Turn the Ship Around! is the true story of how the USS Santa Fe skyrocketed from worst to first in the fleet by challenging the U.S. Navy's traditional leader-follower approach. 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.

These are my reading notes from this book. All errors, omissions, and representations are mine.

Worker satisfaction is now at an all-time low. Employees start each new job full of ideas and eager to offer their whole intellectual capacity, only to be told to follow instructions and not rock the boat. Their creativity and innovation go unappreciated, and eventually they just stop trying and just do the bare minimum to get by

Bosses are frustrated as well – they see a lack of passion and ownership in their workforce, and attempts to encourage them to make decisions fall flat, with most workers seeming more comfortable just doing what they are told. Managers feel like they have to babysit employees to get anything done, and are often disappointed at the results anyway.

The issues lies with our current leadership model: dividing the world into leaders and followers, with the former controlling the latter. This model had worked successfully for thousands of years, and is particularly adept at extracting physical work from humans – but in the modern world, the most important work we do is cognitive, not physical, and here the model starts to break down:

We initiate empowerment programs and use tricks to "inspire and empower" our teams, but they all suffer a fatal contradiction between their message and method – if it takes me to empower you, it fundamentally just disempowers you.

The solution is the leader-leader structure – which at its core contains a belief that we can all be leaders, and it's best when we all are leaders. We all need to use our leadership abilities in every aspect of our work.

Leader-leader organizations see great improvements in effectiveness, which are more resilient and enduring as they are decoupled from the leader's presence. They continue to spawn additional leaders throughout the organization, creating a long-lasting, virtuous cycle that cannot be stopped.

This book is organized into four parts: Part I, letting go of old ideas, and Parts II, III, and IV, which describe the bridge to leader-leader and its supporting pillars. We will learn to divest control to others in our organization while keeping responsibility, and supporting this transition with enhanced technical competence and organizational clarity. The goal is a world where we all find satisfaction in our work, one in which every human being is intellectually engaged, motivated, and self-inspired.

Part I: Starting Over

To begin exploring this new way of leadership and organizational structure, we must first clear any preconceptions we have in our minds – our greatest struggle is within ourselves.


A constant tension pervaded the USS Will Rogers, a nuclear ballistic missile submarine operating in the 1980s – a tension between doing things right and meeting deadlines, a tension exacerbated by the captain's micromanagement of all tasks (engine room, control, sonar, torpedo room) and felt by every member of the crew.

Marquet was at the time engineer officer on the ship, and instituted a plan to give control, rather than orders, to his engineering department. Instead of giving specific lists of tasks to his division officers, he gave broad guidance and told them to prepare the task lists. Rather than telling everyone what to do, he asked questions about how they thought the problem should be approached. Rather than being the central line of communication between divisions, he told them to talk to each other directly.

Things went horribly. He ended up having to bark lists of orders anyway, people complained that they missed the old engineer who would just tell them what to do, and giving decision-making control to his people only produced many maintenance and engineering errors, embarrassing him and his department.

During his time off, he went through a post-mortem of his time on the Will Rogers and came across three contradictions:

  1. He liked the idea of empowerment, but didn't understand why empowerment was needed. Humans are naturally empowered, and empowerment programs seemed to be a reaction to having actively disempowered people. Also the whole idea of such programs was inherently contradictory – power needed to come from within, not from one's boss.

  2. The way he was told to manage others wasn't the way he wanted to be managed – he was at his best when given specific goals but broad latitude in how to accomplish them, but was expected to instead give a bunch of tasks to his people.

  3. He was disturbed by the close coupling of the technical competence of the leader with the performance of the organization – ships with a "good" commanding officer did well; ones without a good CO didn't do well. If a new CO came on board, a good ship could become a bad one overnight – the captain would make a mistake, and the crew would, like lemmings, follow him.

He realized that he was trying to run an empowerment program within a leader-follower structure – one where the message was "Do what you are told". Just saying "Do what you are told, but..." would have never worked.

