Customer Reviews: Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders
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VINE VOICEon September 9, 2012
I am skeptical about books on leadership. Most are written by persons who have reached positions of hierarchical authority in organizations and then anointed themselves "leaders." They don't talk about the political infighting and maneuvering that got them the job. Instead they wax eloquent about their skill in developing people - skills that frequently exist only in their imagination and the book they have written which book is often fiction parading as non-fiction. I was a contributing editor for one of the major business magazines and have met plenty of CEOs. I will leave it to you to guess how many times insiders have told me that the book their chief has written is wildly off the mark.

I have not met any of the persons that David Marquet commanded, but I will lay a substantial wager that many will follow him wherever they can.

Full disclosure: I am biased. I think that David is a leader, not a commander or a CEO or a senior officer but an authentic leader, for two reasons: 1) his views conform largely to my own, and 2) He undeniably moved a top of the line US nuclear submarine form bottom of the heap to the top by many objective measures.

David's views on leadership, and I repeat I heartily endorse these, are:

1) "Our greatest struggle is within ourselves. Whatever sense we have of thinking we know something is a barrier to continued learning."
2) The way to build a great team is to push decision making down, way down. The more each person feels he has the ability to do what he needs to in his immediate working environment, the more he will "own" his job and the more engaged he will be.
3) Engaged people will bubble with ideas about how to make the whole enterprise better. Some of these ideas will be relevant to a particular section and some for the entire organization. For the larger scope ideas, the originators will go out and get the cooperation/approval of others necessary to make the improvement happen.
4) It is not enough to push the decision making way down. You also have to send down responsibility, authority and the requisite resources. If you do not do this simultaneously, you simply increase the frustration level. Would you invite some one to come and smell dinner but not eat it? Case closed.
5) The mission is critically important. What is it, how is it defined and communicated, and is it a critical determinant of what decisions are made and how they are made? The answers to these questions will determine the success of the organization.

There is much more but these give you the picture. There are wonderful anecdotes throughout the book. For example, Marquet relates an incident where he was denied the opportunity to sail with a submarine whose command he was to assume within a month. He just wanted to get a quick read on what he would soon be facing. The departing captain refused to take him for many reasons mostly unexplained. One explained reason was that Marquet would have taken up scarce sleeping space. What is interesting is the lesson Marquet draws from this incident and how it shapes his own future actions. I will quote directly from the book to illustrate this:

"Even though this 2-day underway period would be greatly useful in sustaining Olympia's quality performance after he departed, he apparently had no interest in helping facilitate that. Could I fault him? In the navy system, captains are graded on how well their ships perform up to the day they depart, not a day longer. After that it becomes someone else's problem.

I thought about that. On every submarine and ship, and in every squadron and battalion, hundreds of captains were making thousands of decisions to optimize the performance of their commands for their tour and their tour alone. If they did anything for the long run it was because of an enlightened sense of duty, not because there was anything in the system that rewarded them for it. We didn't associate an officer's leadership effectiveness with how well his unit performed after he left. We didn't associate an officer's leadership effectiveness with how often his people got promoted 2, 3 and 4 years hence. We didn't even track that kind of information. All that mattered was performance in the moment."

To truly understand how valuable this type of thinking and approach is, ponder this question: If the "leaders" of our financial institutions knew that their bonuses were dependent on how the executive decisions they made would play out over the next five years, and those bonuses were subject to being recovered within that period, do you think we would still have had the blow-ups that wrecked so many venerable institutions and nearly destroyed our financial sector?

There is one other reason I find this book invaluable. We all know that a good question is worth more than an hour of detailed instruction. Socrates certainly thought so. Each chapter has several profoundly thought provoking questions at the end. If you grapple with these questions, you may well find that your view of the world is being turned around. Here is a random example: "Are your people trying to achieve excellence or just avoid making mistakes?" Think about the implications of this for your organization.

Get this book and read it with your highlighter in hand. Probably a good idea to get two highlighters.
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on July 25, 2012
just finished this book with my highest regards and compliments to Captain Marquet! very enlightening and thought provoking. thoroughly enjoyed hearing his stories at sea and how he unequivocally shaped his men to be thinkers instead of doers. Although I do not think my three sons "will intend to make their bed" everyday, it did make me stop and and think how better I can give direction, both at home and at work as a manager of a restaurant. A must read for everyone - corporate leaders, teachers, parents - anyone will benefit from Captain Marquet's wisdom and leadership skills he developed and invoked upon his crew.
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on November 14, 2012
I was beginning to the come to the realization that every leadership book out there was both a waste of my time and money. When I saw this book though, every review being 5 stars sucked me in, but I only expected it to be remotely better than the rest. I could not have been more wrong, this was not only far and away the best book on leadership, but it was thoroughly enjoyable to read as well.

