Book Report: Turn The Ship Around by David Marquet

Turn the Ship Around Book CoverThis short, entertaining and insightful book tells the story of how the author, David Marquet, effectively applied bottom-up leadership principles when taking over command of a submarine, and achieved some truly remarkable results.
As I began reading a lot about leadership research a few years ago, I initially found myself quite surprised to find references that the US Armed forces have been increasingly abandoning command and control leadership approaches for a much more modern and collaborative approach. If you haven’t seen evidence of that yet, it may surprise you that the passage below was written by a submarine Commander:

In our modern world, the most important work we do is cognitive; so, it’s not surprising that a structure developed for physical work isn’t optimal for intellectual work. People who are treated as followers have the expectations of followers and act like followers. As followers, they have limited decision-making authority and little incentive to give the utmost of their intellect, energy, and passion. Those who take orders usually run at half speed, underutilizing their imagination and initiative.

Because this book walks through his journey starting a short time before he took over command, it offers insights that would probably be especially useful to someone taking on a new leadership role: I suspect it will be on my re-read list when the next transition in my career comes.
The book is surprisingly short, but it packs a lot of thoughtful advice into its pages while remaining entertaining and engaging. Marquet does a fantastic job of using stories to illustrate his point, and having fun with them. He achieves a subtle elegance with language that I don’t expect out of leadership books. Here’s a typical example, where I had to pause to ponder for a bit which meaning of “blow stuff up” applied:

For phase one, we rendezvoused with a helicopter and picked up the SEAL team. Eleven burly guys, their weapons, two rolled-up Zodiac inflatable boats, two motors for the Zodiacs, and a bunch of equipment to blow stuff up left the helicopter, came on board the submarine, and went down the hatch.

If you don’t have time for the book, you can get most of the essence of it from this excellent video:

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