Business as Usual

To promote long-term success, you must ignore short-term reward systems.

In the Navy, captains are graded on how well their ships perform during their tour and their tour alone – there were no rewards for long-term thinking. Leadership effectiveness wasn't judged on how well your unit performed after you left or how often your people got promoted in the following years. When the performance of a unit went down after an officer left, it was because he was a good leader, not because he hadn't trained his people properly.

The top-down, leader-follower structure has excellent results in the short term – subordinates become comfortable with not having to do the hard work of thinking, making decisions, being responsible and accountable. However, over time, the same people who are treated as followers in turn treat other as followers when it's their time to lead, and ultimately it results in a system with vastly untapped human potential.

Change of Course

Marquet was unexpectedly assigned to take command of the Santa Fe, to turn it around – then a laughingstock of the Navy: the ship that had trouble getting under way on time, the ship with the worst retention in the submarine force.

Although he was given an untested, unempowered, uninspired crew with the worst performance in the whole fleet, Marquet ended up firing no one – an important action in retrospect, as it sent the message to each crew member that he wasn't screwed up; only the leadership was.

Marquet was given a specific goal – to have Santa Fe ready for deployment – but was not told how to do it. He focused on the only thing that could be changed: how the crew and leadership acted and interacted – and without micromanagement, he saw it as his chance to do something different, to set the crew free from top-down leadership.


Are you curious, or just "questioning"?

The crew of the Santa Fe knew that they were the worst ship in the submarine force, and acted like it. But due to his unfamiliarity with the sub's technical details, Marquet engaged the crew as soon as he got on board – he walked around, asked questions about their equipment and what they were working on, focusing on understanding the people and their interactions and starting to rely on the crew much more than he normally would have. He asked questions like the following:

When you walk around your organization talking to people, be as curious as possible. Hold off on questioning or being critical until after you've established trust.

Call to Action

When was the last time you walked around your organization to hear about the good, the bad, and the ugly of top-down management?

Marquet spent his first two weeks walking around talking to people, instead of reviewing all the records on the ship. From this (and from his staff meetings) he found very driven and gifted officers who were frustrated that their ideas weren't being considered, who would eventually become some of the greatest engines for change. He spent time with junior crew as well, helping them with their bureaucracy-inflicted issues and worries.

Marquet then began observing the ship's routines, and found a trend of top-down micromanagement – the captain leaving his fingerprints everywhere, telling people what to do + exactly how and when to do it. The captain got good marks for being very involved, but he took away any decision-making opportunities his crew would have had.

Finding out daily how the crew's time was being wasted and their talents ignored provided a tremendous call to action for Marquet – an eagerness to turn everything on its head.

"Whatever They Tell Me to Do!"

What happens in your workplace every day that reinforces the notion that the guys at the top are the leaders and everyone else is simply to follow?

The attitude of "Whatever they tell me to do" was pervasive on the Santa Fe. Department heads were expected to go over what was still "owed" at the end of the day with their reports – essentially becoming responsible for their employees' jobs.

The pervasiveness of top-down leadership resulted in a ship of 135 men but only 5 fully engaged in observing, analyzing, and problem-solving, with the rest of the crew seemingly sitting idle, lacking initiative, waiting for others, being paralyzed in decision making.

"I Relieve You!"

Is your organization spending more energy trying to avoid errors than achieving excellence?

In the Navy, everything that happens under your command is attributed to you; everything that happens after you leave is attributed to the next guy. This led to short term thinking and a focus on just not messing your own command, on avoiding errors at all costs.

As he took official command of the Santa Fe, Marquet thought through a few things they had going for them:

  1. The crew wanted change, even if they didn't know how to do it.
  2. They had a very supportive chain of command – it was very outcome focused; they didn't care or need to know the specifics of what was actually done.
  3. His reliance on his crew for the specifics of how the boat operated prevented him from falling into old leader-follower habits.
  4. It was clear the crew was in a downward spiral: poor practices resulted mistakes which resulted in poor morale which resulted in avoiding initiative and doing only what was necessary.

