Turn Your Ship Around with David Marquet

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With me today is a top graduate of the US Naval Academy, David Marquet, who commanded the nuclear powered fast attack submarine, USS Santa Fe, from 1990 to 2001 and since leaving the Navy, David’s worked with businesses worldwide to create environments where people feel valued and contribute their all. So, welcome to the show, David.

Thanks. Thanks for having me on your show, Mark.

So, David, you wrote about your experiences commanding the USS Santa Fe in your book Turn Your Ship Around! So, what’s the book about and why is it relevant for the business leader in the world today?

Because it’s a book about people, it’s a book about an organization with bad morale and bad performance and at the last minute I got dropped in to be the captain taking over on short notice and the result of the story was all my preconceptions about how leadership should be, the role of leaders, were upended in ‘turning the ship around’ but the real power of the story is what happened over the next five, eight, ten years, where we ended up creating more leaders than in any other submarine, and I think a lot of business stories end with ‘and then things were going great and I left’, and ‘the next chapter might not be so wonderful but, you know, I’m not there so it wasn’t my fault’, and so this is one of the perspectives that changed for me which is basically, your achievement scorecard runs while you’re at an organization, your leadership scorecard starts counting the day you leave.

And I love that because in the book and in the workbook that you’ve recently released you talk about setting objectives with people, thinking about what happens three years after you’ve left your post versus what’s traditionally done which is, ‘What are you going to deliver for me this year?’, which is a very, very different focus but also, I guess, draws out completely different behaviors from people as well?

Exactly. You know, it’s the difference between owning a car and renting a car. If you have a longer-term perspective you’re going to take better care of it. All investments in human beings are long-term investments. All of them. So, if you don’t have a long-term perspective, you’re not going to invest. When I say invest I mean things like spending the time to allow someone to make mistakes, to learn so that they can make the decisions tomorrow that you were making yesterday.

So, let’s get into what that looks like because I think you talk about how the Naval Academy leadership book defines leadership as, let me just quote here, as ‘Leadership is the art, science or gift by which a person is enabled and privileged to direct the thoughts, plans, and actions of others in such a manner as to obtain and command their obedience, their confidence, their respect and their loyal cooperation.’ So, day one, as you step on to your submarine, how were you going to bring this very clearly defined model of leadership into the crew? What was going through your mind on day one, and what happened?

Let’s go back to it for a second. ‘Direct the thoughts’, right? So, here’s what happened to me. I came up through the ranks, doing well with that model, telling people what to do, and then I was selected for Submarine Command and I was trained for a year for one ship. At the very last minute, I went to a different submarine because it was having trouble and I only had two weeks. So, normally you would have spent all this time, twelve months learning the ship because you would be the person to give all the orders and tell everyone what to do, but when I walked on-board the Santa Fe I didn’t have that preparation. Of course, we still fell into the old model of, ‘Oh, I’m going to tell you guys what to do and you’re going to do it’, and I quickly ran into trouble.

And there was a specific example, I think, when you were trying to – I’m going to get my language wrong here – but get the ship, or submarine, underway and there was a piece around how many forward gears does it have, and your lack of knowledge about the specifics of the submarine was out there for everyone to see in all its glory, right?

