Book Review: Turn the Ship Around

Turn the Ship Around


David Marquet

My Rating

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"A sensational story of self-organization in the US Navy showcasing lessons we can all learn from."

Early in my I.T. career I worked under a senior leader who gave his teams and individuals lots of responsibility, and lots of encouragement to think beyond IT. It was by a huge distance the most motivated and highest performing group of people I ever worked with.

Whenever new people would join the company, very quickly they would be making significant contributions and working to a high standard. The environment engaged them and laid the foundations for them to be successful.

Since then, every company I've worked at has been completely different. Strict layers of hierarchy, managers obsessed with controlling people, hiding information from front line staff because they aren't paid to understand the business and be innovative.

Finally, I have discovered a name for these two models - leader-leader and leader-follower, as David Marquet refers to them in his truly sensational masterpiece Turn The Ship Around.

Epic Storytelling

David Marquet takes us on a journey. A story full of personal emotions, with failures, triumphs and deep introspection.

Marquet was a commander in the Navy. He'd been heavily trained in traditional military management - captains give clear, concise, strong orders and the recipients of his orders follow them immediately without hesitation.

However, Marquet finds himself in trouble on his first big mission as captain. One week before taking over a submarine he'd been studying for the past year, he is transferred to become captain on another ship - most of his trainining for the initial ship becoming useless.

Not only that, the new ship he is now being drafted in to take over is one of the worst performing submarines in the Navy.

Marquet realises that leader-follower will not work - he cannot bark orders at his crew because he does not have the technical expertise to give commands on this ship. Now he must engage his crew; he must respect them and ask for their advice rather than micro-managing them.

Turn the Ship Around takes you on this journey, with stories of various militiary adventures. The stories are immensely compelling, it's so hard to put the book down. I almost forgot to get off the train for work one Monday morning.

Lessons we Can All Learn From

Turn the Ship Around is extra special because the stories are not purely entertainment. They're not full of interesting but irrelevant knowledge, either. The stories contain lessons we can all learn from and all apply to our daily work. There is no doubt.

Many of Marquet's insights reflect the dynamics of those different types of companies I've worked for in my career.

For example, during a training exercise aboard the new ship, the ship is rapidly dropping to the bottom of the ocean. The crew must stabilise the ship as quickly as possible if they want to stay alive.

At a critical point during the exercise, Marquet orders one of his crew to activate a second enginge. His crew member duly obliges and orders the next in line to carry out the command. Nothing happens....

Shortly afterward, the crew member tells Marquet that this new sub doesn't have a second engine. Marquet is perplexed, asking his crew member why on earth he agreed to the order. His response "You told me to".

This is the default behaviour in I.T. Individuals carry out plain stupid orders based on management's misunderstandings of how the technology works.

Leader-leader or Leader-follower is Your Choice

After reading Turn the Ship Around, you'll be faced with a personal challenge. Are you a leader-leader or a leader-follower type of person?

Inspired by the leader-leader manager I worked for early in my career, I am passionate about shaping organisations in the leader-leader style. But I constantly question this belief because all the other companies I have worked for since then are so heavily leader-follower.

Inspirationally, my enthusiasm and confidence is fully reinvigorated thanks to David Marquet. In Turn the Ship Around, he went through the challenges we all face making our organisations more open and decentralised, enabling our colleagues to be more engaged and more effective for the organisation.

If you also believe in self-organization, Turn the Ship Around should undoubtedly be the next book on your shelf.


" I felt my power came from within, and attempts to empower me felt like manipulation."

"What happens in a top-down culture when the leader is wrong? Everyone goes over the cliff."

"Leadership is not some mystical quality that some possess and others do not. As humans, we all have what it takes, and we all need to use our leadership abilities in every aspect of our work life."

"avoiding errors is helpful for understanding the mechanics of procedures and detecting impending major problems before they occur, but it is a debilitating approach when adopted as the objective of an organization. "

"Instead of one captain giving orders to 134 men, we would have 135 independent, energetic, emotionally committed and engaged men thinking about what we needed to do and ways to do it right. This process turned them into active leaders as opposed to passive followers."

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