Book Cover


In week four of the re-read of L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around! we tackle Chapters three and four. These two chapters, titled Change of Course and Frustration, continue to build the basis for Marquet’s leadership model.

Chapter 3: Change of Course

Marquet opens the chapter with the question, “What’s your level of commitment?” The question sets the tone of the chapter. As noted in chapter 2, Captain Marquet spent nearly a year preparing to take over the USSN Olympia only to have his assignment changed at the last moment to the Santa Fe. Marquet’s mentor pushed his assignment to the Santa Fe because he believed that David’s enthusiasm for learning gave him a unique tool to turn the Santa Fe around. The need to turn the Santa Fe around wasn’t an overstatement. The Santa Fe was the boat that everyone joked about. The reputation was horrible and that affected the crew retention rate. In 1998, only three of the sailors from the Santa Fe up for reenlistment stayed. Restaffing and retraining staff in ANY business is expensive.

The Santa Fe was to deploy in six months.  Marquet had to get things under control, ready the boat for deployment, and begin a major culture change with any change to the schedule.

One luxury Marquet was able to draw on was that his boss (who was also his mentor) recognized that he could not micromanage the situation if there was going to be any chance of real change occurring. Having a boss that would support him and stay out of the way meant that implementing a new leadership style might be a possibility.

Chapter three defines the classic burning platform which is always helpful to generate an impetus for change but also highlights the need for a change agent (Marquet) and support from senior leadership (his mentor).

Chapter 4: Frustration

Marque opens chapter four with the question, “Are you curious?” This might seem like an innocuous question, but it strikes at motive. Marquet begins chapter four by distinguishing between being curious and questioning. When you are curious you are gathering information so that you will know more. When you are questioning your motive is to test someone else’s knowledge. The distinction is important to the story because even though the Santa Fe and Olympia are both Los Angeles class submarines they are different models within the class. The difference meant that the technical specifications Marquet had learned preparing for the Olympia were not going to be useful.

When Marquet joined the Santa Fe prior to the turnover of command he was not given a place to work from. I took the inclusion of this small fact as an indication of a larger issue on the boat. As Marquet wandered around the boat the majority of the crew would acknowledge him, but would not make eye contact (Marquet used the phrase, “grunt and look at their shoes”). In his walks through the ship, Marquet would ask crew people about their equipment. The crew met questions with skepticism. The crew felt that he was testing their competence rather than being curious so he could learn. When Marquet realized what was happening he changed his approach, pairing one his chiefs (a chief is a senior enlisted crewmember that leads other enlistees) and leveraging a standard set of questions. This approach helped to establish trust so that the crew would answer candidly.

On the Santa Fe Marquet’s lack of technical knowledge allowed him to focus on people rather than equipment. This would later be a great benefit because it forced him to build a relationship with the crew outside of the classic leader-follower model. He did note that “I am not advocating being ignorant about the equipment.”

Asking questions is a core technique when building relationships or when coaching. The problem is that until a relationship of trust is established it is easy to interpret questions as questioning or testing rather than being curious. Marquet concludes the chapter by asking the question, “Are you asking questions to make sure you know or to make sure they know?”


Remember to buy a copy of the book and re-along: Turn the Ship Around!

Previous Installments

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Forward and Introduction

Week 3: Pain and Business as Usual