Unlike just about every other book on leadership that gives you a magical checklist of how to produce extraordinary results, Captain Marquet actually explains in depth how each of these conclusions came to be. Most of the story takes place from the time right before he took over what was the worst submarine at the time until deployment which was a period of about 7 months. He tells the stories during these months with perfect clarity, making you feel as though you are there. I found myself searching for solutions to the abundance of issues the ship faced, only to find them reach a conclusion, while I sat wondering how I missed such an obvious solution.

I don't write reviews because I never find that I have something worth saying. For this case though, I felt that I needed to encourage people to buy this book, because every employee deserves to have a boss that not only reads this book but implements the lessons learned within. Do yourself and your employees a favor and read this book, you won't regret it.
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on September 10, 2012
Full disclosure - David Marquet and I are U.S. Naval Academy classmates. I didn't know David back then but interestingly enough we were both in command of improved 688 fast attack submarines at the same time, David on Santa Fe in the Pacific and me on USS Toledo (SSN-769) in the Atlantic. Also interestingly I actually used some of the techniques David describes in this book (for example, having your people come up with a plan and say "I intend to" rather than "Request permission to" or even worse when I arrived on board Toledo, "What do you want to do about x, y, or z?") My problem was that I didn't have a comprehensive SYSTEM like David lays out here. As a result my use of techniques such as David describes was haphazard and ad hoc. I am convinced that if I had employed the complete system David describes I would have been much more successful, AND YOU CAN BE TOO. If you lead anyone in any line of work you owe it to yourself to read this book, employ its strategies and then watch your business (or submarine) thrive!! And then you'll want to pass this book around and encourage other people to read it too!
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on July 24, 2012
As I near the end of my tenure as a Naval Officer in Command, I find this book extremely validating, inspiring, and deflating. Validating because I now have clear evidence that a culture similar to the Cooperative Leadership model our Command Triad at NIOC Pensacola has been facilitating works in a tactical environment. It is inspiring because I love learning from, with, and through others and Captain Marquet has clearly articulated a culture worth emulating and I hope becomes a required reading at Command Leadership School for all COs, XOs, and CMDCMs. It is deflating because this is the book I would have attempted to write, though his is undoubtedly much better. Congratulations to Captain Marquet for paving the way and for the future Commanding Officers who care enough to follow his lead and adopt the Leader-Leader philosophy. If I am fortunate enough to get another opportunity to Command, a copy of this book for each Officer and Chief will precede my arrival...
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on November 8, 2014
I am giving this three stars as it is a critical review, however the overall strength of the book and clarity with which it is written warrants at least 4 stars, probably 5 if one reads it with a grain of salt.

I read this book on a recent business trip. I selected it on the basis of being the most interesting and potentially useful book I found after doing an advanced search in Amazon, sorting by "highest average customer review" in the "business and money" category. This is certainly an interesting and page-turning book. And I am (still) strongly tempted to implement some ideas from it in my own organization. However after I read the book and let it digest, something started gnawing at me - I was uneasy about it for some reason though I could not put my finger on it at first.

I gravitated towards this book also because I knew a former "nuke" enlisted man, who graduated with a degree in electrical engineering after he was done with the military. If I recall correctly, he even had some item of paraphernalia with an anti-Navy sentiment, maybe FTN or some-such. I also recall that he loathed the khakis (officers). He was on a boat with a serious morale problem.

Now, have a think about that. Someone on the lowest tier of the totem pole (enlisted man) has the intellectual horsepower to graduate in electrical engineering at one of the top 50 universities in the world (a Big 10 school), and was most likely selected for that role on the ship on that basis. If you know much about engineering, especially the harder streams such as electrical, you will know that they require a level of intelligence that is significantly above average. The average IQ for a EE is 126. Only 1 person in 24 has such an IQ in the USA. My friend was above average for electrical engineers in terms of intelligence. And he said that the hardest thing he ever had to do was study for the nuclear (ORSE?) examinations.

