional hierarchical structure and implemented a system called “leader-leader” instead of the conventional “leader-follower” model. This meant that every crew member was encouraged to think and act like a leader, taking ownership of their areas of expertise and making decisions based on their unique knowledge and expertise.

This shift in leadership style had a profound impact on the crew. As they gained more autonomy and were trusted to make decisions, they became more engaged, proactive, and took personal responsibility for the success of our operations. The results were remarkable, and the Santa Fe transformed into one of the highest-performing submarines in the fleet.

11.Your book Turn the Ship Around!highlights the importance of building trust within teams. What practices or approaches do you recommend for fostering trust and psychological safety among team members?

In my book, “Turn the Ship Around!”, I emphasize the crucial role of building trust within teams to enable effective leadership and high performance. To foster trust and psychological safety among team members, I recommend adopting several practices and approaches:

1. Delegate decision-making: Instead of relying on top-down authority, empower team members at every level to make decisions within their areas of expertise. This practice shifts the focus from commanding to inspiring, allowing individuals to take ownership of their work.

2. Encourage open dialogue: Create an environment where open and honest communication is valued. Encourage team members to voice their concerns, ideas, and thoughts without fear of retribution. Foster an atmosphere where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities rather than sources of punishment.

3. Embrace mistakes as opportunities: Develop a culture that sees mistakes as valuable learning experiences. Encourage team members to openly discuss what went wrong, why it happened, and how it can be prevented in the future. This approach helps to build trust by cultivating a blame-free environment that encourages continuous improvement.

12.”Turn the Ship Around!” touches upon the concept of control and giving control to the people closest to the information. How can leaders strike a balance between control and delegation?

Striking a balance between control and delegation is crucial for effective leadership, and “Turn the Ship Around!” indeed emphasizes the importance of giving control to the people closest to the information. To achieve this balance, leaders must focus on creating an environment that encourages both empowerment and accountability.

Firstly, leaders should establish a clear and compelling organizational purpose and set of guiding principles. By defining a shared vision, leaders create a cohesive framework that allows individuals to make decisions aligned with the organization’s goals. This sets the stage for delegation as individuals understand the overarching objectives and can better exercise control in their areas of expertise.

Secondly, leaders need to provide clarity in roles and responsibilities. Clearly define decision-making boundaries and communicate expectations to avoid confusion or duplication of efforts. By doing so, leaders help individuals understand the extent of control they have and empower them to take ownership of their work.

Thirdly, leaders must demonstrate trust in their teams. Foster an environment where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities rather than failures. Encourage open communication, provide resources, and support continuous learning and development. This trust-building approach allows leaders to delegate effectively, as their teams become more confident and competent in making decisions autonomously.

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13.Can you speak to the role of leadership development and mentoring in empowering individuals to take ownership and make decisions?

I would further highlight that mentoring plays a crucial role by offering guidance and support to individuals throughout their personal and professional growth. Mentors provide a safe space for mentees to discuss challenges they face, share experiences, and learn from each other.

Additionally, I would emphasize that a key aspect of empowerment is fostering a culture of trust, where individuals feel valued and respected. Empowering leaders serve as role models, encouraging their team members to step up, take ownership, and make decisions that align with the organization’s goals.

In my personal experience implementing the leadership philosophy of “leader-leader,” I witnessed the immense power of empowering individuals at every level of the organization. By distributing decision-making authority and cultivating a sense of ownership, we fostered an environment where everyone felt empowered and confident to make critical decisions autonomously.

14.Your book “Turn the Ship Around!” emphasizes the need for leaders to set clear expectations and provide feedback. Can you provide strategies or frameworks for effective performance management and feedback?

1. Intent-Based Leadership: Adopt an intent-based leadership approach, which involves clearly communicating the intent or desired outcome, rather than micromanaging and dictating specific actions. Leaders should give subordinates freedom and control to make decisions within the framework of the intent. It allows for greater engagement and ownership of tasks, fostering a sense of accountability.

2. Empowerment and Decision-Making: Develop an environment where people at all levels feel empowered to make decisions. Encourage individuals to think critically and take ownership of their work. By giving them control over their tasks, they will feel motivated to perform better, seek feedback, and continuously improve.

3. Competence Through Continuous Learning: Establish a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Encourage team members to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their tasks effectively. Provide resources, training, mentoring, and coaching to help them develop competence. Regularly assess skill gaps and address them through targeted development programs.

15.”Turn the Ship Around!” also discusses the concept of followership and how it relates to leadership. Can you explain the relationship between leaders and followers in an empowered organization?

In an empowered organization, the traditional hierarchical relationship between leaders and followers undergoes a fundamental shift. Instead of followers blindly following orders and relying on leaders for guidance, empowerment implies that every individual takes ownership of their work and is encouraged to think and act like a leader.

In this context, the role of leaders expands beyond giving directives and making all the decisions. Leaders become enablers, coaches, and mentors, creating an environment where followers are empowered to make their own decisions based on their expertise, knowledge, and understanding of the situation.

