In this business novel – Turn the ship around! A true story of turning followers into leaders – the author David Marquet shows you his journey as Captain on the nuclear submarine USS Santa Fe. He had the guts to lead in a completely different way. Top-down leadership sometimes endangered the men. He decided to give his men the control themself: with amazing results.
Marquet describes the traditional top-down management as the leader-follower model in which the followers have limited decision-making powers and where they are barely encouraged to make the most of their intellect, energy and passion. The follower has learned that he must rely on the leader who takes all the decisions, instead of fully focusing on the work process in order to keep the organization running as smoothly as possible. In contrast, the author sets the leader-leader model that not only brings improvements in terms of effectiveness and morale, it also makes the organization stronger and more agile.
The book consists of 29 chapters and is further subdivided into four parts. Each section describes a phase in the author’s struggle to change the way of working on board of the Santa Fe. In the first part Starting over, letting go of old ideas is central and we get an insight into the frustrations, questions and ultimate rejection of top-down leadership (Pain, Business as Usual, Change of Course, Frustration, Call to Action, ‘Whatever They Tell Me to Do!’ and ‘I Relieve You!’).
In the following parts (control, competence and clarity) the bridge to the leader-leader structure and accompanying support pillars is described. The bridge is control, divesting control to others in your organization while keeping responsibility. Here it is necessary that you have competent workforce that understands the organization’s purpose.
In Part II Control (Change, in a Word, ‘Welcome Aboard Santa Fe!’, Under Way on Nuclear Power, ‘I Intend to…’, Up Scope!, Who’s Responsible?, ‘A New ship’, and ‘We have a Problem’) a number of basic control mechanisms are discussed to be able to work according to a leader-leader structure, including searching and rewriting the genetic code for control, acting your way to new thinking, conducting short, early conversations, resist the urge to provide solutions, eliminate top-down monitoring systems, think out loud and embrace the inspectors.
Part III Competence (‘Mistakes Just Happen!’, ‘We learn’, Under Way for San Diego, All Present and Accounted For, and Final Preparations) shows that it is necessary for people to be technically competent to make the decisions they make. On a submarine this means specific understanding of physics, electricity, sound in water, metallurgy and so on (compare this with the engineering culture necessary for agile transitions in software or product development). In this part, the following competency mechanisms such as take deliberate action, learn everywhere and all the time, certify everything, don’t brief, continually and consistently repeat the message and specify goals, not methods.
In the final part IV Clarity (Under Way for Deployment, A Remembrance or War, Leadership at Every Level, A Dangerous Passage, Looking Ahead, Combat Effectiveness, Homecoming, A New Method of Resupplying, and Ripples) it becomes clear that to be able to push down authority, in addition to control it is becomes increasingly important that everyone understands what the organization is about. This section deals with a number of clarity mechanisms such as achieve excellence, build trust and take care of your people, use your legacy as a source for inspiration, use guiding principles for decision criteria, use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviors, begin with the end in mind and encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience.
The actual story starts 25 days to change of command and then we get a description of the 172 days to deployment of the Santa Fe, provided the submarine passes through the strict inspections and it does. The Santa Fe was the worst performing ship (poor morale, poor performance and the worst retention in the fleet) and became the best performing ship of the fleet. There are 135 men on board of whom the most important persons with name and function are described. The story reads smoothly and each chapter is closed with a number of questions to consider.
Again a book that I can recommend to managers of organizations on their way to achieve more agility and it definitely makes sense that it is recommended within SAFe too.
The book also contains a number of references to websites, including www.leader-leader.com and www.davidmarquet.com where you can find additional material such as articles, a step-by-step plan, an assessment, et cetera can be found.