Yeah, I was exposed. Really, the guys already sort of knew but basically, we were running an exercise. What we like to do on a nuclear submarine is pretend the reactor is broken. You only have one reactor and it provides the main propulsion and electricity for the ship, so when the reactor’s broken, there’s this very strong sense of stress to get the reactor repaired so you can start having power and electricity again. So, this is the exercise we were running, and we had this electric backup motor. Now, I thought I had two gears, like first gear, second gear, like every other submarine I’ve been on but actually the Santa Fe, being one of the newest ships in the Navy, only had one gear. I gave the order, ‘Let’s shift into second gear’. That wasn’t the shock, that I didn’t know it, the shock was the officer ordered it. And I asked him later, I said, ‘Why…did you know?’ He goes, ‘Yes I did’. ‘But why did you order it?’ ‘Because you told me to.’ And this really rocked my world and I got my guys together and said, ‘Hey,’ – you know, I did the normal thing like, ‘You guys need to take initiative’ and ‘You guys need to speak up’ and ‘If I say something that doesn’t make sense I need you guys to tell me’, and this one sort of snarky kid in the back raises his hand and says, ‘Well, Captain, how about we just skip that step?’ and I’m like, ‘What are you talking?’ ‘You know, the step where you give the bad order and then we have to fix it?’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you just stop telling us what to do?’. And I thought about that and my normal picture is like, you lean in, right, which means lean down. I’d lean into my direct reports. I direct them, they report, and then they lean, and they lean and so the whole organization is leaning down, and what I wanted to do is I wanted everyone to lean up, and if I’m leaning down you can’t lean up because there’s a collision, so I have to lean back. As a leader, I have to lean back. And I can’t tell you how many times when my instinct was, ‘Oh, I know what has to happen here, I’ve seen this movie before, this is all we need to do’, and I would have to bite my tongue and pause and invite the team to spend some time on coming up with the answer, but those pauses were very important because that’s when the team is developing their leadership muscle. So, I think about it now, first of all, that’s the framework you want. You want to lean back and invite your people to lean forward, but I think about it like, there are these plays that you do over and over again as a leader and this pause is a very important play because it’s when you decide you’re controlling time rather than your time is controlling you.

And you touched in the intro on some of the results that you were able to create which endured long after the moment that you’d left the submarine had passed. Can you say a little bit about those and what’s the cause and effect? What’s the causality here that you’ve subsequently reflected on, if you like?

Yeah, so this was a story that evolved with time. While we were on the submarine, great things happened. We set records for morale, retention, keeping people in the Navy, and performance, and all that was wonderful, but the other thing that happened was more subsequent submarine captains were picked from this crew than any other ship and that took ten years to play out, and I think one thing is a lot of organizations don’t have the patience to see the impact of that and so what happens is if you’re leaning in, if you’re a lean in leader and you’re saying, ‘Do this, do this, do this’, you can achieve the short-term gains but then as soon as you leave, things go back. And it’s a system which is closely coupled to the decision-making ability of a single person versus if you can create a system and your developing thinkers and leaders at every level, what happens is you get a much stronger, resilient system because it’s that decision-making which triggers ownership, and ownership and responsibility are how you inoculate yourself against stupid decisions. So, even though it feels slower, those pauses, ‘Well, what do you guys think? You know, why don’t you go take half an hour and come back’, they feel like you’re delaying progress, they’re really building a very strong, resilient agile team where the focus is on ownership and decision-making. You’re building decision-making capacity which to me was really, really important.

Because this is one of the points that I think you make, it came out of the workbook as well, this distinction between reducing variability and increasing variability.


Maybe you can just, because it’s such a key distinction, it’s a fundamentally different perspective or lens that you’re looking at your world through, can you say a little bit about that distinction and how it plays out in the submarine?

Yeah so, what I found I really wanted more of was people thinking and making decisions and being thoughtful and offering suggestions, but we were well grounded in, I would say, reduced variability cultures, so in other words, and this is kind of what you want when you’re operating a nuclear reactor, you say, ‘ Here are the steps to start it up’, you want to progress through those steps step by step without variability, without deviation, right? You want to be confident that people aren’t going, ‘Well, that’s too hard, let’s just take a shortcut’, you don’t want that for operating nuclear reactors. So, the culture was very attuned to reducing variability and it just struck me one day that all the language that we used, and the meetings, and the way we ran meetings, basically, the whole organization was exquisitely tuned to achieve reduced variability. All manufacturing organizations are tuned to reduced variability, and what happens is when you want innovation, obviously, you need to embrace variability and variety of ideas as a minimum. So, what it felt to me was that these language patterns, these phrases that we would use over and over again, were designed to reduce variability as opposed to enhance it. I’ll give you a very simple example which is, ‘Are you sure?’ If someone comes up and says, ‘Hey, I think we should turn left not right’. ‘Are you sure?’ And you know we ask it because maybe, we’re testing the person’s resolve, I don’t know why, but the idea is now I get a binary response, either yes or no and generally it’s yes, you’re not really allowed to say no, so I’ve reduced what could be a very nuanced – we don’t go to the weatherman and say, ‘Is it going to rain tomorrow? Are you sure?’ The weathermen get away with 60-80% so that’s a much more variable response but you have to ask the question, ‘How sure are you?’ and invite ‘I am 60% sure’, and so, we had to convert our language of certainty and unambiguous belief that we knew what the story was to uncertainty and ambiguity, and it started with me asking questions that invited ambiguous responses.