The relationship between leaders and followers in an empowered organization is one of trust, respect, and shared accountability. Leaders trust their followers to act responsibly, make wise decisions, and take ownership of their actions. They provide a clear organizational purpose, establish boundaries, and ensure that everyone understands the overall objectives and priorities.

Followers, on the other hand, actively engage in the decision-making process, seek out responsibility, and pursue continuous improvement. They take initiative, contribute their unique perspectives, and collaborate with others to achieve the organization’s goals. They also hold themselves accountable for their actions and outcomes.

16.In your experience, what are some common challenges or misconceptions that leaders encounter when transitioning from a leader-follower model to a leader-leader approach?

1. Letting go of control: One major challenge is the mindset shift required to let go of traditional top-down control and hierarchical decision-making. Many leaders fear losing control or becoming irrelevant when empowering their team members to make decisions. This transition requires overcoming this fear by embracing and trusting the collective intelligence of the team.

2. Building a culture of empowerment: Shifting to a leader-leader approach demands creating a culture where team members are encouraged to think and act like leaders. This includes embracing active communication, cultivating a learning mindset, giving people a sense of ownership, and encouraging initiative. Leaders need to focus on creating an environment that empowers and nurtures leadership qualities in every individual.

3. Developing competence throughout the organization: Moving from leader-follower to leader-leader requires developing competence at all levels of the organization. Rather than relying solely on the leaders’ expertise, creating a culture of continuous learning and growth is necessary to foster leadership at every level. This means investing in training, mentorship programs, and providing opportunities for team members to develop their skills and make decisions independently.

17.Your book Turn the Ship Around! addresses the importance of resilience and adaptability in leadership. How can leaders navigate unexpected situations or crises while maintaining a sense of empowerment and trust within their teams?

1. Foster a culture of empowerment and trust: To navigate unexpected situations or crises, leaders should cultivate a culture where everyone on the team feels empowered to take ownership and make decisions. This is achieved by distributing decision-making authority and creating an environment of trust, where individuals feel safe to share their ideas, concerns, and suggestions.

2. Encourage decentralized decision-making: In the face of unexpected situations, leaders should resist the urge to centralize decision-making and instead push decision authority down to the individuals closest to the problem. By doing so, leaders enable faster response times, encourage innovation, and tap into the collective intelligence of the team.

3. Build competent and adaptable teams: Leaders should prioritize training and development to ensure their teams are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to handle unexpected situations. This includes cross-training team members, encouraging continuous learning, and promoting a growth mindset that embraces change and adaptation.

18.”Turn the Ship Around!” touches upon the significance of individual purpose and alignment with organizational goals. How can leaders help team members find their purpose within the broader mission?

To help team members find their purpose within the broader mission, leaders can employ several strategies:

1. Communicate the mission and vision: Leaders should clearly articulate the organization’s mission and vision. By explaining how each individual contributes to this larger purpose, leaders can assist team members in understanding the significance of their roles.

2. Foster autonomy and decision-making: Leaders should empower team members, granting them autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work. This autonomy allows individuals to align their personal values and goals with the organizational mission.

3. Encourage open dialogue: Leaders should create an environment that encourages open dialogue and promotes discussions about personal aspirations and how they align with the organization’s goals. By facilitating these conversations, leaders can help individuals recognize how their purpose fits within the broader mission.

19.Since the publication of “Turn the Ship Around!,” have you observed any notable shifts or developments in leadership approaches or organizational cultures?

Since the book’s publication, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of empowering frontline workers and fostering a culture of decentralized decision-making. Many organizations have started to move away from the traditional “leader-follower” model towards a more collaborative and inclusive approach.

Organizations are now more willing to challenge the prevailing hierarchical structures and adopt flatter organizational structures that provide more autonomy to individuals at all levels. This shift emphasizes the importance of distributing authority and responsibility, allowing teams to make real-time decisions based on their expertise and knowledge.

Furthermore, there has been an increased focus on developing leaders at all levels, rather than just top-down leadership. Organizations now understand the significance of creating an environment that encourages leadership development and empowers employees to take ownership of their work.

20.Finally, can you recommend more books like “Turn the Ship Around!”?

Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek: This book explores the importance of leadership in creating a safe and productive culture within organizations. It highlights the significance of leaders who prioritize the well-being of their team members.

Start with Why” by Simon Sinek: Another excellent book by Simon Sinek, it delves into the concept of understanding and communicating the purpose behind your actions. It sheds light on the power of inspiring others by starting with the “why.”

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni: This book provides a fictional narrative that explores the fundamental aspects of teamwork and how to overcome common dysfunctions within teams. It offers practical strategies for leaders to build cohesive and high-performing teams.

These books, like “Turn the Ship Around!”, focus on leadership, organizational culture, and empowering teams. They offer valuable insights and practical strategies for leaders seeking to drive positive change within their organizations.

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