Marquet realized he needed to shift the focus, their primary goal, from avoiding errors to achieving excellence.

Focusing on errors is helpful to understand the mechanics of procedures and detecting major problems before they occur, but is debilitating when it's adopted as the objective of an organization – it takes your focus away from being truly exceptional. You will never have zero errors, and so you will always feel bad about yourselves. On the Santa Fe, instead of openly tracking, reporting, and discussing errors to identify causes, the culture was one where mistakes were avoided at all costs – and the easiest way to not make errors was to just not make any decisions.

It's crucial for everyone to see the ultimate, noble purpose of the organization for them to do anything to support the mission – instead of coming to work with only the hope of not screwing up.

Part II: Control

Marquet's primary focus when he assumed command was to divest control and distribute it to the officers and crew: to push down decision-making authority (for both how they were going to work, and toward what end) to where the information lived. Don't move information to authority; move authority to the information.

Change, in a Word

It's actually pretty easy to change decision-making authority in your organization, once you commit to changing.

Marquet was tired of sitting through lectures about how they should "work together" or "take initiative" – they were never backed up with mechanisms that enabled or rewarded those behaviors. Instead, he decided to just start acting differently, with the hope that new thinking would follow.

He brought together his chiefs (the highest ranked non-officers; several steps below his department heads) and talked with them honestly what running the submarine would actually mean, with the sole output as concrete mechanisms for change:

Marquet's ultimate worry was that interests of command wouldn't be maintained by bringing decision making downward, but this fear ended up never materializing.

Mechanism: Find the genetic code for control and rewrite it.

The ultimate goal is to change the genetic code, not just institute "programs" or "initiatives" that say "empowerment" but do it in a way that is disempowering. Search for the specific organizational practices and procedures (even unwritten ones) that need to be changed to make this happen.

Delegate control, or decision-making authority, to as much as is comfortable, and then add a pinch more.

Identify decisions that can be pushed down to the next lower level in the organization, then ask the people who had the decision making authority to list all of their worries about delegating the decision. Generally the worries will fall under two categories, both of which can be resolved:

Marquet also made it clear that whenever something happened on the submarine, that some chief was responsible for making sure it came out right. Focusing on who was put in charge was more important than trying to evaluate all the ways the event could go wrong.

Finally, distributing control by itself wasn't enough – the new decision makers were now required to have a higher level of technical knowledge and sense of organizational purpose than before.

"Welcome Aboard Santa Fe!"

Don't like something about the "culture" in your organization and want to change it?

Giving new authority to the chiefs had an immediate effect on their commitment and engagement, as well as that of the sailors reporting to them. But there were still skeptics among the crew, driven by both a fear of doing things different as well as a fear of the cost of failure.

Marquet decided he needed to not only have an initiative for the chiefs, but something for the entire ship. How do you raise morale quickly? It was obvious what the output of good morale would be – bragging about their ship, wearing ship swag, looking visitors in the eye – but less obvious how to create a work environment to encourage people to get there.

On the Santa Fe, some attributed low morale to the long hours – Marquet felt that it had to do instead with focusing on reducing errors instead of accomplishing something great, and the resulting feeling of ineffectiveness that permeated. Instead of being proactive movers, the crew were only passive reactors – a feeling of victimhood, blaming what was happening on outside influences and factors.

So instead, Marquet created a new rule for all the crew: when greeting any visitors, to always use three names: "Good morning, Commodore Kenny, my name is Petty Officer Jones, welcome aboard Santa Fe." This was the start to getting rid of the sense of being victim to circumstances, to start letting each sailor on board take charge of their own destiny.

Mechanism: Act Your Way to New Thinking

How do you embed a cultural change in your organization? Have a brainstorm to find answers to the following sentence:

"I'd know we achieved [this cultural change] if I saw employees..."

