Turn The Ship Around! Book Review, Summary, and Notes

I also interviewed L. David Marquet, the author of the book; you can listen to the interview here.



📖 The Book in Three Sentences

  1. Leadership-leadership structures are more effective and humanitarian than leader-follower structures.
  2. Working with intent-based leadership requires a lot of mindfulness and effort.
  3. When people are empowered (emancipated) with clarity, competence, and necessary mechanisms, they can do their job better and even improve it further.

🙋Who Should Read It?

  • People who are in a leading position: leaders, managers.
  • People would like to become a leader.
  • Traditional leaders who are struggling with poor performance in a stressful environment.

🍀 How the Book Changed Me

How my life/behavior/thoughts/ideas have changed as a result of reading the book?
  • I'm looking in a little bit different way at work now. I can understand some intents behind some actions and clearly see some mistakes related to leader-follower structure.
  • My view on competency is strengthened. Competency is required to make the leader-leader system work, and it's easier to ensure competency and enhance intellectual capacity through ambitious learning and certification mechanisms.

🎩 My Top 3 Turn The Ship Around Quotes

"How has failure shaped you?"
"Don't move information to authority; move authority to the information."
"Begin with the end in mind."

📣 What is Turn The Ship Around About?

David Marquet, former navy captain of the nuclear-powered submarine USS Santa Fe, explains his success in one of the most top-down structures in the world, in the navy. The results from the leader-leader structure are impressive during crucial combat decisions. Emancipating competent people with clear goals is powerful. Once people take ownership of what they do, they do it better. They not only stop the lousy competition between themselves but also focus on improving the existing mechanisms set in stone beforehand.

A leader-follower structure is a passive structure. Since everything is on the leader's side, followers start making many mistakes when waiting for an order. Turning everyone into a leader (having a leader-leader approach) prevents many errors.

The success of Navy Captain David Marquet is one lesson for all leaders. However, I can't stop asking myself, "How can someone help to set up elements of the leader-leader structure in an organization when they are not a leader?"

⭐️ My Review

The story is excellent, and I was hooked right at the beginning.

Additionally, there are many questions at the end of each section that we can ask ourselves all the time. However, there are 100+ questions overall in the book. I felt overwhelmed. Although I loved the questions and would love to answer them, there are many. Once you have that many questions, I don't think people (including me) will take the time to answer them.

There are significant practical and applicable suggestions and recommendations throughout the whole book.

📝 Turn The Ship Around Summary and Chapter Notes

How has failure shaped you?

This a great question that everyone needs to think about before saying a word.

Reflection on oneself is a great deal. Learning what kind of leadership relationship you would like to create is a process. It takes time and experience. Once you see an excellent leader-leader structure, you cannot stop thinking about how much it empowers.

On the other side, the leader-follower approach is in the bones of the army. Also, a lot of leaders are using the same strategy in their current businesses.

The leader-follower structure is problematic because every responsibility lies in the leaders. Followers-only "follow orders" that leadership gives with no feeling of empowerment. After being in the system for a while, they stop thinking. They do what they have been told. In a leader-leader structure, everyone takes responsibility.

Correctness and punctuality are highly important in the army. The lives depend on these two terms. The leader-follower structure creates bottlenecks and blockers. People wait for orders instead of acting by themselves. When the leaders make every decision, they block things that are trivial for the business. These trivial tasks might be important for followers. Since the leader doesn't mind them, the followers lose motivation because of the unheard feeling.

When a mid-level leader wants to implement a leader-leader structure in the leader-follower organization, it ends with a disaster. Immature changes are problematic and end up with worse scenarios than before. While people still feel like followers, they cannot act like leaders, and mistakes happen.

What Should Leaders Do?

Ask with Curiosity

Asking questions has two sides: questioning and curiosity. Which one are you doing? When you ask questions to people, you either question them or ask them to learn. Once you go with curiosity, the truth rises in answers. People don't think you are judgmental and give the best answer they can. However, when you approach to question them, they start being defensive and try only to fulfill the need. If you are a manager and ask questions to learn something, your reports will give the best answer.

Monitoring Work of Subordinates

Top-down monitoring systems like tracking everything people do at work are not efficient. They don't work. However, you still need to collect data to monitor systems. But they should be used to make the invisible visible and identify problems to solve them. They should not be used to determine what junior personnel do or track people's work.

