Book Review: Turn the Ship Around!

Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet is ”a call to action, a manifesto” for turning followers into leaders (p. xxx) . At its core is the belief that ”we can all be leaders, in fact, it’s best when we all are leaders” (p. xxvii). David Marquet’s view is that ”we all have what it takes” to be leaders, and that ”we all need to use our leadership abilities in every aspect of our work life” (p. xxvii). His vision is a ”world where we all find satisfaction in our work”, and where ”every human being is intellectually engaged, motivated, and self-inspired” (p. xxx). Treating people as followers means that ”a vast untapped human potential is lost” (p. 15).

Never ever give an order
David Marquet is the unusual submarine captain who ”vowed … never to give an order, any order” (p. 81). Eventually everything was turned upside-down on the ship. Instead of ”one captain giving orders to 134 men” there was ”135 independent, energetic, emotionally committed and engaged men” thinking about what needed to be done, finding ”ways to do it right” (p. 84). This turned all men ”into active leaders as opposed to passive followers” (p. 84). Through ”trial-and-error, the crew arrived at a body of practices and principles that were dramatically more effective” than those within the traditional leader-follower model (p. 204).

Decision-making, competence, and clarity
The book covers the ”leader-leader practices” that were introduced (p. 49).  These practices are divided into three parts which are related to decision-making, competence, and clarity of purpose. The first step in turning the whole crew into leaders is to delegate the ”decision-making authority, as much as is comportable, and then adding a pinch more” (p. 59). David Marquet discovered that as the ”ability to make decisions” increased, the crew also need more ”intimate technical knowledge on which to base those decisions” (p. 128). Furthermore, he discovered that it ”becomes increasingly important that everyone throughout the organization understands what the organization is about” (p. 161). If this ”clarity of purpose is misunderstood”, then ”suboptimal decisions will be made” (p. 161).

Leadership at every level!
The core of the leader-leader model is ”giving employees control over what they work on and how they work” (p. 206). The two enabling pillars are ”competence and clarity” (p. 206). Here are some of the practices described in the book:

  • Delegate the decision-making as far as possible
  • Act your way into the new thinking
  • Short, early conversations make efficient work
  • Learn everywhere, all the time
  • Specify goals, not methods
  • Achieve excellence, don’t just avoid mistakes
  • Build trust and take care of each other
  • Encourage questioning over obedience

Emancipation results when ”we are recognizing the inherent genius, energy, and creativity in all people, and allowing those talents to emerge” (p. 213). It’s a great and very inspiring book!


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