Encourage answers to be specific and measurable, e.g. "Employees submit at least one idea a quarter, and all ideas are posted and voted on." Then sort and prioritize then answers, and discuss how to code the behavior into the organization's practices.

To change employees' behaviors, you can either change your own thinking and hope this leads to new behavior, or change your behavior and hope it leads to new thinking. On the Santa Fe, they did the latter: acting their way to new thinking.

Under Way on Nuclear Power

Do you play "bring me a rock" in your organization, where vague understanding of the goal results in wasted time?

Preparing accurate, up-to-date nautical charts is extremely important to nuclear submarine operation, and has an equally laborious review process to go with it, with steps added (and rarely removed) in response to navigational problems that occur – steps that often just involve additional inspection at the end of a process, extra work without making anything better.

The charts for the Santa Fe's first route had this element of pressure, plus a common desire of subordinates to present their boss with a "perfect" product the first time – and so they were delivered just 48 hours before underway, perfect in terms of compliance but outlining the wrong route.

With only 48 hours left, Marquet decided that for now, at each phase in the review process, the navigator or assistant navigator would have a brief conversation with Marquet himself – a trade-off that was worthwhile early on to get all levels of the chain of command to work towards accomplishing operational excellence.

Mechanism: Short, Early Conversations Make Efficient Work

These are not conversations where employees are told what to do, but instead conversations for them to get early feedback on how they are tackling problems while retaining control of the situation. They provide great clarity: even thirty-second conversations can save hours of time. And although a boss's attention and time are no doubt highly valuable for your organization, weighing that against the potential inefficiencies of everyone else can often make these conversations worthwhile.

Supervisors also need to recognize that the demand for perfect products the first time they see them results in significant waste and frustration – well-meaning yet erroneous translations of intent can lead to significant wastes of resources if not caught early.

It's important to note the difference between trust, the faith that the subordinate believes they are making the right decision, and the actual merit and tactical value of that decision compared to other decisions.

"I Intend To..."

How proactive are senior managers and employees in your organization?

During a drill, Marquet gave an order which was accordingly passed down the chain of command, even though every level below him knew that it didn't make any sense at all. He realized then a major peril in the top-down model in something as complicated as a submarine: what happens when the leader is wrong? Everyone goes off the cliff.

Marquet then made a vow to never again give any order. Instead, officers would state their intentions with "I intend to...", and optimally he would say, "Very well", and each man would execute his plan.

Of course, many times, Marquet would have to ask a bunch of follow up questions to make sure the plan was sound. He then set a goal for his officers: to give a sufficiently complete report so that he would have no questions, and all he had to do was to give a simple approval. This encouraged them to outline their complete thought process and rationale for what they were about to do, forcing them to think at the next higher level, and so on down the line.

This had the side effect of being a leadership development program in itself – by putting themselves always in the next higher level's shoes, they were already thinking the right way to be promoted.

Just having a strong personality as leader doesn't make for good leadership – you need your followers to be just as independent, energetic, emotionally committed, and engaged. Giving orders is seductive to the leaders, but is debilitating and energy-sapping for their followers.

Mechanism: Use "I Intend to..." to Turn Passive Followers into Active Leaders

Passive followers will use these "disempowered phrases":

Active doers, on the other hand, use these "empowered phrases":

Up Scope!

Do you like to help your people come to the right answers? It is more likely to make things worse.

Giving specific direction without the underlying thought processes just doesn't work in the complex and unpredictable world we are in – there are no shortcuts. Especially as control is divested, it's increasingly important that the team is aligned with the organization's goal.

Just giving your employees the solution deprives them of the opportunity and obligation to think – sometimes, it's best to ask for another solution and keep quiet.

Mechanism: Resist the Urge to Provide Solutions

Emergency situations do require snap decision making and clear orders – but the vast majority of situations don't require immediate decisions. Let your team chew on it; give them time to react to the situation as well. Create a space for open decision by the entire team. Of course, this is harder on you as it requires you to anticipate decisions and alert your team to the need for an upcoming one.

