Site Logo

Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders – Louis David Marquet

7th February 2021
turn the ship around book cover


Turn the Ship Around is about leadership. It is the story of the journey and the sailors aboard the submarine Sante Fe. I am looking forward to see what can be learned from a retired military leader.


Louis David Marquet is a retired United States Navy captain. He commanded the submarine USS Santa Fe and turned it from the worst in fleet to being the most successful.


Turn the Ship Around has a foreword, an introduction, 29 chapters which are grouped into 4 parts, and an afterword.

Part I is Starting Over with 7 chapters. The chapters are Pain, Business as Usual, Change of Course, Frustration, Call to Action, “Whatever They Tell Me to Do!”, and “I Relieve You!”.

Part II is Control and has 8 chapters. These chapters are Change, in a Word, “Welcome Aboard Santa Fe!”, Under Way on Nuclear Power, “I Intend To…”, Up Scope!, Who’s Responsible?, “A New Ship”, and “We Have a Problem”.

Part III is Competence. It consists of 5 chapters which are “Mistakes Just Happen!”, “We Learn”, Under Way for San Diego, All Present and Accounted For, and Final Preparations.

Part IV is Clarity and has 9 chapters. They are Under Way for Deployment, A Remembrance of War, Leadership at Every Level, A Dangerous Passage, Looking Ahead, Combat Effectiveness, Homecoming, A New Method of Resupplying, and Ripples.


In Turn the Ship Around, the author relates a story of how he created a leader-leader structure to replace leader-follower structure. The core of the leader-leader structure is the belief that we can all be leaders and it is best when we all are leaders. His goal was to implement enduring mechanisms that would embed goodness in people and practices and would not rely on the leader’s personality.

There are mechanisms that the author employed to implement the leader-leader practices. They are grouped into 3 categories: control, competence, and clarity. Control is about making decisions not only on how we are going to work but also towards what end.

Control only works with a competent workforce (competency) that understands the organization’s purpose (clarity). Competence could not rest solely with the leader but have to run throughout the entire organization. Clarity means people at all levels of an organization clearly and completely understand what the organization is about.

I will outline the mechanisms below according to their categories, together with remarks for some mechanisms.

Mechanisms for control are:

1. Find the genetic code and rewrite it – The first step is delegating control or decision-making authority, as much as is comfortable, and then adding a pinch more. As the level of control is divested, it is very important that the team be aligned with the goal of the organization.

2. Act your way to new thinking

3. Short, early conversations make efficient work

4. Use “I intend to…” to turn passive followers into active leaders

5. Resist the urge to provide solutions – Emergency situations indeed require snap decision making and clear orders but most situations do not require immediate decisions.

6. Eliminate top-down monitoring systems – Adherence to process frequently becomes the objective instead of achieving the objective of the process. When errors are made, additional overseers and inspectors are added but they do not contribute to actually achieve the objective.

7. Think out loud (both superiors and subordinates) – This is also a mechanism for organizational clarity.

8. Embrace the inspectors

Mechanisms for competence include:

1. Take deliberate actions

2. We learn (everywhere, all the time) – This is a path to greater decision-making authority.

3. Don’t brief, certify – When people know they will be asked questions, they study their responsibilities ahead of time and increase their intellectual involvement.

4. Continually and consistently repeat the message

5. Specify goals, not methods – Provide employees with the objective and let them figure out the method. Give people authority, paired with responsibility and the tools to do the job.

Mechanisms for clarity are:

1. Achieve excellence, don’t just avoid errors – Use gamification to improve performance by providing data to the teams on their relative performance.

2. Build trust and take care of your people – It does not mean shielding them from the consequences of their own behaviour as this leads to irresponsibility. On the other hand, give them every available tool and advantage to achieve their aims in life, beyond the specifics of the job.

3. Use your legacy for inspiration

4. Use guiding principles for decision criteria – These principles must be able to provide guidance on decisions.

5. Use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviours

6. Begin with the end in mind – Set measurable goals.

7. Encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience

The last mechanism that the author introduces is Don’t empower, Emancipate. Empowerment programmes do not work because it fundamentally disempowers employees. Give employees control over what they work and how they work by letting them make meaningful decisions. This will give people a real sense of adding values.

However, to achieve this goal, it requires an intersection of the right technical knowledge, a thorough understanding of your organization’s goals, authority to make the decision, and responsibility for the consequences of the decisions made.

The author had a painful experience working with a workforce that is not receptive to change. Thus, without the thirst for change, it would be difficult to get the crew to accept an entirely new way of thinking about leadership. Besides that, it is important to have the support of the top management too. Without these 2 key ingredients, it would be hard to cause a change. Having said so, even a rigid organization like military can change, what reason does a civilian organization have to stay the same?

The author intends this book to be a call to action, a manifesto, for all frustrated workers and bosses for whom the current leadership structure is not working. The mechanisms we choose to use to implement this new leadership model will be structurally similar to those listed above but the specifics will be different, depending on our work situations.


  1. Whatever sense we have of thinking we know something is a barrier to continued learning.
  2. Doing the same thing as everyone else and hoping for a different outcome didn’t make sense.
  3. Lack of certainty is strength and certainty is arrogance.
  4. Control without competence is chaos.


3 out of 3 stars

Interested in Turn the Ship Around?

You may get the book from through the links below*.

Get the print book from Kinokuniya Malaysia here

Get the ebook from Rakuten kobo here

*Disclosure: The above links are affiliate links. Thus, I may earn a small commission when you purchase the book through these links.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *