Turn the Ship Around!: How to Create Leadership at Every Level

Turn the Ship Around!: How to Create Leadership at Every Level



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608323746
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group, LLC
Publication date: 08/01/2012
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

A top graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, L. David Marquet led a distinguished career in the U.S. submarine force. He commanded the nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine USS Santa Fe, stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Captain Marquet completely turned around Santa Fe, where the crew went from being “worst to first.” Santa Fe earned numerous awards for being the most improved ship in the Pacific and the most combat-effective ship in the squadron. Santa Fe continued to win awards after his departure and promoted a disproportionate number of officers and enlisted men to positions of increased responsibility. After riding USS Santa Fe, noted author Stephen R. Covey said it was the most empowering organization he’d ever seen and wrote about Captain Marquet’s leadership practices in his book, The 8th Habit.

His bold and highly effective leadership can be summarized as “give control, create leaders.” He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and lives in Florida with his wife, Jane.

Read an Excerpt


How to Create Leadership at Every Level

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2012 Louis David Marquet
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60832-374-6

Chapter One


How has failure shaped you? As a department head, I tried to implement a new leadership approach on Will Rogers and failed.


Eight thousand tons of steel moved silently, hidden in the depths of the Irish Sea. In the control room of the USS Will Rogers (SSBN-659), the officer of the deck (OOD) ordered the ship toward the deeper, wider expanses of the North Atlantic. Glancing at the missile control panel, he could see the status of the sixteen Poseidon missiles on board, each capable of carrying 14 multiple nuclear-armed reentry vehicles. These missiles were the sole reason for the existence of the Will Rogers, a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine—SSBN for short—the kind of submarine the crew affectionately called a "boomer." One thing above all else mattered for a boomer: to be at sea and in a condition that would enable it to execute a strike if so ordered. SSBNs were a vital component of America's strategic deterrence.

The control room was the nerve center of the ship. So important were its sixteen missiles, invulnerable to attack once under way and submerged, that boomers had two crews—a Blue Crew and a Gold Crew—to maximize the time the submarine could spend at sea on strategic deterrent patrol. The crews lived near New London, Connecticut, and Will Rogers was operated out of a forward base at Holy Loch, Scotland. Every 3 months the crews would swap, with a 3-day turnover period. After assuming the boat from the other crew, the new crew would spend 4 weeks doing the necessary corrective and preventive maintenance before going to sea. In order for the United States to have a credible strategic deterrent, the missiles needed to be ready to go. If Will Rogers couldn't make it on time another submarine would have to remain at sea longer.

Forty-one of these ballistic missile submarines were built between 1958 and 1965 in response to the Soviet threat, an impressive industrial accomplishment. Will Rogers was the last of the forty-one SSBNs and had operated nearly continuously since its commissioning. Those original submarines were being replaced by the newer and more capable Ohio class; however, Will Rogers still had important operational tasking to perform. Nevertheless, after 33 years, it was a tired ship. Worse, during the patrol before I reported aboard, Will Rogers had collided with a trawler and failed an important certification.

* * *

I checked the chart in the control room. We were on track to start the deep dive in about half an hour. I walked aft, past the rows of missile tubes and the reactor compartment to the engine room. With my flashlight, I started doing a last minute walk about. All our repairs had been properly certified as completed but it wouldn't hurt to do one more visual check.

As engineer officer for the Blue Crew, I was responsible for inspecting the nuclear reactor and important auxiliary equipment and supervising the sixty men who maintained and operated it. There was a constant tension between doing things right and meeting deadlines; every member of the crew felt it. The job was grueling and I wasn't particularly happy with how things were going.

The officer I relieved was very involved in details. He was always reviewing technical documents and directing maintenance and other operations. I was determined to change that—by giving the men more control of their work, more decision-making authority, and fewer lists of tasks. In doing so, I hoped to bring the passion I'd experienced on Sunfish to Will Rogers. In this, I was going against the tide.