If you are seeing frequent issues come up that require short notice decisions, chances are you have a reactive organization locked in a downward spiral: issues aren't foreseen, your team doesn't get time to think about them, you have to make a quick decision, your team isn't trained to think for the future, etc.

How do you get your team to think for themselves?

Who's Responsible?

Are you inadvertently sending a message that erodes ownership and responsibility among subordinates?

Marquet had a system (a binder, in this case, called the tickler) that was focused on understanding the status, instead of actually getting the work done. They would have weekly meetings where department chiefs and heads would go through the tickler, cataloguing what they were supposed to do and what they were delinquent on. This sucked up a lot of valuable time, both in maintaining the tickler and having the supervisory meetings.

Using the tickler process sent a message: we will keep track of and monitor you and your job performance, and we will enforce (somehow) the proper performance of your job. This erodes a more powerful message: you are responsible for your job.

Marquet decided to eliminate the tickler, and instead transferred responsibility for whatever was due to his department heads and chiefs.

Mechanism: Eliminate Top-Down Monitoring Systems

Supervisors often bemoan "lack of ownership" among their employees, but at the same time have practices that defeat attempts to build ownership.

Don't preach and hope for ownership; implement mechanisms that actually give ownership. Eliminating top-down monitoring systems is an example of that – systems where senior personnel can easily micromanaging their juniors. The idea of "We are checking up on you" has a highly detrimental effect on initiative, vitality, and passion.

With processes, adherence to (and avoiding errors in) the process becomes the objective, rather than achieving the objective that was the reason for the process in the first place. Efforts to improve process will make your organization more efficient, while efforts to monitor the process will make your organization less efficient.

"A New Ship"

How comfortable are you with showing your gut feelings to your staff? Do you have language to express doubt, ambiguity, or uncertainty?

Although their inspection went well, Marquet still felt like he had to frequently run around to solve crises – he was still too personally involved. He and his department heads pinned it on a few causes:

Mechanism: Think Out Loud

When you hear what your subordinates are thinking, it makes it easier for you to keep your mouth shut and let them execute their plans – it's generally when they're quiet that you feel the urge to step in.

And when you as captain thinks out loud, you're imparting important context and experience to your subordinates, teaching them that lack of certainty is strength and certainty is arrogance.

"We Have a Problem"

Who are your company's inspectors, and how can you use them to best advantage?

When the Santa Fe violated an important electrical docking procedure, Marquet could have tried to handle it just "in-house" to avoid future additional oversight and procedures – but instead, chose to be as transparent as possible to all outside inspectors, scheduling a meeting with everyone to discuss the violation.

Mechanism: Embrace the Inspectors

The purpose of this mechanism was to show the crew of Santa Fe that they were responsible for Santa Fe. Inspectors for areas they were good at were viewed as advocates to share good practices with; inspectors for areas they were doing poorly at were viewed as sources of information and solutions. This resulted in an atmosphere of learning and curiosity among the crew, instead of one of defensiveness.

Part III: Competence

People need to be technically competent to make the decisions they make.

"Mistakes Just Happen!"

Are you content with the reason "Well, mistakes just happen" when it comes to managing your business? Or do you reject the inevitability of mistakes and come up with ways to reduce them?

The violation meeting ended up being 8 hours long, much of which was spent discussing how to prevent it from happening again:

They concluded that the mechanism should be to "take deliberate action": prior to any action, having the operator pause, vocalize, and gesture toward what he was about to do – even if no one was there to see.

Mechanism: Take Deliberate Action

As the importance of doing things right increases, so does the need to act deliberately. This is even more important when things must be done quickly – you don't have time to "undo" something that's wrong.

Taking deliberate action not only ended up reducing errors; it also allowed nearby operators to hear and correct mistakes, and helped monitors intervene better during drills when incorrect actions were performed. This created a resilient organization, one where error propagation is stopped with good teamwork at its source.

Deliberate action has an additional benefit as well: it becomes a critical aspect of teamwork as it allows other team members to signal anticipation and help draw attention to the right thought process and right decision.

What if an error happens anyway? You must balance the courage to hold people accountable for their actions, and your compassion for their honest efforts.

"We Learn"

Have you tried to divest control without first making sure your organization is competent to handle more decision-making authority? Control without competence is chaos.

If all you need to do is what you're told, then you don't need to understand what you're doing – but when you are given more power to make decisions, you need intimate technical knowledge on which to make those decisions.

As a result, on the Santa Fe, Marquet codified the idea of "We learn" into the creed:

Mechanism: We Learn (Everywhere, All the Time)

How do you build a training program that employees will want to go to?

Complete the sentence: Our company would be more effective if [level] management could make decisions about [subject]. Fill in [level] and ask your staff to brainstorm about [subject]. Then, choosing a few subjects, brainstorm about what is necessary to know to make a decision about those subjects. You now have subjects for training as well as a direct link to the level of management for which to implement that training.

If you treat every opportunity as one to learn, you will be calm and even eager instead of always stressing about performance.

Under Way For San Diego

How do you get people to think "at the next level"?

A briefing (where one person drones on going through a plan of action) is passive activity for everyone except the debriefer – their only responsibility is to nod and say "ready" without intellectual engagement.

Marquet decided to do certifications instead of briefs – where the person in charge asks the team questions about the plan, and at the end, decides whether the team is ready or not to go. Responsibility for preparation shifts from the briefer to all participants. Knowing that they would be asked questions incentivizes people to prepare ahead of time, to think about what they will be required to do, and gives every individual responsibility for knowing his job.

Mechanism: Stop Briefing and Start Certifying in Your Business

When certifying, make it clear that it's a decision meeting – one that will result in a go/no go based on their readiness for the procedure. The costs of "We're not ready" are high, but not as high as messing up.

A good organizational measure of improving health is to ask your employees how many minutes a week they spend learning on their own – this is how you get ownership, or employee engagement.

All Present and Accounted For

Have you ever thought that people understood what you were talking about only to find out they didn't "get it" at all?

Giving privileges to senior employees or managers is often thought to give their juniors something to aspire to, but oftentimes it just alienates and demoralizes them. Things will deteriorate if your managers take care of themselves first, and their employees have to pay for it.

This happened on the Santa Fe – some chiefs took their increased authority and used it to make their lives better, missing their obligation towards their men. Marquet had a talk with them, reminded them of the responsibilities they agreed to take on – and instead of taking away their privileges, just laid some ground rules for fair distribution of work between the chiefs and their men.

Mechanism: Continually and Consistently Repeat the Message

In retrospect, Marquet realized what was missing. He needed a relentless, consistent repetition of his message: day after day, meeting after meeting, event after event.

Old habits die hard, and to many, your initial message may have just sounded like something they had heard before – they think they know what you mean, but they don't. They can't see in their imagination how this new culture will work, until you tell them enough times that something breaks through.

Final Preparations

Do you believe that allowing initiative from the bottom won't work in a crisis? Even in emergencies, releasing control yields better results.

In the weeks leading up to deployment, Marquet turned many practices on their head:

Mechanism: Specify Goals, Not Methods

Once employees are freed from following a prescribed way of doing things, and instead are given a goal to find the best approach to something, they are likely to come up with many ingenious ways to make it happen.

Specifying goals is not only a mechanism for Competence, but also for Clarity – it prioritizes achieving excellence instead of avoiding errors.

Be sure not to specify the method along with the goal – it's tempting but will result in diminished control. Just provide your people with the objective, and let them figure out the method.

Part IV: Clarity

As more decision-making authority is pushed down the chain of command, it becomes even more important that everyone throughout the organization understands what the org is all about, what the org is trying to accomplish. If clarity of purpose is misunderstood, then decision-making criteria will be skewed, and suboptimal decisions will be made.

