Some notes from “Turn the ship around” By L. David Marquet

The premise of the book is that to be a good leader is to get people to follow you.  which means you can be a leader by doing ridiculous things and have people just follow to see what will happen, or by doing great things and have people want to copy.  He gives the example of a football coach of his that gave a ridiculous speech on the first day about being serious with the training, “turn up late, take your shit home.  Skip training, take your shit home…”, and how he wanted to follow this guy just to see what would happen next.  Great story but that’s not what the rest of the book is about.

The book sets out examples and questions to ask yourself to implement a model called the Leader-Leader model (they can be found at the end of each chapter).  The model is about empowering all members of a company to be making intelligent decisions and effectively be a leader.  The whole book is about a navy submarine (which is not a bad place to learn about leadership).  The author implemented new leadership models and turned the sub from awful and an embarrassment to the navy to an award winning vessel.

He recommends a few books along the way:

  • 7 habits of highly effective people.  (also the 8th habit)
  • Simon Sinek’s Start with Why
  • Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’s book Built to Last
  • Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
  • Out of the Crisis, W. Edwards Deming

The concepts include:

  • Eliminate oversight, instead get people to want to do a good job for the sake of getting it right, rather than satisfying oversight systems.  And actively report errors, rather than having to “find” them.
  • Ask everyone what they are secretly hoping you change, and secretly hoping you don’t change.
  • Be curious when asking about what people are doing and why
  • Change the language so that people report what they are about to do, “I intend to…” and the top tier replies, (with questions if relevant), “Very well”.  This way both the thinking process gets shared around and the people making decisions get to feel empowered, rather than decisions coming from above.
  • 3 name rule, “<greeting> <name> welcome to <name of ship>, my name is <name>” to boost support and respect for each other and the ship and caring about the culture around the place.
  • delegate everything, the top structure is to only oversee, not to make judgement calls.  Plenty of “why this?” but none of, “now do this”.
  • Fire drill example.  They had a fire drill and the nearest people to the hose didn’t grab it, because “it wasn’t their job”.  Fix that.  when there is a fire the objective is to put it out, not to make sure that the procedures are followed.  Make everyone clear on the objective.  This also applies to dodgy orders.
  • Empower everyone to report mistakes, embarrassing or not.  Reward that.  (it’s all about the incentives.)  They had problems with transient noises on the sub where if someone drops a wrench the whole boat echos and could give away their position.  Old procedure was that the sonar room would relay over the ship and ask people what it was.  New procedure was people report to the sonar room if they make a transient.  Resulted in more reports, even ones that didn’t get noticed by sonar.  Helped people own the problem.
  • Deliberate actions:  They had a mistake where someone did something unsafe and things were “accidentally okay”, but could have been dangerous.  They did a debrief and the person who made the mistake said, “I didn’t think”.  After letting him leave they had a long management meeting about how they want people to be making deliberate moves on a nuclear submarine, especially when dangerous things can happen.  So they set about making a culture of, “pause, then act”, and “verbalise as you go”
  • Legacy for inspiration – look at the history and celebrate and remember great things that happened, and get people to share the culture of doing actions that are going to be remembered by future company members.
  • Development and smart goals – make sure to engage each other to be working on improving personal goals as well as bringing the group forward.  Get people to write up what they want to see on their end-of-year reviews, or 3-year reviews.  Then generate goals that smartly act as stepping stones towards that review.
  • Immediate recognition (right now, not in 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 weeks)  as soon as it happens.  Be careful to make people compete against the rest of the world and not internally with each other.  Collaborate against the outside world.
  • “how would we know if we were successful?” work backwards from the goal, set targets based on the – how would we know.

There are more concepts, the book tells it better than I do (obviously) but it really is helpful about what it has to offer.

The books own summary:


  • Find the genetic code for control and rewrite it.
  • Act your way to new thinking.
  • Short, early conversations make efficient work.
  • Use “I intend to . . .” to turn passive followers into active leaders.
  • Resist the urge to provide solutions.
  • Eliminate top-down monitoring systems.
  • Think out loud (both superiors and subordinates).
  • Embrace the inspectors.


  • Take deliberate action.
  • We learn (everywhere, all the time).
  • Don’t brief, certify.
  • Continually and consistently repeat the message.
  • Specify goals, not methods.


  • Achieve excellence, don’t just avoid errors.
  • Build trust and take care of your people.
  • Use your legacy for inspiration.
  • Use guiding principles for decision criteria.
  • Use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviors.
  • Begin with the end in mind.
  • Encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience.

The guy’s website:

includes some worksheets or cards.

Meta: this was written as an email to a friend.  Figured I should publish it online.  I would recommend this book if you are in a leadership position where you are living in a system that is broken and change is needed.

You won’t need this book if you are surrounded by people who are already engaged in a good culture and there is a way to go over the top with “making good culture” and not actually get the real work done.

This took 45mins to write.  I read this book via Text to Speech from the ebook using FBreader.  I would recommend this method of reading to everyone.  Pick a book and try it for that book, I was stubborn and didn’t want to try it for more than two years.  Then I experimented with it once, and now I power through books.

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