Just prior to going aboard, I'd had the chance to ride another SSBN for several days. It was undergoing an underway warfighting inspection, and the crew were tasked with different missions that required significant internal coordination. I followed the captain around to see what he did. He was everywhere: dashing to the engine room, then back to control; running to sonar and from there to the torpedo room. I was exhausted before 24 hours were over. I'm not sure he ever slept during the 3 days I was observing.

That ship did well on its inspection, and the inspection team specifically cited the involvement of the captain. I had a sense of unease because I knew that wasn't how I wanted to run a submarine. Even if it were, I knew I could not physically do what he did.

Even though the navy encouraged this kind of top-down leadership, I pressed forward with my Sunfish-inspired plan to give control to the department rather than orders. For example, rather than giving specific lists of tasks to the division officers and chiefs of the Will Rogers, I gave broad guidance and told them to prepare the task lists and present the lists to me. Rather than telling everyone what we needed to do, I would ask questions about how they thought we should approach a problem. Rather than being the central hub coordinating maintenance between two divisions, I told the division chiefs to talk to each other directly.

Things did not go well. During the maintenance period, we made several errors that required us to redo work. We fell behind schedule. We also had several jobs that didn't start on time because the midlevel management had not assembled all the parts, permissions, or established the propulsion plant conditions necessary to do the work. I overheard people wishing for the old engineer back, who would just "tell them what to do." Indeed, it would have been much faster just to tell people what to do, and I frequently found myself barking out a list of orders just to get the work done. I wasn't happy with myself, but no one else seemed to mind much. I seemed to be the only one who wanted a more democratic and empowered workplace, and I wondered if I was on the right track.

It was touch and go, but as the maintenance period came to an end, my efforts to empower others seemed to be working. There was a budding sense of optimism; we'd make it on time.

In a moment, I realized we wouldn't.

I dropped down the ladder into the lower level of the engine room. I was scanning the various pieces of equipment with my flashlight when I was stopped cold by what I saw. The nuts holding the bolts for the end bell of a large seawater heat exchanger had been improperly installed. The nuts weren't sufficiently grabbing the threads on the bolt. They were close, but I was sure they didn't meet the technical specification. Someone had taken a shortcut. This cooler was subjected to full submergence pressure. Even a small leak would cause seawater to spray into the ship with tremendous force. Failure would be catastrophic.

My heart sank. The deep dive should be starting shortly. I needed to cancel that immediately. Not only would we need to reassemble this cooler; we would need to inspect all the other coolers to make sure the mistake hadn't been repeated. Most important of all, we would need to figure out how this had happened.

I called the OOD and told him we'd need to postpone the deep dive. Then I started the long walk forward to tell the captain. Walking past the sixteen tubes in the missile compartment, I felt quite alone. The reputation of the ship and my department would suffer. My efforts at empowering my team had failed. This should never have happened. As expected, the captain had a fit. Of course, that didn't help fix the problem.

After this, things got worse. I had wanted to give my team more authority and control, but my heart wasn't in it anymore. I would give decision-making control to my people, but they'd make bad decisions. If I were going to get yelled at, I at least wanted it to be my fault. I went back to leading in the way I'd been taught. I personally briefed every event. I approved all decisions myself. I set up systems where reports came to me all day and all night. I never slept well because messengers were waking me so I could make decisions. I was exhausted and miserable; the men in the department weren't happy either but they stoically went about their jobs. I prevented any more major problems, but everything hinged on me. Numerous times I found errors. Far from being proud of catching these mistakes, I lamented my indispensability and worried what would happen when I was tired, asleep, or wrong.

I assessed my chance of being selected for executive officer, my next career milestone, as low. None of the other department heads on the Will Rogers were selected (screened) for executive officer. None of the department heads on the Gold crew screened either. Neither executive officer screened for captain. The captain wasn't promoted. The Will Rogers was a cemetery for careers. I made plans to do something else with my life. I took a job doing START and INF treaty inspections in the former Soviet Union with the On-Site Inspection Agency instead of going to a submarine staff job.

I returned from an inspection in Volgograd to find a message in my inbox. I had screened for executive officer, the next step after my tour as the engineering department head—I would be going back to sea on a submarine. I should have been ecstatic. Executive officer was one step below captain. Instead, I was strangely ambivalent. I would have to grapple with the tension between how I aspired to be as a leader and how I actually was.


While assigned to the On-Site Inspection Agency I had to contemplate what had happened on the Will Rogers. I started reading everything I could about leadership, management, psychology, communication, motivation, and human behavior. I thought deeply about what motivated me and how I wanted to be treated.

I remembered the release of energy, passion and creativity I had experienced running my own watch team on the Sunfish. I was motivated to avoid any reoccurrence of the pain, frustration, and emptiness of my 3 years on the Will Rogers, both being directed and directing others.

At the end of that study, I was troubled by three contradictions.

First, though I liked the idea of empowerment, I didn't understand why empowerment was needed. It seemed to me that humans are born in a state of action and natural empowerment. After all, it wasn't likely that a race that was naturally passive could have taken over the planet. Empowerment programs appeared to be a reaction to the fact that we had actively disempowered people. Additionally, it seemed inherently contradictory to have an empowerment program whereby I would empower my subordinates and my boss would empower me. I felt my power came from within, and attempts to empower me felt like manipulation.

Second, the way I was told to manage others was not the way I wanted to be managed. I felt I was at my best when given specific goals but broad latitude in how to accomplish them. I didn't respond well to executing a bunch of tasks. In fact, being treated that way irritated me and caused me to shut my brain down. That was intellectually wasteful and unfulfilling.

Third, I was disturbed by the close coupling of the technical competence of the leader with the performance of the organization. Ships with a "good" commanding officer (CO) did well, as had the SSBN I rode. Ships that didn't have a good CO didn't do well. But a good ship could become a bad ship overnight when a new CO came aboard. And there was a further twist: every so often a mishap occurred that caused people to shake their heads and lament, "It happened on such a good ship." It seems the captain had made a mistake, and the crew, lemming-like, just followed him. I concluded that competence could not rest solely with the leader. It had to run throughout the entire organization.

Essentially, what I had been trying to achieve on Will Rogers was to run an empowerment program within a leader-follower structure. The leadership structure, which was strongly reinforced by the behavior and expectations of the captain, was one of "Do what you are told." Hence, my efforts amounted to little more than "Do what you are told, but ..." It just didn't work.

What I was trying to do was an extension of the way things worked on Sunfish. On that ship, I was empowered, but the sense of leadership stopped with me. Those in my watch team were followers in the traditional model. What made it so liberating was that for those 6 hours, I didn't feel like a follower. That's what I had wanted to pass on to the officers and crew of the Will Rogers engineering department.

* * *

One of the things that limits our learning is our belief that we already know something. My experience on the Will Rogers convinced me there was something fundamentally wrong with our approach. Simply exhorting people to be proactive, take ownership, be involved, and all the other aspects of an empowerment program just scratched the surface. It was only after serving on the Will Rogers that I opened myself up to new ideas about leadership. I began to seriously question the image of sea captain as "master and commander." I began to wonder whether everything I'd been taught about leadership was wrong.


* Why do we need empowerment?

* Do you need someone else to empower you?

* How reliant is your organization on the decision making of one person, or a small group of people?

* What kind of leadership model does your business or organization use?

* When you think of movie images that depict leadership, who/ what comes to mind?

* What assumptions are embedded in those images?

* How do these images influence how you think about yourself as a leader?

* To what extent do these images limit your growth as a leader?


Are you and your people working to optimize the organization for their tenure, or forever? To promote long-term success, I had to ignore the short-term reward systems.


The USS Olympia (SSN-717) was heading out the main Pearl Harbor channel without me. I hadn't expected that.

I'd been training for 12 months to take command of this specific submarine, and my change of command was in less than 4 weeks. It was a dream assignment. Olympia was a frontline SSN (a nuclear-powered attack submarine)—exactly what I'd hoped for. While Will Rogers' mission was to hide in the vastness of the ocean, attack boats were the hunters and would take the fight to the enemy. I had studied the equipment configuration and piping diagrams, the exact reactor plant, the schedule, the weapons, and every problem report the ship had issued in the previous 3 years. I learned the career status of each officer and read his biography. I reviewed every inspection report: tactical inspections, reactor inspections, safety inspections, food service inspections. For a year, I'd been doing nothing but think about the sailors on Olympia and my responsibility to lead them for the next 3 years. In the way of the nuclear navy, I had gained an intimate technical knowledge of the ship. I had loved the prospective commanding officer (PCO) training I had just completed. As a student, I was responsible only for myself for an entire year! In addition to specifics of Olympia, we learned tactics and leadership. I attended a weeklong leadership school in Newport, Rhode Island, and my wife Jane had been able to join me. The entire training course culminated with an intense 2-week period at sea driving submarines hard and shooting torpedoes.

The officers leading PCO training were hand-selected from among proven captains; Captain Mark Kenny, who had commanded the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Birmingham (SSN-698), led my group. Mark inspired us to great learning as well as introspection. Every day we learned about our submarines, and ourselves.

During one torpedo approach, I devised an elaborate ruse that would flush out the opposing submarine and make it a sitting duck for our attack. I predicted to the officers in the control room—in this case, other PCOs—what would happen. The situation developed exactly as I'd foreseen, and we were able to get a hit on a quiet and tenacious enemy. In the middle of the attack, however, I'd had to reach over and do the job of one of the other PCOs because he had gotten confused.

I thought I was brilliant, but Captain Kenny took me aside and upbraided me. It didn't matter how smart my plan was if the team couldn't execute it! It was a lesson that would serve me well.

Olympia was doing well. Its retention numbers were good and its inspection scores were above average. Operationally, it had a reputation on the waterfront for getting it done—that is, fulfilling the missions assigned to it. I wondered what kind of a leadership approach I'd want to apply aboard Olympia.

I was keen to get aboard this workhorse of the fleet and finish the turnover process. During the month I was to spend on board before taking command, the ship would be in port for a maintenance period except for this 2-day evaluation of the ship's ability to operate the reactor plant. Accordingly, I arranged to ride with the inspection team to meet the Olympia at the entrance to Pearl Harbor.


Excerpted from TURN THE SHIP AROUND! by L. DAVID MARQUET Copyright © 2012 by Louis David Marquet. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Stephen R. Covey xi

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 1

Cast of Characters 9

Part I Starting Over 11

1 Pain 13

2 Business as Usual 21

3 Change of Course 27

4 Frustration 32

5 Call to Action 38

6 "Whatever They Tell Me To Do!" 45

7 "I Relieve You!" 50

Part II Control 57

8 Change, In a Word 59

9 "Welcome Aboard Santa Fe!" 69

10 Under Way On Nuclear Power 76

11 "I Intend To…" 84

12 Up Scope! 92

13 Who's Responsible? 100

14 "A New Ship" 106

15 "We Have a Problem." 113

Part III Competence 119

16 "Mistakes Just Happen!" 120

17 "We Learn." 129

18 Under Way for San Diego 137

19 All Present and Accounted For 144

20 Final Preparations 153

Part IV Clarity 161

21 Under Way for Deployment 163

22 A Remembrance of War 173

23 Leadership at Every Level 178

24 A Dangerous Passage 184

25 Looking Ahead 188

26 Combat Effectiveness 195

27 Homecoming 201

28 A New Method of Resupplying 209

29 Ripples 215

Afterword: Where Are They Now? 219

Glossary 221

Index 229

About the Author 239

What People are Saying About This

Stephen R. Covey

"I don’t know of a finer model of this kind of empowering leadership than Captain Marquet. And in the pages that follow you will find a model for your pathway."
-- Stephen R. Covey