Yeah, and now this, I guess, the distinction here is this is for solving problems that perhaps hadn’t been encountered before versus the step-to-step, the basic steps of firing up a nuclear sub which one wouldn’t want to encounter, I mean, one would imagine it’s pretty sequenced and the process is pretty clear for numbers of steps, right?

Exactly. So, the problem, at the end of the day, what happens is you’re alternating. You’re either deep into reduced variability language and you’re following steps or you’re deep into embraced variability language and you’re inviting dissenting opinions and those kind of things, and so we would have to alternate then, so we needed to signal to each other which of these two are we in because what I saw, the tendency was leaders – when I talk to leaders now and I say, ‘Would you be comfortable directing, kind of in a pretty controlling way, some steps?’ I don’t say starting up a reactor because that usually gives it away but some manufacturing steps. ‘Well not really.’ Well, that’s the wrong answer because there are times when we need to be very controlling but there are other times we want to release, we want to control the structure but not the content, so I think what happens is people have this sort of middle ground that they don’t stray from so, it’s neither appropriate for embracing variability nor is it exquisitely tuned for reducing variability, it’s sort of mush, and I’d rather tune ourselves into two sets of languages, two sets of behaviors, two sets of mindsets. So, the mindset is we have a ‘proving’ mindset when we’re in production work in the reduced variability work and we have an ‘improve’ mindset when we are in embraced variability learning work, decision-making work.

Yeah, so that’s similar to the other dimensions, you know, you talked about avoiding errors versus achieving excellence?

Yeah, this was really important because this determines whether the organization is biased for activity or passivity. The organization is about achieving excellence. You can’t achieve excellence by just sitting down, you’ve got to go do something. You’re going to skin your knee, you’re going to fall down but if your objective is to avoid errors. I was in a major corporation in Switzerland and they had this poster on the wall of the CEO pointing his finger out of the poster saying, ‘One mistake is one mistake too many.’ Well, this organization has been written up in the Wall Street Journal as being, let’s just say, not agile, and slow moving, and there’s the direct link. If the message is don’t screw up, the best way to do it is to not be bold, not make decisions, stay back in your cubicle, hide from decision-making and don’t move forward, so it has this very subtle but very strong, pervasive, it’s like the tide, right? You don’t notice that it’s happening but next thing you know, you’re two feet under water.

And of course, the language which I referred to when I was quoting out of the leadership book, the language, it tells a story, right? ‘Commanders, direction, obedience,’ and it’s interesting how you use language almost to signal to your team that you are going from one domain to a different domain where there’s more ambiguity, there’s more diversity, there’s more pausing and asking questions essentially.

Yeah, exactly. So, here’s another example. Let’s say you’re going to load a torpedo or you’re running a power plant, or you’re running an assembly line. You’re about to start the line, you’re about to start the next production shift, you’re about to load the torpedo, we would get together and do a brief. This is what everybody in the Navy was told to do. Get together, brief your team. OK, well, the word ‘brief’ implies one person talking and a bunch of people being told what to do and that’s exactly what a brief was. ‘OK, you do this, you do this, watch out for that’, and then we go do it, so that’s again reducing variability, it’s a reduced variability thing. Now, the thing is once you’re in the process you want to be reduced variability but when we’re talking about ahead of time that’s an embraced variability moment, that’s when you want to be making a decision, should we go into the process? So, we changed the work to a certification and we said, ‘Hey, we’re about to load the torpedo? What’s your job? Tell me what you’re going to do. Do you think we’re ready? How ready are we? What tools do you have?’ and only then would we make a decision, ‘Yes, we’re ready, let’s move forward’. Now we’ve shifted into, ‘OK, we’ve done the thinking, now we’re in the doing’ as opposed to what I just saw was doing, doing, doing. You go to the hospital, they say ten o’clock we’re going to roll you in for your appointment. Ten o’clock comes us, ‘Oh, roll him in.’ ‘Are we ready?’ ‘Yeah, we went through the steps.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Maybe, maybe not.’ I’ve yet to meet a person come out and say, ‘Yeah, I had an appointment and the surgeon came out and said, “I checked with my team, I don’t think we’re ready, we’re going to hold off.”’ Never happens. Why? They’re not making a decision, they’re just going through the schedule.

