Turn the Ship Around! By David Marquet is a book on leadership and management style in working within a turnaround project. David Marquet is a retired naval captain and was captain to the nuclear submarine, the Santa Fe.
In the Navy, there is a clear hierarchy of power. The formation of the organization is like a pyramid, and it is designed as a leader-follower model of leadership. The leader-follower model is where the senior officer will give orders and the junior personnel would follow. The expectation is obedience to authority, and punitive measures for those who step out of line. In some situations, this style of leadership works. In situations where this does work, the efficacy of the leadership model goes out the window when the leader leaves. This is because the commander has been the driving force behind the organization, and is keeping all his subordinates on task.
Before Mr. Marquet became a captain, he was a junior officer aboard the Sunfish. He implemented a leader-leader approach to his team, which was a bottom up approach. He would designate people with tasks to accomplish, provide deadlines, and gave them the freedom to complete these tasks. His experience aboard the Sunfish was successful, so much so that he was promoted to engineer to another submarine, the Will Rogers. When he got to the Will Rogers, he tried to implement the same approach in management. He was met with resistance, and found that the culture aboard that submarine was not conducive to that style of leadership. Because of this, his experience aboard the Will Rogers was a failure.
- Lesson Number One – There are two types of leadership models. One is not necessarily better than the other, but you must find the style that best fits you and the organization.
§ A top down approach
§ An established hierarchy of power
§ Providing orders and punishment when orders are not carried out
§ Issues of this model:
· People are uninspired to do the work.
· Personnel makes a point to avoid error rather than improve the systems or quality of work
§ A bottom down approach
§ Empower personnel to complete tasks and providing autonomy to do so
§ Encouraging and teaching personnel to complete tasks
§ Issues of this model:
· It requires competence amongst the staff
· Supervisors must always provide clear messages and expectations
Despite his poor experience aboard the Will Rogers, Mr. Marquet was provided the opportunity to move into a captain’s position aboard the Santa Fe. The Santa Fe was the joke of the navy. It had high turnover, poor performance ratings, a low promotion rate, and consistently ranked poorly amongst nuclear submarines.
When Captain Marquet arrived on Santa Fe, one of his initiatives was to speak to the crew and assess why the ship was struggling. He found a great deal of the issues stemmed from administrative functions, or lack thereof. Some examples are:
- The Admin consistently disappears into a black hole
- Officers delay in getting maintenance started
- Junior officers were the source of low standards
- Qualification exams were being scheduled late or not being scheduled
- Crew members try to keep their heads down to avoid getting in trouble
- Lesson Number Two – If you are a new leader of an organization, assess the organization to see what are its strengths and weaknesses. Ask current personnel what are the issues and what are some solutions that they see that can be implemented. Aim to create a culture that strives for excellence instead of one that strives to avoid error. Evaluate how you will implement your systems of control and accountability.
As Captain Marquet’s tenure aboard the Santa Fe continued he experienced several of moments where he wanted to seize control from his subordinates and address the issues himself. He felt it would be easier, as well as more effective. However, he knew that over the course of time this would be a damaging practice because his crew would not grow in skills or in confidence.
Captain Marquet believed that leadership essentially boils down to two things: competence and clarity.
Competence is the knowledge to complete a task. For example: if a torpedo shoot is stuck, do you know how to unclog it and ensure that it can fire optimally. If a crew members lack the knowledge then train them in that skills so they may become competent in that section. If the crew member has the knowledge and the problems still exist then the issue is the clarity in the directive. For example: Let’s say you gave an order to a sailor to unclog the torpedo shoot, and he does just that. He made sure it is unclogged. That does not mean it is ready to fire a torpedo out of there. And, in fact this happens quite often, where a subordinate does literally what you have asked them to do, and no more and no less.
This is where clarity comes in. If you want somebody to perform a task up to your expectations then you must explain what needs to be done clearly so that persons know what he must do.
- Lesson Number Three - As a supervisor you must provide clear instructions to your staff so that they know exactly what to do. If you find that they still do not understand then explain it another way. If there is still error then it may be an error in competence instead of clarity. In that case then provide the training so that the staff knows what to do to resolve the situation or task.
- Lesson Number Four - Training must be ongoing. You cannot expect staff to be successful after one training session and to able to master any task. It is your job as a supervisor to ensure that staff has the knowledge to complete the tasks at hand.
In addition to clarity there is the subtlety of language. Captain Marquet makes a point to put his staff in a position to speak about what they intend to do about an issue rather than just describing an issue. For example: Let’s take an education example, and let’s say you have a 3rd grader who cannot read. If you ask the teacher what is the issue, they will tell you that the 3rd grader cannot read as well as some follow up with some anecdotes about why this child cannot read. However, if you rephrase the statement as “What do you intend to do to help this child read”, it shifts the tone of the conversation. The instructor should respond by saying “I intend to help the child read by providing more one-on-one instruction” or “I intend to help the child read by providing leveled text and practicing site words with the child” or “I intend to…” and so on.
As a whole, this book was an easy read. In my opinion, his stories and lessons are applicable to many parts of life as well as several of different fields. I recommend giving this book a try and I hope that you found this post helpful.
If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach out by e-mailing or writing in the comments section.
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