Book Cover

In week eight of the re-read of L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around! we continue to explore the heart of Marquet’s leadership model.  This week the two chapters are Underway on Nuclear Power and “I Intend to . . .”. Chapter 11 is one of my favorites.

Chapter 10: Underway on Nuclear Power

The framing question for the chapter is, “Do you play “bring me a rock “in your organization, where vague understanding of the goal results in wasted time?

The chapter begins, 151 days before deployment, with the Santa Fe getting the permission to get underway on a training/shakedown exercise. There had been a delay due to the nagging issue of the crew trying to avoid mistakes rather than trying to achieve something great. The key example illustrated by Marquet in Chapter 10 centers on the preparation of the nautical charts for the exercise. The section, titled. “Perfect, but Irrelevant” foreshadows the message Marquet is sending in the example. The preparation of the nautical charts is a many-layered affair, comprised of numerous handoffs and reviews to prevent mistakes. What gets lost in the labyrinthian process of preparation, review, handoff, preparation review handoff, ad infinitum is consistency and at least occasionally the memory of the initial goal. Marquet notes something everyone focused on efficiency should remember. Steps are often added to avoid a specific problem but those steps are rarely reassessed and even more rarely removed. In the example in the book. the reviews where the focus on avoiding mistakes not on meeting the needs of the boat, so, delivered a perfect but irrelevant product.

Mechanism: Short, early conversations, make efficient work

The idea of short time boxes driven by conversation is very reminiscent of . . . agile!

Marquet uses the quote, “a little rudder far from the rocks is a lot better than a lot of rudder close to the rocks.“ This might have been a controversial statement in some quarters in 2012 when Turn the Ship Around was originally published however this saying is a representation of the core agile mindset found in many business disciplines in 2018 (perhaps someday the agile mindset will be ubiquitous).

Another set of learnings from this chapter include:

  1. Involve the people who do the work in developing a solution. Ensure that the people that are the most technically competent have a clear understanding of the goal they are trying to achieve. TRANSPARENCY
  2. Develop standards for data presentation. On page 75 Marquet indicated that they decided on leveraging ideas from Tufte (Visual Display of Quantitative Information – another must read) for consistently preparing the charts.

The last topic tackled in the chapter is on trust. The idea of early conversations might lead some people to feel that you do not trust them. Marquet separates two concepts that embody trust. The first is that the person believes what they are saying. If a person believes what they are saying they are not trying to mislead. Trust at this level in Marquet’s opinion is “purely a characteristic of human relationship.” Whether someone is correct or not is a matter of physics or a characteristic of the physical world. Questioning and testing the later has nothing to do with trust.

Chapter 11: I intend to…

The question that begins this chapter is, “How proactive are senior managers and employees in your organization?” As anyone that has been involved in an audit or assessment will confirm, inspection mentality is morale killer. All of the organization’s efforts are focused on avoiding mistakes and passing the test. During inspections, innovation and the future are on the back burner.

The chapter begins with Marquet ordering the boat ahead 2/3rds. There is no setting for ahead 2/3rds on the Santa Fe. The Officer of the deck (OOD) ordered the boat to execute the order even though it was not possible (and he knew it) BECAUSE the captain had ordered it! The example showed a return to the leader-follower mentality. Finding a way to further disrupt the leader-follower model was important to make progress to a leader-leader model.

Mechanism: Use “I intend to…” to turn passive followers into active leaders.

Use language as a mechanism for control. The use of the phrase “ I intend” shifts the ownership of the idea to the person making the statement from the person giving permission. The change shifts the leadership model from leader-follower to leader-leader. Marquet states that Steven Covey’s book, The Eighth Habit (I just put that on the re-read list) supports the use of phrases such as I intend to, I plan to, I will, and we will shift the equilibrium of power in relationships. Compare the difference in the impact a statement that begins “I would like” compared to “I intend” has on the power dynamic in a relationship.

The chapter goes on to trace the evolution of the “I intend” mechanism to include appropriate supplemental information so that Marquet have to ask less follow-on. The goal was to help the officers and crew to think at a higher level. I would suggest that the metaphor of a chess player would be appropriate, the goal is to help people think at least a few moves past the move that is in their head right now.

Turning the whole crew into active leaders is a tool for avoiding the seductive power of giving orders. Giving orders might energize the person giving the orders but can be debilitating and energy sapping to everyone else.

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

Previous Installments

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Forward and Introduction

Week 3: Pain and Business as Usual

Week 4: Change of Course and Frustration

Week 5: Call to Action and Whatever They Tell Me To Do!

Week 6: I Relieve You

Week 7: Change, In a Word and Welcome Aboard Sante Fe