Yeah. Now you touched on something earlier on where you talked about the diversity which is so important in this variability, and I’m curious, where does diversity come from on a submarine? Obviously, you’ve got what I call identity diversity which is male and female and maybe you’ve got some demographic diversity, but what about diversity of perspective, because most of these people, I guess, would have come through the same kind of training, they’ve got similar backgrounds perhaps, so where did you find diversity? How do you nurture it or embrace it or even uncover it?

Yeah, you’re right. I think the Navy basically did the best job possible at crushing as much diversity as possible. We’re pushing everybody into the same mould, to think, act and behave in the same way but despite that, people came, they had world diversity, a lot of times people would say – like, I would make the weapons officer check with the engineer or the navigator on some course of action and people would say, ‘Well, that’s not in their domain, why would you do that?’ Because it’s a different opinion from another smart person who’s also interested in having the submarine do the right thing and us all coming back home alive. So, checking with the person to the left and the right of you, and what I see is a lot of organizations spending a lot of time bringing in identity diversity but then we sort of mould them into the same organization, the same thinking. Here’s another example. When you run a meeting, let’s say you have to make a decision. Are we going to launch the product on time or are we going to delay? We’ve got one more feature we want to add but it requires delaying the product launch. You’ve got to make a decision. Most people say, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ ‘OK, now what do you guys think? Launch or delay?’ and everybody puts their thumb up or down. The way that meeting was run will guarantee you reduced diversity of thought, so you have to ask the people first before you contaminate them with the discussion. ‘Hey, we’re here to talk about this situation, what does everybody think?’ Then they vote on a range from one to ninety-nine. ‘One,’ – and there’s no zero and no one hundred because we can’t be certain about the future – ‘I feel very strongly that we should launch on time.’ ‘Ninety-nine, I feel very strongly that we should delay the launch and incorporate the feature.’ OK, now I’ve exposed diversity in the group and now I go to those outliers and we embrace their views, we say, ‘What do you see that we don’t see?’ And another thing we would do is, I would say, ‘Well, explain their position.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I want you to justify the opposite position that you’re seen to be advocating.’ So, there are all these different things you can do to stretch your brain and to think – we also would have opposite day where I would say, ‘What if the opposite is true?’ So, everyone thinks one thing, well, what if actually the opposite is true? And we’d have interesting thought experiments about that and sometimes we’d come to the conclusion that the opposite actually probably the better way. You know, ‘What are you supposed to do as a leader?’ ‘Tell people what to do, make decisions.’ ‘OK, what if the opposite is true? What if your job as a leader is to avoid making as many decisions as possible but to create a team that can make decisions without you.’ ‘Wow, well that’s actually pretty interesting.’ So, these are the kind of mental games that we would play in order to encourage people to think, and the other things is, I think most people are thinking these things, it’s just we’ve got to get it out of their head, we’ve got to invite it out of their heads, we’ve got to make it safe for them to come out of their heads.

Yeah, well, I think you mentioned this idea ‘red teaming’ which you describe as ‘flex the opposing view muscle’ which is really uncovering some of the biases that might be implicit in people’s perspective. Was that something that the Navy initiated? That was a process that the Navy implemented or a standard operating procedure, basically?

It’s a standard thing at a very high level when you’re doing, like, war games, but for routine decisions that happen on the submarine, it wasn’t really a process, but because it’s kind of this big, ponderous thing. You set up a team and you have briefs, I would just play the dissent card, ‘OK, you take the opposing view. Explain what the opposing view would be.’

