Book Cover

In week five of the re-read of L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around! we tackle chapters five and six.  These two chapters, titled Call to Action and Whatever They Tell Me To Do! continue to tell the stories that form the basis for Marquet’s leadership model. 

Chapter 5: Call to Action

Marquet begins Chapter 5 with the question, “when was the last time you walked around your organization to hear about the good, the bad, and the ugly of top-down management?” The first time I read Turn The Ship Around I didn’t notice that all chapters begin with a core question that the author uses to unite the chapters. I am not sure why I didn’t notice it before, but it is an interesting technique that I am going to consider emulating.

In Chapter 5, Marquet recounts how he developed a sense for the crew of Santa Fe. Breaking with the procedure, which was to review all of the boat’s records for the next two weeks, Marquet choose a different path. Pairing with department chiefs, Marquet learned by walking around and interacting with the crew. Having the chief with him let him learn rather than having crew members perceive Marquet being on an inspection tour. One of the interesting stories buried in the chapter revolves around Marquet finding that the ships flashlights were useless. He bought his own high-power flashlight and then later observed that others on the crew quickly emulated him and upgraded their kit without him having to order them (a first break in the leader-follower model).

Another story illustrated the corrosive nature of the leadership model being used on the Santa Fe. The department heads held a recurring meeting with the Captain to discuss their departments. The department heads trickled into then meeting late then called for the Captain to join the meeting. Consider the power moves in that scenario. Those that came late are stating their time is more important than others and then the Captain appears almost regally. Meeting etiquette is often a mirror that can expose deeper organizational issues. During the meeting long discussions of issues that only affected one department occurred. Like a bad daily stand-up meeting, allowing in-depth discussions of specific problems involving only a few people generates BOREDOM.

Frustration was the order of the day for the entire management of the Santa Fe. Translating vision into action was difficult because the layers of permission and bureaucracy built into the leader-follower model. In the leader-follower model frustrated leadership is directly transmitted to followers. On the Santa Fe leadership issues translated into the crew hunkering down and doing only what was absolutely needed.

Marquet concludes the chapter by recognizing that there was a spark within the crew to do better and be better. The flashlight story was a recognition that change was possible on the Santa Fe, therefore was going to be possible to turn the ship around.

Chapter 6: Whatever They Tell Me To Do!

The question that begins the chapter is, “What goes on in your workplace every day that reinforces the notion that the guys at the top are the leaders and everyone else is simply to follow?” I suggest reflecting on this question for a few minutes before reading this chapter. Our behavior has a long-term impact on those we interact with. The question at the start of the chapter to serve as a tool to facilitate introspection.

The walkabout (Marquet’s version of managing by walking around) is one of the tools I have pulled from the pages of Turn the Ship Around. Walking around gets leaders outside of the gravity well they create around them and provides a more diverse set of inputs. In Chapter 6 Marquet recounts the story of asking a crewman the open-ended question “What do you do?” The response was, “whatever they tell me to do.” In the story, Marquet asked the question to a key chief petty officer in the nuclear control center. The response is cynical and reflects a person distancing them from the responsibility for their actions and their responsibility to lead. In a nutshell, the cynicism and establishing a hard partition between leader and follower illustrates the problem with the leader-follower model.

On a similar note, describing parts of the same organization as “they” is troubling. Boundaries make empathy, communication, and innovation difficult. I often hear troubled teams using we/they words to try to identify someone to blame their performance and woes on. This is not behavior that highly functional organizations exhibit.

Marquet culminates the chapter with a story that illustrates another side of the we/they problem. The executive officer (XO) on the Santa Fe required department heads to check out each day before they retired to reinforce that he was in charge of them and to ensure that they completed the work they owed to him. The we/they model generated by a leader-follower culture generates an environment of forced oversight.

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

Week 4: Pain and Business as Usual