PSA Leadership Book Club February Meeting Recap | Part One

March 9, 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 One:

Leaders of all levels from the PSA integrator ranks assembled for a PSA Book Club dialog focused on frustrations in organizations, change within organizations, and organizational culture.  Book club representatives engaged in some thought provoking discussions and questions, leading off with “Where is the pain and frustration greatest in your organization?”  Members of the group entertained some candid remarks and shared suggestions on this topic.

Setting Expectations:
  • One of the main frustrations is expectations of each other. Management wants the employees to train, participate and build experience prior to advancement and the employees are looking for promotion based on current performance at their current position.
  • A key for upper management’s success is to understand what is required in the field and at the lower levels of the organization. It is important to know all levels and the jobs being performed to ensure projects are kicked off properly.  Additionally, it is important to know the details of different jobs to ensure the proper information is conveyed from an updated budget and expectations.   It is really the expectations that one party has that someone else may not fully understand or appreciate therefore communication and understanding is highly important.
Creating Positive Culture and Boosting Employee Morale:
  • The book discussed the Marquet having an experience on an earlier submarine and the captain of that submarine gives him the opportunity to do the training he wanted, which helped him become more curious and ask more questions. Once Marquet became captain of the Santa Fe, he felt empowered and wanted to share that feeling with his sailors on the Santa Fe and allow the sailors to feel empowered and to get them involved and to take ownership – “I intend to” attitude.
  • As an organization, we discuss the overall morale, the team building environment and how to build a better business atmosphere for our employees. One of our challenges is building a companywide culture, both emotionally and in our processes.  Our biggest challenge is maintaining morale while we are trying to continue integrating companies into a super-regional corporation.
  • The captain mentioned, “I intend to” in the book. He instilled into his sailors that everything they do should have intent.  Additionally, it increases the morale, overall teamwork, empowering and encouraging employees to make decisions.
  • One organization has an action committee that meets about the corporate culture and investigates ways to enhance the culture. This organization uses as a tool to increase one-on-one interactions from supervisors to reports and this method is a more friendly meeting type.  It has changed the corporate culture like something ferocious.  It has been an outstanding tool.  There has been more buy-in and support from every level of people in the office and throughout the company.  People know where they are, what is coming at them, and created relationships between coworkers and their supervisor that helps breakdown barriers within the culture.
Improving Communication: 
  • A big frustration is the ability for the workers to communicate back to the bosses and for the bosses to communicate the right message for the workers. We went through an acquisition and we had to merge two companies together.  The toughest thing was opening the lines of communication so that everyone knew where we were going and that one side of the business is no more important than the other side of the business – everything is equally important.  One thing we have done is OPR: Operational Performance Review.  Management sits down with their direct reports and goes through the OPR.  It is kind of a review process, but at the same time, it is also about goals and the employee gets to tell the management team what their expectations are for the year, and the management team gets a chance to tell the employee what their expectations are for the year so everyone can be on the same page.  Going through this process has been very successful – it has really helped with the morale of the company.  In addition, if you get your OPR filled out and turned in within a certain amount of time, the company does something special (gift card, personal holiday to take at your discretion, etc.).  It is sometimes the little stuff, which is a good incentive to complete the OPR and participate.  It has been very successful in opening up that communication between employees and the management team.
  • One-to-one communication is key in addition to more recognition of individuals. It's important for management to know the people that work for us – to know their first and last name and a little bit about them. This is a key goal to increase two-way communication.

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

Book summary above was taken from the original book cover.