I can imagine this takes time for these muscles to be built-in on the submarine but after two years, I guess, the things were in place which enabled you to move on and the momentum to continue. So, I’m curious, has the leadership book that I referred to earlier on, has that been updated in any way or was this submarine a one-off, a sort of a fat tail?

The Navy’s leadership book actually changed, it doesn’t have that definition anymore. It’s kind of a bureaucratic and academic book now, I also don’t really like it. You know, it’s a slow-moving organization and if you go on any submarine now you’ll hear, ‘I intend to’, our keywords were ‘I intend to.’ You don’t ask for permission, tell us what you intend to do and those words trigger ownership and a thoughtfulness that doesn’t come with, ‘OK, Boss, what do you want me to do next?’

Yeah, and you mentioned a couple of minutes ago this idea of getting it out of people’s heads and what you’re doing here, I guess, is using language to get people to step in and demonstrate a biased reaction with that phrase, ‘I intend to’?

Exactly, a biased reaction.

Interesting, interesting. So, just beginning to wrap this up, you now work in the corporate world. As you said, you’ve been here in Switzerland talking to some of these companies, and I’m not going to guess which one it is, not on air anyway, but going into the corporate world, I guess, a lot of people are listening who are in the corporate world and saying, ‘Well, surely it’s a very unique environment in a submarine.’ I mean, one of the most unique things in the Navy is that if you lose a ship or if even a ship goes aground, the commander automatically is fired irrespective of whether they are actually responsible for it, whose fault it was, which is very different from the corporate world where often you see people actually presiding over failures and being rewarded for it. So, it’s a very unique, unique environment but what resonates from this story when you’re talking to executives in the corporate world? Where do these two worlds come together, David?

So, it’s about people and it’s about things like what do you do all day long and how do you feel? An executive says, ‘What I do all day long is I run around, I go meeting, meeting, meeting, I am presented information, I make decisions, I go home, have my cell phone on all weekend in case some disaster befalls us and I’m exhausted.’ And I say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if rather than having all that happen, that your people would come to you with thoughtful analysis and that they can make decisions which were if not the same as yours maybe even better because they’re actually closer to the information than you are? They have the perspective that you have? Whatever magic sauce you think you have that allows you to make decisions better, if that was just spread throughout the whole organization, you’d cancel half your meetings and the ones you went to were only half as long?’ ‘Wow, that would be amazing.’ ‘So now your mind has opened up to think about the competitor that you haven’t seen or a new product cannibalizing your own sales, whatever it happens to be, think at a higher level.’ ‘Yeah, that would be awesome.’ ‘OK, well then step one is stop running around and telling people what to do.’

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

‘I can’t afford that, everything will grind to a halt.’ Well, that’s because you have a biased – that’s because people are trying to avoid errors, so let’s flip it and create teams that are trying to achieve excellence. Anyway, that seemed to resonate with people. 

And, I guess, it’s making the distinction between variability reducing and increasing variability based on the kind of work that people are doing but then, I guess, also it’s leaning back, it’s pausing, it’s asking the questions. Are these the kind of things that once the executive says, ‘OK, David, you’ve got me. Now, what else do I do?’, what are the things that people can do out of the gate to get this out of their head and into action and into their organization? Are there a couple of things that are no-brainers for people?

Yeah, so listen very carefully to the language, and anytime you automatically make a reaction, those words are Industrial Age words. If it feels like natural language it’s because they’ve been embedded in the language over the last five hundred years and they’re Industrial Age words, and Industrial Age words are designed to reduce variability, so, almost guaranteed, any sort of natural sounding phrase is a reduced variability phrase and that comes to how we run meetings and that kind of thing. I say when you go out to a restaurant, don’t order. Turn to the waiter and say, ‘You pick my meal for me’ and try and assess their reaction. How safe do they feel doing that? Because you can practice. First of all you may have some anxiety, I’m not saying, ‘Give me three choices and I’ll pick’, because that’s still retaining control, I want you to give up control in this very safe way, and you’ll assess their reaction, and this is exactly the skill you need to develop at work because some of your people when you say, ‘I’d really like you to step into that and tell me how you would run it’ are going to be like, ‘Great, get out of the way.’ Some of them are going to be much more reluctant and you’ve got to build up that trust in the muscles. So, practice not telling people what to do. All day long we end up telling people what to do, we don’t even realize. I’d put a group on break, I would say I’m running an all-day workshop, ‘Hey, be back at noon’, I’m telling people what to do, so now I say I will start at noon and I invite them to be adults and choose whether to be back at noon or not.