That the US military would put such talent working on a submarine's nuclear systems, and that their examinations were that difficult should give you one small clue that perhaps comparing your workforce's potential competence and that of the USS Santa Fe may be an apples and oranges comparison. The US military is well known for recruiting on the basis of IQ and other factors, through various batteries of tests. They do this because it works. In order for a given role in the military to be performed competently, there is an associated IQ threshold. The military knows this and ensures that people who do not have the mental ability for a given role are not assigned to that role.

To put this in some more perspective, the USS Santa Fe is a billion dollar vessel, that was most probably world leading at the time it was built in terms of capabilities. It is the result of many millions, if not billions of dollars of R&D work done by some very talented engineers. Into this highly evolved and optimized system are placed individuals who have been subject to extensive testing for innate competence, and $100k is spent per submarine sailor in order to train them. At least some of the lowest level employees apparently have IQ better than 1 in 24 people in the general population (e.g. electrical engineers).

Does your business resemble this? Are the systems in your business world leading (or at least industry leading), having been designed with a budget of many millions if not billions of dollars, by some very talented engineers? Do some of your lowest-level employees have the intellectual horsepower to become electrical engineers? Do you spend $100k per employee in training every employee to an acceptable standard? Are you allowed by law to test for intelligence in the manner of the US Navy, and even if you could, do you know the minimum requirements for roles in your business? Is your business the unusual Silicon Valley type business that needs the sort of high cost talent that only a fraction of the country is capable of, or is it the more typical if unsexy business that gives gainful employment to the middle or even the left half of the bell curve that makes up the majority of the country?

If not, I would be careful about buying into the statement "If the leader-leader model can work on board a nuclear submarine, it can work for you.". Fixing a morale and empowerment problem in a vessel staffed with able but poorly managed people is difficult but fixable. Maybe it is even replicable with a leader that comes from the middle of the pack, or even top 25% of his class in nuclear power school class and the submarine officer basic course, instead of number 1 such as Marquet. But if you don't have the "right people on the bus", as Jim Collins would say (and I know Marquet is familiar with Collins as he has read "Built to Last"), then you have the same basic problem as a cargo cult - all the morale and empowerment in the world won't solve your business's aptitude problem.

According to Marquet, "leader-leader" stands on three legs, one of which is "competence". It is this leg that appears to me to be shakiest when implemented as laid out in this book and applied to the business environment, because especially if your business needs some significant R&D work to get to the top, there will likely be a minimum level of IQ/training/experience/skill to get there. If you don't have this sort of talent in your organization, you will need to hire it. If you don't have the money for that sort of hiring, you are SOL. You may not be able to get to where you want to be with the existing staff you have. To put this in the sort of phrasing Marquet uses:

ENSURING KEY EMPLOYEES HAVE SUFFICIENT APTITUDE is a mechanism for COMPETENCE. (The book to read is Herrnstein and Murray's "The Bell Curve".)

And this is only aptitude. In a business, honesty is usually as important as aptitude. When an employee uses his aptitude to rip off the business (something probably not of much concern in an SSN, but which can spell disaster in a small business), you want to hope that with all the empowering (or the lack of disempowering that would otherwise harsh an employee's mellow) you have done, there are enough checks and balances to detect the theft before your business goes bankrupt. But it's better to not hire a dishonest person in the first place. Similarly, good salespeople are partly born and partly made, but mostly born. The difference between the best salespeople and the average is in orders of magnitude.

In summary, this is a great book, and no doubt L. David Marquet had great success in boosting morale and getting maximum leadership potential out of his men on the USS Santa Fe. The momentum generated by Marquet's leadership approach still evidently in effect when Marquet was no londer in command, is commendable. However, in order to generalize Marquet's model as outlined in his book to situations other than US naval vessels (i.e. businesses) will require understanding that ability is not uniformly distributed among people. If your existing employees do not have sufficient ability, this will need to be rectified before leader-leader can possibly work to the extent you would like it to.
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on October 3, 2012
I was aboard the USS Santa Fe for 2 years prior to Captain Marquet and 2 years WITH Captain Marquet. We were truly the worst boat in in Pearl Harbor. We were a disengaged crew and the most common phrase on the boat was FTN (use your imagination). Many crew members had that written in their hats. Everyone was getting out. When Captain Marquet came aboard this all changed. Pride crept back in. Guys started reenlisting. We were now proud to be Navy and proud of our boat!