Tampa, FL

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Turn The Ship Around!: How to Create Leadership at Every Level 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
BFox_5minutespisuccess More than 1 year ago
Since I served aboard a nuclear fast attack submarine and find myself getting more and more involved with and writing about leadership, I was immediately attracted to this newly released book. There is a very powerful story here. In a Tweet earlier today, I quoted from my interview with John Bernard, Author of Business at the Speed of Now, who said, "The people who do the work know it best and are the ones who should *drive* the improvements." In this book, Captain L. David Marquet reveals how leaders can release the passion, intellect, and energy to do just that. His leadership message is highly relevant to the work I do, and I'm looking forward to interviewing him for my interview series, 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success - 5minutespisuccess dot com. I will post an update to my review following the interview.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We had the privilege of working with David on our company processes and procedures. We adopted the Leader-Leader mechanism of pushing the decisions to where the information is at our design firm, with great success. What had taken hours of review and oversight at the management level now is handled by individual designers, who are most familiar with the material anyway. Another mechanism we have adopted is to Strive for Excellence (rather than avoid errors) in our stated company goal of “Punch-Free Installations” – we have applied stringent double-check procedures and seen our punch list items decrease significantly. Can’t wait to see how we can implement the other mechanisms!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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ldmarquet on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Hi. I'm the author of Turn the Ship Around! I wrote this book to help pioneer a better way of treating each other, a way of treating each other that will allow more of us to freely give of our passion, intellect and creativity. In short, that way means treating others as equals, as co-leaders, and not as followers. It means giving control not taking control.I believe this unlikely but true story of a leadership revolution on board a nuclear submarine makes the case that this is a better way to interact. Not only did the submarine improve in the moment (something I call ACHIEVEMENT) but it continued operating at a superior level long after I left and an amazing 10 of its officers were selected for their own submarine command. This embedding of the capacity for achievement in people and the practices of the organization I call LEADERSHIP. I think we confuse these two things.You will share what I learned about the conditions under which empowerment steps are effective and what happens when you give decision making control without the necessary pre-conditions.You will also know exactly what we did, what mechanisms we implemented and what changes we made to our HR documents. These mechanisms, though they may not be the exact ones your organization needs, will likely provide you with sufficient grist for robust discussions in your workplace.We have too many problems for them to be solved by some set of experts at the top. The only way is to get everyone involved.Let me know what you think,all best,David Marquet
Les32667 More than 1 year ago
Great insights on leadership. Every leader should read this book, and share it with his/her team.
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Rast More than 1 year ago
I’d like to recommend this as one of the most inspiring books on leadership that I have read. It tells the story of how a visionary captain in the US Navy bucked the system of traditional top-down (leader-follower) management by successfully implementing a leader-leader paradigm to create active leaders out of passive followers at every level on the ship he commanded, the nuclear submarine USS Santa Fe. When Captain Marquet took command, morale and performance were poor and the ship had the worst retention rate in the fleet. In less than 24 months he and the crew took the Santa Fe from worst to best, earning numerous awards and notably one for the most significant improvements in performance within the fleet. The process of change which Captain Marquet boldly initiated became a circuitous journey with some exhilarating incremental successes and some potentially fatal setbacks along the way. His candor in describing the challenges he faced and judgment calls he made in the process place the reader clearly in moment. Hardly a page goes by without some great anecdote, pearl of wisdom and actionable advice. Captain Marquet’s methods and lessons apply to every leadership challenge, not only in the military but in business, non-profits and other organizations of all sizes. Jim Stoynoff, President Synthesis Solutions, LLC, Chicago, Ill.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Now having read the book, Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet, I consider David's experience to be the epitome of the servant-leader concept, first introduced by Robert Greenleaf.. Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect has to do with the setting being the Navy, where military careers can be ruined in a twinkling of an eye. Part of my perception comes from having a career Army officer father, who was always concerned about little things that could affect his record, like my getting a ticket from an MP when driving on the base. In David's case, he had the support and encouragement of his CO, yet David was aware that others in the submarine service were hoping that he wouldn't succeed. Most likely because, like many leaders, military or otherwise, they lacked the courage to trust others within the organization because they didn't truly trust themselves. Hardly unusual in a command and control world. Having no real model as a guide, David first enlisted the Chief Petty Officers in this experiment to make leaders of each member of the crew. This was a special challenge, since by so doing the Chiefs had to give up some of their privileges in order for everyone to have equality. However, this equanimity was a critical element in changing the "have to" to the "want to." Using Covey's second habit, "Begin with the end in mind," created a situation where all focused on goals to the extent they didn't just try to avoid problems, they continually sought to achieve excellence in all that they did. Using the legacy of the US Navy as the foundation, they prepared guiding principles to whom all became dedicated. Participation in the process insured commitment and the determination to live by the mutually agreed standards. David's action to go ashore to save an AWOL sailor and return him to duty without punishment is truly unprecedented. The captain exercised control by giving it up and by so doing increased control at the level of individual responsibility. By saying, "I intend to" rather than I order you to...., those present could readily reaffirm or question proposed activity. Efficiency was enhanced by eliminating layers of bureaucracy where ever possible. Competence and clarity were mechanisms that created an environment in which learning was continuous and in which outstanding performance was recognized immediately. However, moving beyond empowerment to emancipation takes an incredible leap of faith. . As I ponder the applicability of David's experience to the leaders that I coach and the clients that I serve, it seems to me that such a concept, like leadership itself, cannot be taught, only learned. Perhaps younger, less leader-follower oriented people, will embrace the leader-leader model in an effort to differentiate themselves as they seek higher levels of responsibility.. It will behoove those of us who write and speak about servant-leadership to redouble our efforts with David's model as the validation of our philosophy as we continue to seek other examples that reinforce and add to the base of success.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
David Marquet's experiences as the captain of a nuclear submarine may not seem relevant to more mundane businesses but the management skills he utilized certainly are! Since reading his book, I have discussed it with other managers at my plant and we are utilizing the Leader-Leader methodology to try to turn our ship around. The book is easy to read and fast paced. Like texas hold 'em, it takes a few minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. I highly recommend this book!!
BradRex More than 1 year ago
I've read hundreds of leadership books and have found most of them say the same things in different words. Marquet has finally said something different that adds immense value to every leadership environment. No longer are leaders limited to "top-down" directives or "bottom-up" hopes. Instead, Marquet has found the "leader-leader" formula that frees both leaders and followers to achieve their full potential. His discovery is not an academic theory, but a breakthrough method proven in one of the most difficult leadership crucibles in the world--a nuclear powered warship. Upon taking over a failing submarine, Marquet finally had the opportunity to test new leadership ideas that he had pondered from his days at the United States Naval Academy, through nuclear power training, and as an officer with multiple tours on other ships. At great risk to his career, he challenged centuries-old conventions and led his ship and crew from "worst to first." He has set a new standard in the Navy, and for today's business world. With clear logic, fast-paced action and fascinating stories, Turn The Ship Around! will educate, inspire, provoke and enrich you on your leadership journey. If you are a C-level executive, middle manager or aspiring leader, read this book. If you are a principal, teacher or student, read this book. If you are a non-profit leader, priest, pastor, rabbi, nun or monk, read this book. If you are a parent, guardian or mentor, read this book. In short, if you have the capacity to impact anyone else's life, you should read this book. It will change your life and theirs.
Chad_Storlie More than 1 year ago
David Marquet masterfully lays out the risk and the immense reward that comes from training, inspiring, and challenging subordinates to be their best. David begins with the performance limitations that come from passive, top down leadership structures and guides readers how to implement Leader-Leader engagements that improve performance, create lasting results, and, most importantly, train subordinates to be the best leaders they can be. David's writing is honest fresh, engaging, and informative as he discusses the potentially career ending consequences of moving towards a Leader-Leader framework and away from what he was taught for years in the US Navy. Finally, David's organized style of writing provides the reader with questions to consider as well as summarizes the Leader-Leader tools. In today's business world of Big Data, Analytics, and Analysis, we need MORE leadership that results in initiative, creativity, ethical behavior, and enduing results. Turn The Ship Around! Is the book you need today to be a better leader!