And I guess the point is it’s not just how do your employees or your team feel but also, how do you feel, because this probably feels hugely uncomfortable to people, even giving up the control of what they’re going to eat let alone for what’s going to happen to the business?

Right. So, I always thought when I felt uncomfortable that I was doing it wrong. People throw around,  ‘Go out of your comfort zone’, which I think a lot of times they don’t actually know what that means. For me, there are no natural leaders. Natural leaders are people who act against their own instincts because your instincts are to be in control, climb to the top of the social hierarchy, have a bigger office with thicker carpet and separate yourself from the masses in some grandiose way. That’s what your wiring wants, that feels good, so, that’s what your wiring’s going to tell you to do. What leaders do is they do the opposite. They give control, they flatten the power gradient, they put themselves in the middle of the warehouse where they’re highly accessible to the people around them, they don’t scare people and they don’t put themselves on a pedestal. They deliberately level the playing field so when people come up, they feel more comfortable expressing their doubts, fears, vulnerabilities, and ambiguities. So, it’s nothing hard, it just feels wrong.

There was something in the book which resonated with me is ‘You know you’re doing something right when it feels really wrong.’ I mean, different language but that was reassuring for me because I was often thinking, ‘Hey, am I doing this right or not because it certainly feels pretty tough’ but that’s probably a good indicator, actually.

Right. Yeah and I’m talking there about the culture and how we are interacting, I’m not talking about a particular decision especially if there are safety or moral implications. In that case, oftentimes your gut is a good indicator.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, David, I’d like to just wrap up now with three questions which I sent you earlier. The first one – what have you changed your mind about recently?

I’ve really warmed up to emotions. I was a physics major, a nuclear submarine captain, and for a long time, emotions were sort of a symbol of weakness and distraction, that we were just cool, rational people, and now based on just what I’ve been reading and thinking about, I think emotions are actually your rational brain on fast forward. They’re based on thousands of years of experience and they’re critical to making decisions, and so, when we try and remove emotions from work we are making it harder for us to make decisions. The problem is emotions can lead us astray, so, we need to know when those emotions should be trusted and when they shouldn’t be trusted but removing emotions I don’t think is the right answer. We want to embrace emotions at work and make it safe to express, be vulnerable by expressing them ourselves, things like ‘I’m really worried, I’m concerned, I’m losing sleep over this’, and making it safe for the people around us to express their emotions.

Got it, got it. OK, secondly, where do you go to get fresh perspectives to help you solve problems and make decisions? What do you do personally, David?

I do a lot of reading and the other thing is I have the fortune of travelling a lot, so when I go to different cities – I used to, when I first started traveling, I would go someplace, then airport, hotel, sleep, wake up, speak, airport, fly out, and it quickly became sterile, I guess, and so now I always have what I call my ‘plus one’, where I would say ‘Where can I go here?’, physical places for some reason, like a statue or a battlefield or a museum, and in my sort of engineer mind I’m always drawn to the Natural History Museum or something like that, but I would try and do something different. Children’s books, I think, are a good source of inspiration because they have a high degree of integrity and there’s a simplification and honesty to them that sometimes lacking.

Interesting, interesting. OK. Yeah, it reminded me of the story of the Talking Heads lead singer, David Byrne, he hated doing all this travel after a while because he was on his world tour so he always takes his fold-up bike and he has a day before and a day after his concert just biking around the cities because he’s a very avid cyclist and he said it’s absolutely transformative, the whole experience of being a world-class rock star as was anyway.

Yeah, well, that’s cool too!

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Third question – what’s been your most significant failure or low, and what have you learned from it and how have you applied that learning?

Well, the easy question, if I were being a bit of a coward I would say, well, you know with my giving ahead the two-thirds order-

But let’s not do that!

