PSA Leadership Book Club February Meeting Recap | Part III

May 26, 2016

Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet

Book Summary*

“Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.” David Marquet, an experienced Navy officer, was used to giving orders. As newly appointed captain of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine, he was responsible for more than a hundred sailors, deep in the sea. In this high-stress environment, where there is no margin for error, it was crucial his men did their job and did it well. However, the ship was dogged by poor morale, poor performance, and the worst retention in the fleet.

Marquet acted like any other captain until, one day, he unknowingly gave an impossible order, and his crew tried to follow it anyway. When he asked why the order was not challenged, the answer was “Because you told me to.” Marquet realized he was leading in a culture of followers, and they were all in danger unless they fundamentally changed the way they did things.

That’s when Marquet took matters into his own hands and pushed for leadership at every level. Turn the Ship Around! is the true story of how the Santa Fe skyrocketed from worst to first in the fleet by challenging the U.S. Navy’s traditional leader-follower approach. Struggling against his own instincts to take control, he instead achieved the vastly more powerful model of giving control.

Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.”

Before long, each member of Marquet’s crew became a leader and assumed responsibility for everything he did, from clerical tasks to crucial combat decisions. The crew became fully engaged, contributing their full intellectual capacity every day, and the Santa Fe started winning awards and promoting a highly disproportionate number of officers to submarine command.

No matter your business or position, you can apply Marquet’s radical guidelines to turn your own ship around. The payoff: a workplace where everyone around you is taking responsibility for their actions, where people are healthier and happier, where everyone is a leader.

PSA Book Club Discussion Part III:

In the final segment of the PSA Book Club review of Turn the Ship Around! by Captain L. David Marquet, the group contemplated the culture of their workplace and how prevalent behaviors are that support others in the organization to achieve progress.

Q: How prevalent are behaviors in your workplace that support others in the organization to achieve progress?

  • We have a promotional culture that rewards those who take the additional initiative to personally grow and participate in the company’s growth. A majority of our management was promoted from within and provided the opportunity to advance when positions are created or opened. We believe this is important and crucial for employee retention in providing them the potential to advance their career if the desire is there. We also have an employee led training program to help all with success in the positions they are currently holding as well as training in the areas they would like to advance to. It has worked well.
  • We went from being a single owner organization to an employee owned business. We are trying to empower our employees. We have always had a culture that is service-centric and client-centric. Therefore, there is a consistency and foundation that we have a great advantage because most of our folks can trust the integrity of the organization, without question. We always know that the priority is taking care of the client. Therefore, whatever you do that is in that pursuit, you are not going to make a mistake. We have had this sense of independence where we know we have the tools to make the right decision. Now this shift into taking folks from having a job or career and transitioning to the entrepreneurial mindset (this is your company – take ownership). The question on change, our average tenure is 7 years with over 200 employees. The long-term employees understand and appreciate the culture since this is in their comfort zone.

Teamwork, empowerment, and motivating is key.

  • As we are transitioning into more managed services or how we are approaching things as more of the mid & lower-level leadership rather than the autocratic and shifting into more of a democratic way of managing people. We are trying to figure out how to get people comfortable with that role and taking on more of that responsibility of the outcomes in their domain. I do not see the culture changing much because we have always had such a strong set of core values. The way people look at things, and having to change – you can go from one generation to the next; 1 generation is happy with the way things are going; the new generation looks at things more opportunistically and more open-minded to the possibilities. What we have done to provide some consistency in this process, is a policy called Motiv8 (any response, question, or contact within the company is made with anyone – we have to respond within 8 hours; internal or external). We have an expectation of always being prompt in our response. I think it helps because it has always established the teamwork accountability. Again, trying to get people to think beyond their day-to-day is one of the challenges we are trying to overcome.
  • As mentioned in the book, teamwork, empowerment, and motivating is key. The captain ended up having some of his sailors ready to resign and terminate their term in the Navy but because of the captain and his philosophy of teamwork, empowerment and motivating the sailors, they ended up staying longer because they felt more valued and a part of the bigger whole.
  • He talks about clarity, which I think we do very well. We do a lot of training and invest a lot of money to make sure employees are trained and to have the tools they need to be successful. I think that as people make that transition from entry level to mid-level management and from mid-level management to senior management, the nurturing process and making sure that they have what they need at the next level and to be prepared to take on the next level.

Q:  “I Relieve You” is a chapter from the book. Marquet asks, “Is your organization spending more energy trying to avoid errors rather than achieving excellence?”

  • That is a knee jerk reaction, takes away from the overall goal, and narrows your focus. I know I have fallen into that. Trying to fix issues rather than allowing the employees to fix it themselves. It is easier to jump in and try to fix it rather than having them come up with the solution.
  • That goes back to culture too – if I make errors I may lose my job. If you commend people who make mistakes because they tried something creative, it will adjust the culture.

Provide support and not just call people out for their mistakes.

  • In the book there was the sailor that removed the red tags. People were not expecting him to fess up – they were expecting finger pointing and blame. It is important not to humiliate employees and mistakes. Our organization is successful because employees are very loyal and have the right mind-set. Unfortunately, it is tough to decide the cost to make sure they have the proper tools to perform. It is also an expectation that they will rise to the challenge and perform to meet expectations.
  • Provide support and not just calling people out for their mistakes.


In conclusion, the PSA Book Club discussion led to some key takeaways gained from Turn the Ship Around! by Captain L. David Marquet. The group felt strongly about open lines of communication throughout the organization and empowering everyone within the organization to take ownership and pride in the company and the job they perform. Marquet proposes a leader-to-leader mindset rather than the traditional leader-follower style of leadership. “Ultimately, the most important person to have control over is yourself – for it is that self-control that will allow you go ‘give control, create leaders.’ I believe that rejecting the impulse to take control and attract followers will be your greatest challenge and, in time, your most powerful and enduring success.” (p. 216)

Interested in joining the PSA Leadership Book Club? Contact Julie Rolles at

*Book summary above was taken from the original book cover.