Turn the Ship Around!

Summer 2014

Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules

by L. David Marquet

A submarine captain achieves transformative change by never giving an order

Naval clichés run through organisation change and business studies books: Captaining change…Turning the oil-tanker around…Saving a sinking ship.

L. David Marquet faced these challenges in the most literal sense when he took over a nuclear-armed submarine that was a by-word for mismanagement, low morale and drift.

The USS Santa Fe, an attack sub in the American navy, sailed as low in key performance charts as it did in the oceans: at or near the bottom.

Marquet identified the root of the problem: the leader-led culture, in which the vast majority of staff felt unmotivated and powerless.

To tackle this, Marquet told his crew he would not give orders. Instead, they should tell him what they intended to do. He responded to errors by looking to learn instead of punish. Instead of slavishly following rules, he innovated, challenged and changed procedures. He sought to empower instead of dominate.

In the most unlikely of environments, Marquet shows how to create a devolved leader-leader culture that taps into an everyone’s talents and creativity.

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