Under Way for Deployment

How can you take care of your people?

Upon deployment, Marquet gathered his chiefs and officers to discuss what they wanted to accomplish. They wanted to encourage each person to establish personal goals – take courses, read books, exercise, etc. – as well as the ship-wide goals of empowerment, efficiency, and tactical excellence. Marquet sent a message out to as broad an audience as possible, elaborating on his approach:

Marquet also aligned things the crew cared about – e.g. promotion advancement – with the operations of the ship. He looked at what the biggest gaps in advancement exam performance were, explained the process better to the crew, and gave them tools to improve their performance.

Mechanism: Build Trust and Take Care of Your People

Taking care of your people extends beyond their work lives. And if you develop an extensive pool of talent via your leader-leader structure, you will have more wiggle room in giving people personal time when they need it most.

Doing his best to give his crew opportunities for advancement had another benefit: Marquet's crew was convinced that he was "on their team", and there were never any issues with negative responses to constructive criticism. It was never a "me versus you" issue. If your employees don't believe you are doing everything you can for them, it will be much harder when you need to ask them to work hard.

Taking care of your people doesn't mean protecting them from the consequences of their own behavior. It means giving them every available tool and advantage to achieve their aims in life, beyond the specifics of the job.

A Remembrance of War

Do you have a rich organizational legacy? Are you using it?

During emergency drills, Marquet watched the eyes of his watch officer: If they went down, to a written procedure, or looked unfocused, it was bad; if they were focused on the indications that would provide the necessary information for making the next decision, it was good.

Mechanism: Use Your Legacy for Inspiration

Many organizations have inspiring early starts and somehow "lose their way" at some later point. Try to tap into the sense of purpose and urgency that developed during those early days, and find real ways to keep those alive as the organization grows.

One easy way is to talk about them – embed them into your guiding principles; use those words in efficiency reports and personnel awards.

Leadership at Every Level

Do your guiding principles help people in your organization make decisions?

Marquet's job as the commander was to tap into the existing energy of the command, discover the strengths, and remove barriers to further progress. When writing the Santa Fe's guiding principles, he would ask: if he were a crew member and faced with deciding between two courses of action, would the principles provide the right criteria against which to select the appropriate course of action? As guiding principles, they needed to provide guidance on decisions, not just hung on a wall somewhere.

The USS Santa Fe guiding principles were:

Mechanism: Use Guiding Principles for Decision Criteria

It's easy to hang a list of guiding principles on the wall to display, but often they don't become part of the fabric of the organization.

Guiding principles have to accurately represent the principles of the real organization, not an imagined one. Falseness in what the org is about will cause problems when making decisions, as they won't be aligned with the org's goals.

Do things to reinforce the principles and make them real, e.g. when writing awards or evaluations, couch behaviors in the language of the principles. You also must adjust your behavior when it violates the principles.

A Dangerous Passage

Do you recognize your staff's achievements so long after the event that even they forget?

When one of Marquet's crew prevented a collision, he immediately grabbed a medal, went to the crew's mess, and pinned it on the crew member. He spoke words of appreciation and professionalism then, and also formally reported the exemplary service later as well.

Mechanism: Use Immediate Recognition to Reinforce Desired Behaviors

Don't let your administrative processes get in the way of prompt recognition: not thirty days, not thirty minutes, but immediate.

Do your awards pit some employees against others? That will result in competition at the lowest level and destroy collaboration.

Instead, have awards that are abundant, with no limit – that pits your team against the world. Have man-versus-nature instead of man-versus-man awards. All teams will then be collaborators working against a common external goal.

Sometimes a fixed objective is appropriate; sometimes relative grading is appropriate. But you can do both: assign the grade based on the fixed objective, and also provide data on how the team stacks up against other teams. Just providing this data results in a natural desire to improve.

