Saturday, August 9, 2014

'Turn the Ship Around!' Emancipation Leadership

Review by Bill Doughty

Here's a paradox:

More leadership creates more unthinking followership; less top-down leadership creates more engaged leadership – at every level of an organization.
How can a Navy leader build trust, ownership, competency and passion in their workforce?  "Tap into the existing energy of the command, discover the strengths, and remove barriers to further progress." That's the advice of L. David Marquet, Captain, U.S. Navy (retired), author of "Turn the Ship Around: A true story of Turning Followers into Leaders," published in 2012 and added this year to the CNO's Professional Reading Program as an essential Navy read under "Be Ready."

Marquet takes us aboard the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Santa Fe (SSN 763) and shows us how his leader-leader philosophy succeeded over a traditional top-down, do-as-I-say focus on procedures rather than objectives and goals.

Among his revelations, in no particular order:

  • Learning is better than training.
  • "Control without competence is chaos."
  • To change the organization, "change the genetic code."
  • Celebrate the workforce's or individual's success immediately.
  • Communicate goals and intents all the time at every level.
  • Find the courage to change and tolerate (and learn from) failure.
  • "Encourage dissent and a questioning attitude over blind obedience."
  • "Take deliberate action" – no autopilot nonthinking.
  • Celebrate the organization's legacy and traditions.
  • Eliminate top-down monitoring systems and administrative disincentives.
  • Don't brief; instead, certify.
  • "Giving control is a deliberate act of courage."
As Captain of Santa Fe, Marquet discovered that the old top-down leader-follower model was a disincentive to ownership and eroded the authority of the chief petty officers, who are generally recognized as the backbone of the Navy's chain of command, especially at the deckplates.

With less authority and responsibility, chiefs lost "eyeball accountability." But, with Marquet, "Being the chief would no longer mean a position of privilege but a position of accountability, responsibility and work." His pillars are control (give control), competence, clarity and courage.

Under the new paradigm, leaders at all levels moved from a focus of avoiding errors to achieving goals and objectives in order to become "truly exceptional."
In 2000, Stephen Covey rode USS Santa Fe (SSN 763) with then CDR Marquet.
Marquet was inspired by Stephen R. Covey ("7 Habits for Highly Effective People"), who stressed, "begin with the end in mind." Covey writes in the introduction: "My definition of leadership is this: Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves. I don't know of a finer model of this kind of empowering leadership than Captain Marquet's."

In fact, Marquet moves beyond empowerment, preferring the term "emancipation," allowing the natural tendency of the individual to have freedom and control over their destiny and to be part of the greater whole.

Another author who influenced his thinking is G. Edwards Deming ("Out of Crisis"), father of Total Quality Management and Total Quality Leadership. Deming believed that people have an inherent desire to do a good job, but processes often get in their way. To improve performance, improve the processes. Marquet writes:
"This had a big effect on me. It showed me how efforts to improve the process made the organization more efficient, while efforts to monitor the process made the organization less efficient. What I hadn't understood was the pernicious effect that 'we are checking up on you' has on initiative, vitality and passion until I saw it on Santa Fe."
Marquet asks, "How many top-down management systems are in play within your organization. How can you eliminate them?"

Santa Fe's creed, included in this book, is a work of art. The ship's guiding principles under Marquet are clear and concise. This leadership bible includes lists of before and after – reenlistments, retention, advancement, qualifications and certifications – that demonstrate the success of the leader-leader philosophy. His "don't do this, do this" list is a great snapshot reminder that I intend to keep at my desk.

"Turn the Ship Around!" begins, "Our greatest struggle is within ourselves. Whatever sense we have of thinking we know something is a barrier to continued learning."

Reading, thinking, learning and listening can help us achieve what Marquet discovered: "A truly better way for humans to interact."

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