Yeah, so, to kind of be a little braver, what happened to me was later in the Navy and at the Pentagon, I was sort of thrust back into a very traditional environment where the people around me were adhering to that leadership definition that you read. They were directing the thoughts, plans, and actions of others. So, I was thrown into a place where my boss thought it was his job to direct my thoughts and it felt crappy and especially since I’d seen this window into another world, and I reacted poorly to it. On the one hand, I don’t think I set boundaries well. I didn’t protect myself from what I thought was being treated badly and I feel regretful about that, and the other thing is I kind of flip-flop between being a ‘yes man’ and just sort of being passive-aggressive obstinate. Anyway, neither of those were very mature responses. So, I think now that I think about my kids and I think about what I went through, the one thing I regret is any time you let yourself be treated badly that we always have an excuse for it, ‘Well, I want to be a team player’, ‘Well, I want the next promotion’, ‘Well, I’m making so much money here,’ ‘Well, I can’t afford to lose my job’, and I really think those things take a toll on you more than you might expect and I would encourage people if you feel like you’re in an environment – I mean, it’s one of the worst things we can do, is have a work that we don’t feel valued because we take those toxins home and we create a bad environment for everybody around us and think hard about that. Do you really need that?

Yeah, well, also with the kids because they pick it up, and you’re actually signaling that it’s OK to –  you’re tolerating it and you get what you tolerate in life, right, and if you tolerate that kind of stuff then the kids think that’s what life is all about which is a very biased or unbalanced way of looking at the full opportunities facing the youth of today.

Yeah, and there’s a lot of stuff out there about the millennials being lazy, smashed avocado on toast, being spendthrifts, and I guess, maybe because my kids are all in their 20’s to low 30’s, I have a little bit of a different perspective and I’m a little bit jealous because I think they have an opportunity, like it’s easier for them to say, ‘No, take this job and stuff it’, than I think it was for us or our parents or grandparents and in a way I’m envious but also I think it’s valuable because employers who don’t treat their people well are going to have no people which I think is actually awesome.

Yes, well the power shifted, hasn’t it?


So, David, where can people get in touch with you? I think you’re on LinkedIn, Twitter as well you’re quite active, I think?

Yeah, so feel free, I’m on LinkedIn, L. David Marquet. We have a website www.davidmarquet.com. A Facebook page, Twitter @ldavidmarquet. Connect up, say ‘Hi’, and let us know how our things are going. On our website, we have ‘Tell my story’ and we get some great stories of people who are doing this, and they’re given control of their teams and they’re having amazing results and they’re talking about their people doing amazing things, loving their jobs, and achieving greatness.

Brilliant, brilliant. We’ll put that all in the show notes, but really very grateful for your time, David, today. I’m glad we managed to connect up and as I say, we’ll put the details of the book on the site as well, and I look forward to keeping in touch and next time you’re in Switzerland, look us up.

Yeah, for sure, I would love to.

Thanks very much indeed.

Alright. Take care.

Cheerio. Bye.

In this episode, we are joined by David Marquet, who was the Captain of the USS Santa Fe from 1990 to 2001 and now works as a leadership expert with businesses worldwide. We cover his book, Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking Rules, which has been recently re-released with a new companion workbook.

What Is Covered

  • Why it is essential to have a longer-term perspective in your people development processes. Because while achievement scorecard runs while you’re at an organization, your leadership scorecard starts counting the day you leave
  • Why leadership should be centered on ‘leaning back’ and inviting your team to ‘lean forward’
  • Why David believes it is important to alternate between two sets of behaviors, languages, and mindsets to optimize between production and  decision-making scenarios

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • How pausing – and fighting the urge to take immediate action – is essential to developing the  ‘leadership muscle’ of a team
  • The differences between a ‘prove’ and ‘improve’ mindset and how to signal to your team which mindset should be adopted in different situations
  • Actions to create a system thinkers and leaders at every level, how this develops organizational resilience and inoculates it against stupid decisions
  • How leaders need to ‘flatten the power gradient’, to make themselves accessible and create the environment for others to contribute

Links and Resources Covered in this Episode

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Mark Bidwell

Mark Bidwell

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