Every month we gather as a team for the Koan Book Club. This month we read and discussed Turn The Ship Around, about how to inspire and build leadership into all levels of your business.
Having already read several management books this year, the nuclear submarine setting was a welcome change to the usual management offices, meetings, and anecdotes we’re used to. While there was some crossover with some other management books we’ve read, David Marquet offers a fresh take and some great insights into how some of the leadership concepts can be implemented in any organization.
What Did We Learn?
Marquet was able to challenge assumptions of military leadership and processes in order to get better results from his crew. Instead of barking orders from the top, Marquet genuinely sought his crew’s trust and suggestions for process improvements.
Historically, people tend to think of good leaders as confident decision makers for the “followers”. They drive every major decision, every direction change, and every important conversation. While this has worked fairly well for directing physical labor, it fails to unlock the potential for creative and intellectual tasks. Additionally, many organizations are simply too large and complex to have a single person, or even a small handful of people, directing everything. Micro-managing is not the solution!
The key insight from the book was how Marquet was able to inspire leadership in members of his crew that were afraid of failure, or not doing the “right thing”. By instructing his crew to speak with their intent, Marquet was able to change the behavior of asking for permission into a simple statement of intent. When a crew member wanted to act, they would state: “Captain, I intend to ______” and pause for a moment before doing the action to allow for any input from the people around them. Now, instead of waiting for orders and directions, the crew members were more engaged and had more control of their position. This had the added benefit of moving the authority to where the information is, because employees generally know their specific domain better than the people above them because they live it day to day.
Although some of the concepts presented in Turn The Ship Around might seem like common sense, being able to implement those concepts is quite another story. The book is full of great insights and advice on how to slowly incorporate these leadership concepts into your organization without too much dramatic change all at once.
At Koan, we’re always looking for ways to empower to be leaders in all levels of an organization. If you’re a manager looking for similar results from your team, try setting some goals or OKRs without explicit directions of how to accomplish them. See what your team comes up with and they just might surprise you!