Give Ownership to People

If you want to give ownership, don't just preach and hope for the best. Implement mechanisms that will support ownership. People should use these mechanisms to own their domain instead of waiting for you to give ownership.

Communicate Decisions Informally

Personalization in the language is essential. If you constantly talk formally, you remove the sophistication and the touch of personality from the conversation. It also applies to the decisions. Decisions can be formal. But communication of decisions might be better in an informal way.

Think Out Loud

In discussions at work, encourage people to "think out loud." Do the same. Then people will stop thinking about authority and explain their opinions as well.

You might also encourage people with different techniques. For example, playing devil's advocate to bring different perspectives enables everyone to see the possible or invisible mistakes. Whenever you do this, say, "let me play devil's advocate" in the beginning. Encourage others to do the same.

Knowledge as a Noise

Especially in the information age, knowledge sharing might seem like a lot of noise. However, when the knowledge might affect someone else, then it definitely worth it.

Monitoring & Inspection to Learn

Embrace inspections and monitoring from third parties to check how you are doing. Don't consider them as a control mechanism. They are opportunities to learn. While investigators inspect, you can ask for a better solution they already know (and learned) from others.

Improve Competency with Mechanisms

Support improving competency on technical topics with mechanisms. Mechanisms ensure that the technical knowledge expands. These mechanisms include:

  • Saying the message multiple times
  • Taking deliberate action
  • Learning at every opportunity
  • Certifying the learning (tests) and competency
  • Specifying goals, not methods. (This is especially amazing. When you specify methods, you forget why you are doing what you are doing.)

Effectively Learn From Mistakes

How effectively do you learn from mistakes? Having different mechanisms, such as retrospectives, helps increase learning. But how effectively do you use these mechanisms? Clear intention for improvement and having follow-ups are crucial. You shouldn't have these mechanisms just for the sake of saying, "yes, we are doing." You need to use them effectively.

Autonomy and Ownership Requires Technical Capability

Giving control, autonomy, and ownership requires the person to have the necessary technical capability. If they lack the skills, they will make wrong calls and judgments.

Approach training as a way to increase decision-making authority. It makes people better at their job, and they start owning the decisions with more trust in themselves. Their fear dissolves in time. Increased competency means increased decision-making authority.

Continually and Consistently Repeat The Message

People forget. If you want people to change their minds or apply a new method, there is no other way than continually and consistently repeating the message. They will eventually learn. The problem is not their competence. When you want to give a message that they should follow, what alternative do you have? Changing the message halfway will only create confusion and a lack of direction.

Specify Goals, Not Methods

Specifying goals instead of methods creates confidence. When people focus on implementing methods to achieve a goal, they get stuck and forget the purpose. They only focus on implementing the process. When they focus on goals, they use the methods better and even figure out a superior approach.

Clarity Is Needed In The Organisation

Everyone needs to understand what you're trying to achieve fully. Since everyone is the decision-maker in the leader-leader organizations, they have to make decisions inlined with what the organization is trying to accomplish. If not, you will end up with suboptimal decisions.

Protecting Direct Reports at Work

Taking care of people in the organization doesn't mean keeping them safe from the results of their behavior and work. It means giving them tools, education, and an advantage to achieve their personal and professional goals in the best way.

Reward in The Moment

When you want to reinforce the desired behavior at work, you must recognize their achievements immediately. You need to reward them at the exact moment, not after a long time. Delayed rewards lose meaning, and you can have difficulty justifying achievements later on.

Set Clear and Measurable Goals

Begin with the end in mind. Writing up evaluations of 1, 3, and 5 years later and thinking ahead clears the mind and creates achievable goals. At the same time, these goals need to be measurable. You can't say "improve test results" as a goal. You need to define how much you want to improve. Do you want 30% or 50%? And these goals have to be aligned with the bigger goals in the organization.

Resilient Organisations Don't Allow Mistakes

Resilient organizations don't allow mistakes or errors. Even when the captain or CEO makes mistakes, competent people in the area can inform the leader and say, "No, you're wrong." This confronting attitude creates resilient organizations.

Teams Need Emancipation, Not Empowerment

Empowerment doesn't work without clarity and competence—it also results from the top-down structure. The leader empowers the team. That's why you need emancipation instead of empowerment. An emancipated team doesn't need empowerment. Because they don't need the power from the leader, when they have emancipation, they can act freely. Since they are competent and have a clear goal, they have the power to make better decisions.

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Book Review and Notes Last Updated: Sep 23, 2022