Turn the Ship Around


Turn The Ship Around (Marquet) is a summary of the experiences of the USN Captain of a nuclear submarine in turning the performance of his 135 person crew from worst to best in the fleet. He changed the organization from leader/follower to leader/leader where the crew went from dispirited, timid and wanting to leave, into engaged, motivated and eager to contribute more. The fundamental attitude change that Marquet offers is to realize that when one person ‘empowers’ another that the implication is that the receiver has no power. He says that the very idea of empowering actually has the opposite effect because it discounts the natural abilities of the receiver, sends the message that they are powerless.

Instead, he asks, “what authority do you need in order to do your job better?” Within some bounds he then acted to provide the needed training and mentoring to then safely delegate ‘control’ of certain tasks. The language of operations became that the person doing the task would say to their supervisor, “I intend to …” and they would say what they intended to do, plus, and this is the key here, they would state out loud what they thought the supervisor might be asking themselves. If it was to dive the submarine a few items like there is sufficient depth and the hatches are closed and we are at the point where we had planned to do this, for instance.

Coupled with this idea he proposes that ‘authority’ to act is best held as close to the action as possible. The one closest to the fire extinguisher has authority to use it without having to seek permission from someone ‘higher up’, for example. That person naturally takes responsibility to stay current and competent on their task. They come to own it and get very, very good at it. The leader’s job becomes one of encouraging improvements in every process rather than monitoring for compliance to unyielding historical procedures. ‘We’ve always done it that way’, was no longer heard on this submarine. Instead it was, ‘I’d like to try something new and here is what I have been thinking’

There is more, for sure, but the idea of leader to leader is well explored with enough ‘how to’ that you could try some of his ideas in your organization. Remember too that he did not have the option of replacing any of his crew members and still effected this amazing change.