David truly walks the walk. He immediately changed our culture. I personally benefitted from his empowerment approach. I was a naive farm boy with very little self confidence when he arrived. Under his leadership I qualified and stood watches normally reserved for officers. I was named 'Junior Leader of the Year' for the Sub Pac fleet. Getting out of the Navy had once been a no-brainer, but under Captain Marquet, it was the hardest decision I have ever made.

I am now a self confident and succesful leader and family man. I am also a leader who gives control and I have one of the happiest and most productive groups at our company. Since taking over our MFG floor, we have reduce LH by 35% and reduced quality hits by 90% all while reducing OT to near zero. It took a long time to get to this and it was very difficult at times, but David's philosophy works!
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on May 1, 2016
I found this book fascinating in its challenge of the well established leadership model assumption. The eloquent dismantling of the leader-follower model is wonderful. The leader-leader model that replaces it is even better! I served in the submarine fleet more than 12 years after Mr. Marquet commanded his boat, but the effects of his success are still readily apparent. My fellow nukes don't need to be told why that is so impressive but let me elaborate for others. Our culture in the Nuclear Navy is so unique and forcefully strong it's hard for an outsider to understand. In short, the devotion to excellence is so severe we have operated hundreds of reactors over millions of nautical miles, for over 60 years without a single process safety accident. This culture of excellence is so ingrained and so strong that for anything to change it those changes would have to be unquestionably profound. Mr. Marquet provided exactly that. He put those things in his book and translates them well to business, but I assure you, the proof of their value is in the fact that the Nuclear Navy has incorporated his concepts, and become better for it.
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on July 24, 2012
Yesterday I saw an article in the online version of Fast Company, "A Submarine Captain On The Power Of Leadership Language" which is a brief excerpt of Turn the Ship Around!: . Through the magic of Amazon's Kindle app I was able to download the book yesterday and I finished it last night. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to read the Fast Company article and then move right into the book. The article certainly captured my attention and the book was full of similar insight in short vignettes for each point. Taken together these vignettes tell a transformational story. There are a million books on vision and empowerment but the examples used to illustrate the points are cherry picked from many organizations and suffer from confirmation bias -- how many more books do we need giving us THE reason for Apple's success. Captain Marquet's focus on this one tour really brought home how all of his insights and discoveries built upon each other and how he actually changed a culture for the better in a lasting way.
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on December 27, 2015
I've been interested in communication and leadership styles and found this book among the most recommended. It didn't disappoint. The author gives a simple outline of management that isn't theoretical - it works. And that wasn't just his opinion - he backed it up with the spectacular performance gains of his 'company' (a nuclear submarine). By giving workers (sailors) control and responsibility he took his sub from being the worst performer to the best. No gimmicks, no 'empowerment', just common sense methods that changed a sub from being a gulag with a tyrant as captain to a true team effort that made sailors feel appreciated and valued. But his methods didn't just make his sailors feel better, it unleashed their talents into making things work better on the sub. It required a change in philosophy from the captain knows everything and is never wrong, to an admission that one person can't possibly run a submarine by themselves and that the people who perform the necessary jobs might be able to think of how to do them better. It took the atmosphere from one of inaction due to fear of making mistakes to one of actively solving problems and making real progress.

The author referred to previous navy models of the captain as an 'individual hero'. This is being in charge and trying to control everything that happened so that no one made any mistakes (leader-follower) model. It is an example of what I call fear-based-leadership and is probably the leadership model that is easiest to implement, but exhausting and crippling to group efforts that require cognitive thinking. For things like football teams or small organizations that don't rely on much thinking this can be successful, but to practically anything else it creates a climate of dread that people can't wait to get away from.

My only criticism is that in some places it was difficult to understand the technical sub language and the lack of clear explanation of what 'deliberate action' was. It was something that the author said was one of the most important parts of his success but yet I did not get a clear sense of what deliberate action involved on the sub, let alone what it might look like in a business organization.

It is remarkable that the military, one of the most closely monitored and outcome-based institutions, has not implemented this already. With the indisputable results it should be the model that all leaders are taught. The trick is, it takes a lot of work to let other people figure things out and not just solve a problem for them. And the results don't pay off immediately, but they are much longer-lasting. Human nature doesn't like change, and yet figuring out how to do things better is what made our species survive and thrive as well as we have.
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