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This is one book about leadership that you should read!
on 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.