Looking Ahead

Are you mired in short-term thinking?

Marquet started a series of one-on-ones with key supervisors where the rule was that they could only talk about long-term issues, primarily people issues. He found it useful to ask the others to write their performance evaluations or awards in the next year or the end of their tour – specific and measurable goals that you can plan against.

Mechanism: Begin with the End in Mind

It's crucial to establish specific, measurable goals. If your objectives are vague or hard-to-quantify like "do better in X", ask specific questions: "How would you know if X improved?", "Fewer bugs? How many fewer? How many did you have last year?" You will also begin to track the data that you need to track – hard data is much more meaningful than phrases like "significantly improved X".

How do you begin with the end in mind? Look for statements in your evaluations that express achievement, and create measuring systems to help you know the next time it happens. Then, ask your employees to write their own evaluations one, two, three years from now – their goals should cascade down from the organization's goals. Have conversations with them to make their desired achievements indisputable ("How would I know?") and measurable.

Finally, you as a mentor must establish that you're sincerely interested in the problems of the person you're mentoring.

Combat Effectiveness

Are you looking for resilience in your organization? Resilience and effectiveness sometimes means questioning orders.

Mechanism: Encourage a Questioning Attitude over Blind Obedience

When your subordinate is telling you you're wrong, they're overcoming their fear in doing so – stop, listen, think, and always appreciate that they went so far to do so.


Do you have the fortitude to go against the grain? There are significant benefits to thinking differently about leadership.

Junior crew members often looked to see what their chiefs did to get a sense of whether they wanted to stick around and have that job – and the chiefs on Santa Fe had an amazing job: direct power and responsibility over 135 sailors and a $2B warship. Not only was the tour extremely successful, retention numbers increased by an order of magnitude in just one year.

The crew tried to make every operation excellent, and arrived through trial and error at a body of practices and principles drastically different from the Navy's leader-follower model.

The Santa Fe also accomplished many other breakthroughs:

Instituting the Leader-Leader model




Identify where excellence is created in your company: your internal processes, or your interfaces with the customer and with the physical world. Figure out what decisions the people responsible for the interfaces need to make in order to achieve excellence, and finally, understand what it would take to get those employees to be able to make those decisions. Get them the right technical knowledge, understanding of your organization's goals, authority to make the decision, and responsibility for the consequences of the decisions made.

A New Method of Resupplying

Do you want empowered employees but find that empowerment programs don't help? Empowerment is not enough.

Mechanism: Don't Empower, Emancipate

Empowerment is needed to undo all the to-down, do-what-you're-told, be-a-team-player messages that result from leader-follower. But it's not enough: it doesn't work without competence and clarity, and fundamentally it's still a manifestation of leader-follower as it has as core the believe that the leader "empowers" the followers.

What we need instead is release, or emancipation – we recognize the inherent genius, energy, and creativity in all people, and allow those talents to emerge. Teams are given greater decision-making control and have both competence and clarity. Emancipated teams have no more need of empowerment – they no longer rely on you as a source of power.


On top of top performance and enduring excellence, the Santa Fe also developed additional leaders in wildly disproportionate numbers. Reject the impulse to take control and attract followers – instead, give control, create leaders, and you will have powerful and enduring success.

Questions to Consider

Part I: Starting Over


Business as Usual

Change of Course


Call to Action

"Whatever They Tell Me to Do!"

"I Relieve You!"

Part II: Control

Change, in a Word

"Welcome aboard *Santa Fe!"

Under Way on Nuclear Power

"I Intend To..."

Up Scope!

Who's Responsible?

"A New Ship"

"We Have a Problem"

"Mistakes Just Happen!"

"We Learn"

Under Way For San Diego

All Present and Accounted For

Final Preparations

Part IV: Clarity

Under Way for Deployment

A Remembrance of War

Leadership at Every Level

A Dangerous Passage

Looking Ahead

Combat Effectiveness


A New Method of Resupplying

Additional Reading