[book report] Turn The Ship Around! by L. David Marquet


Once upon a time while holidaying in Sydney, Australia I decided to visit the WW2 submarine that you could board that was docked in the harbour. The tight spaces triggered an attack of claustrophobia the like of which I had never had before or since and the ensuing panic attack took the rest of the day to shake off. So I am no fan of submarines.

None of that has anything whatsoever to do with this insightful book. Jane Austin from the Telegraph recommended it during her wonderful talk at the Lean Event and I purchased it there and then (Amazon and instant gratification strikes again!) despite not really knowing much about it.

The book follows the journey of the author (Captain Marquet) as he implements a radically new leadership style in an effort to turn around the poor crew performance on his first command. He introduced what he calls a ‘leader-leader’ model (rather than leader-follower the staple of the armed forces for generations as well as the civil service!) by distributing control throughout the crew so that the right people were (truly) empowered to think for themselves and act accordingly. This is the sort of thing you often hear about — decision making at the appropriate level — but the reality is it rarely happens as people are not really trusted to act without supervision.

The book outlines Marquet’s approach split across the pillars of ‘Control’, ‘Competence’ and ‘Clarity’ and documents the successes and failures along the way to really embedding the approach.

The amazing thing was how much of what he writes feels applicable to the task of managing a modern multi-disciplinary product team — especially one that sits within a traditional bureaucracy with a legacy to overcome.

Now clearly not everything that happens on a nuclear submarine maps to the cut and thrust of a Post-It strewn project room but I found myself regularly recognising behaviours of my own in both the positive and negative columns as I read the book (which by the way is written in an unusually accessible manner for these kinds of things — it really is a pleasure to read) along with examples of how I can improve as a ‘leader’.*

Anyway I thoroughly recommend checking the book out.**

*not that I really consider myself a leader as such — one day maybe!

**I’m trying out a referral link — hope that isn’t cheeky!