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Turn the Ship Around

I just recently finished the book Turn the Ship Around, and I don’t have anything insightful to say but I did want to recall some points from it. I found the book to be fantastic and insightful - I agree completely with Captain Marquet’s leader-leader style, and hope in future positions I can remain as committed and mindful as he was to creating environments like the one in the book. I think the practices in the book are very similar to those adopted by agile software teams and mission command leadership styles.

The author’s goals on the Santa Fe were to implement leader-leader practices by pushing decision making and control to lower and lower levels. Leader-leader practices contrast leader-follower practices, where leaders are in charge and followers follow. In leader-leader situations, subordinates drive each of their own areas. They aren’t simply told they are empowered by bosses, they are empowered in their actions.

Captain Marquet needed to push control down to lower and lower levels to build these leader-leader practices, but in order to do that he had to make sure competence and clarity were pervasive. Competence - because if others besides the top boss are to be leaders, then they must have the technical competence required to make decisions. Clarity - because if all leaders are to push effort in the same direction, cohesively, they have to know the correct direction to push.

These three effort areas needed some supporting actions to make them happen:

  • Control - push it down to lower and lower levels
    • Find the generic code for control and rewrite it - are there regs that specify who is in control? change them
    • Act your way to new thinking - fake it till you make it - consider talking the talk while you try to start walking the walk
    • Short early conversations make efficient work - teams should sync regularly among all levels
    • Use “I Intend To” to turn passive followers into active leaders - when folks recommend an action, or request to take an action, ask them to rephrase it as an “I intend to” statement
    • Resist the urge to provide solutions - listen to the ones folks provide
    • Eliminate top down monitoring systems - what were you trying to accomplish with them? Find a better way to accomplish that goal that gives leaders autonomy
    • Think out loud, both superiors and subordinates - more sharing of info
    • Embrace the inspectors - learn from them, don’t be afraid of them
  • Competence - supports pushing control down, must be developed to exist, must exist to permit pushing control down to work
    • Take deliberate action - point at the action you’re about to take, state it out loud, then take it
    • We learn everywhere all the time - adopt this mindset publicly within your org
    • Don’t brief, certify - teams were briefing the safety/activities they would take before taking them, to the folks who would take the actions. Folks were falling asleep. Instead, certify the folks on the actions they need to take.
    • Continually and consistently repeat the message - clarity…
    • Specify goals, not methods - permit autonomy
  • Clarity - supports pushing control down, gets everyone on the same page regarding what the organization is about
    • Achieve excellence, don’t just avoid errors - don’t just survive, thrive
    • Build trust and take care of your people
    • Use your legacy for inspiration - embrace the history of your team, find some interesting fun ways to bring that into play
    • Use guiding principles for decision criteria - let your conscience be your guide, and have guiding principles capable of steering decision criteria
    • Use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviors - be ready to give the award right when it’s time
    • Begin with the end in mind - start with why
    • Encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience

Some of these are not problems for me - they’re natural and I abhor situations where they’re not already the norm. “Encourage a questioning attitude,” for instance. “Embrace the inspectors,” is no problem. “Use guiding principles for decision criteria,” is the way I typically think about organizational problems. I like to ask what’s the right way to solve a problem for a situation. Building an environment where team members act the same is something I have not intentionally done in the past, though.

Other things I know I could be better about:

  • Use immediate recognition - I need to be ready with a coin, and with decorations in the desk drawer…
  • Resist the urge to provide solutions - I don’t keep my mouth shut quite enough
  • Begin with the end in mind - I do this personally, but need to articulate it to the team
  • Continually and continuously repeat the message - this is something I’ve found really improves team cohesion, and it’s great when people later repeat it back to you without prompting, I just have to keep this in mind to do it properly
  • Short early conversations - I try to apply this more regularly these days, already

Other things are creative solutions to problems I know I’ll encounter, and I hope to keep these in my toolbag for those times:

  • We learn everywhere all the time (I am this way already, but developing it in an organization as a principle seems very valuable)
  • “I intend to”, act your way to new thinking
  • Take deliberate action, think out loud
  • Don’t brief, certify
  • Use your legacy for inspiration