I have been a student of leadership for nearly fifteen years. I have read more books on leadership and management than I can count. To say that David Marquet’s new book, Tum This Ship Around!, is the best book on leadership that I have read would be an understatement. Captain Marquet brings a unique perspective on empowerment and creating leadership at all levels that THE SUBMARINE REVIEW readership will find both refreshing, accessible, and readily executable.
Turn This Ship Around! chronicles the personal development of Captain Marquet’s unique leadership style over the course of his career, from the first time he felt truly empowered as an officer of the deck during his division officer tour, to a department tour on a ship known as a graveyard of officers’ careers, to the incredible turnaround story of his command, USS SANTA FE (SSN 763). Captain Marquet shares anecdotes from his career, mostly during his time in command, which will resonate with all submariners and sailors. Current submariners will find the origin of some of the phraseology now in use, such as “I intend to … ,” and the real power behind it if fully accepted and unleashed.
These stories, while entertaining on their own, serve to high- light the foundations of his leadership approach. Captain Marquet focuses on creating mechanisms that will enable control, competence, and clarity in any organization. His goal onboard SANTA FE was to change the culture from leader follow one so well-known to sailors-to leader-leader, where personnel at all levels are empowered to make decisions affecting operational readiness or a business’ bottom line. Pushing effective decision making to lower levels requires pushing the control to make those decisions lower as well. Watch officers or managers become better decision makers with the increased authority to make decisions. It offers them the chance to think critically about the proposed course of action, instead of leaving that to the commanding officer.
Effective decision making by more junior personnel also requires them to have greater competence to fully understand all aspects of the decisions they make. In many military and business organizations, operations are driven from the top down. The planning, deconfliction, and effects of an evolution are done by the leadership element and the junior sailors simply carryout the order, without much thought to the consequences. The transition period from leader-follower to leader-leader will be rocky, to say the least. Personnel will make mistakes as they discover their true level of competence at their job. Captain Marquet cautions against overreactions against these mistakes, focusing instead on using them as learning opportunities for all involved. Indeed, his time on USS WILL ROGERS (SSBN 659) proved that point. A single mistake by junior personnel resulted in the collapse of his attempt at empowering the Engineering Department. He spent the remainder of his tour abiding by the old ways that sailors are accustomed to.
Finally, for our junior sailors, or junior personnel in any organization, to make these decisions, they need to have the clarity of the organization’s purpose. As a division officer on an SSBN, I saw the effects of both sides of this point first hand. Sailors working in the engineroom rarely had any idea as to what the ship was doing, why they were out there, or how their job and watch station affected the overall mission of the ship. Once they realized the control they had been given to run their watch stations and competently understood the larger picture, their requests become significantly more thought out and planned. These sailors understood how a minor maintenance action or procedure could affect the ship’s readiness. Captain Marquet emphasizes that understanding organizational purpose is not limited simply to the strategic direction and mission of an organization, but to day-to- day operations as well. Knowing what the organization was doing in the next few hours or days allowed sailors to take better care of their ship and improve readiness.
His journey was not smooth. It took a lot of time and a supportive chain of command to implement the leader-leader culture. But in the end, Stephen Covey, after riding SANTA FE to sec what all the hype was about, called it “the most empowered organization he had ever seen” after watching the boat conduct a short-notice surfacing. Captain Marquet did not issue an order during the evolution. He allowed sailors at all levels to state their intentions and reasons for it, and allowed them to go on their way. Tum This Ship Around! provides a concise, clearly written manual for empowering people in any organization. His lessons are very prescient for current submariners looking to change their command’s culture as well as any leader in business looking to unleash the potential of their organization.