Turn the Ship Around! Is a leadership book written by Captain L. David Marquet, USN (Ret.). The book explains Captain Marquet’s experience as a submarine commander and how he used the full potential of the crew to help guide the submarine’s actions despite his lack of knowledge of the type of submarine in which he was in command.
I first learned of Captain Marquet from Squadron Leadership School (SOS) with the USAF at Maxwell AFB. We viewed the YouTube video, as seen below, on how he dealt with his untimely change from one type of submarine to another. Instead of fighting the change, he embraced the change and used the time with the crew to empower their decision making and authority. This leadership approach is named the Leader-Leader Approach.
The Leader-Leader approach allows for leadership at all levels in a group. This type of approach requires the leader to relinquish control, instill confidence in the groups, and provide clarity of the goals of the group. The book is divided into three sections: Control, Competence, and Clarity as seen in the Leader-Leader Approach. Capt Marquet uses these principles and his experience in the U.S. Navy to teach others how to use the full potential of a group by instilling confidence and control into every involved.
I Intend to…
The largest emphasis in this book is the use of the phrase “I Intend to.” Capt Marquet believed that the crew onboard the USS Santa Fe had more experience and knowledge than himself on the day-to-day operations of the ship. The U.S. Navy had trained him to command a completely different submarine, the USS Olympia, and despite them both being submarines, they operated differently.
Capt Marquet used the method of “I Intend to” by allowing the members of the ship to make decisions and simply inform the captain, by saying something similar to “Captain, I intend to submerge the ship. We are in the water we own, water depth has been checked and is four hundred feet, all men are below, the ship is rigged for dive, and I’ve certified my watch team.” (page 94, Marquet) After the crewmember stated this, Capt Marquet would reply “Very well.”
The use of this type of control allowed members to understand what the captain would want to know before giving the green light to submerge the ship. Since the crew members understood the requirements for each task, they could work on any last checklist items before heading to the captain to inform him that everything was complete. This decentralized control also allowed the crew members latitude when making decisions because they understood the goal and could make decisions that would benefit the execution of the tasks.
Embrace the Inspectors
The first large takeaway from this book is the crew’s outlook on inspections. Captain Marquet explains that when inspectors would go onboard the Sante Fe, the crews would embrace the evaluations. The thought process was that if the crews did their best to ensure they accomplished their jobs safely and efficiently, the evaluations would take care of themselves. Crews viewed the inspectors as a source of information and solutions. The crews on board took it a bit further.
When inspectors arrived onboard, the crew members would show them what they needed to see, but then they would ask questions for specific areas when the crews could not fully solve a problem. An example is “I’ve been having a problem with this. What have you seen other ships do to solve it?” Most inspection teams found this attitude remarkable, and the Santa Fe would receive exception evaluations. Using this type of attitude towards inspectors allowed the crews to view inspections as an educational opportunity rather than a defensive time for the crew.
A New Method of Resupplying
In the summer of 2001 in the Strait of Hormuz, the Santa Fe needed oil for a small oil leak onboard. Because of their circumstances, they would not make a port call where the submarine could resupply from a foreign port while deployed. As the Santa Fe was looking around in their periscope, they spotted the USS Rainier, a fast combat support ship. The Rainier was assigned to the USS Constellation Battle Group.
The U.S. Navy requires all ship movement to be directed through the Daily Intentions Message (DIM) which requires at least 36 hours of notice to modify. Despite staring at the Rainier only a few miles away, protocol dictated that the Santa Fe couldn’t simply call up and receive supplies. Despite these requirements, Santa Fe decided to give it a shot and called up Rainier.
The Commanding Officer (CO) of the Rainier agreed to supply the Santa Fe as the CO had reinforced to his crew that they were there to support the U.S. Navy, and that trumped bureaucracy. This type of thinking is something I have seen in very small amounts in my time in the Air Force, and I believe there are many times where it is relevant and necessary to disregard the bureaucracy to ensure a mission’s success, safety, and efficiency. Captain Marquet echoes this when his submarine received an unscheduled underway replenishment from the Rainier.
Recommendation I highly recommend Turn the Ship Around to any young office in any military branch. It provides a magnificent set of examples and guides on how to establish a Leader-Leader environment for a group to ensure everyone can take ownership and make decisions, which unleashes cunning and initiative from the crews.