By Scott Tackett

David Marquet was a top graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who became commander of the nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine USS Santa Fe. He was successful in turning the crew from “worst to first.”

In his book, Turn the Ship Around! How to Create Leadership at Every Level, Marquet details how he challenged both the U.S. Navy and private business’s traditional leader-follower approach and went on to implement his own model of leader-leader culture. How did he accomplish this? Allow me to advocate the simple yet extraordinary concepts that may change your core belief on how to manage a business and how you may be able to turn your business from a leader-follower culture to a leader-leader culture.

Strategy 1 | Accept that you may need to change your own leader-follower model; leader-leader culture starts with you.

If you want change in your organization, start thinking in new ways. One of the hardest-hitting quotes from the book (for me) is “Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.”

In the past, how many of us believed that if we gave our employees all possible policies, practices, and standard operating procedures, everything would take care of itself? Or how about the dreaded checklists? How many think you can give employees a checklist, ensure they follow it, and you won’t have anything to worry about… until there are mistakes and then you start trying to figure out who to blame?

One of the key components to effective management has always been control, or so we have been led to believe, because that’s what we have heard from day one in our management development classes and seminars. Marquet took the control function to a new level. According to his book, his success was due to the idea that if you want people to think, you need to “give control, create leaders” not “take control, attract followers.”

Strategy 2 | Practice MBWA: management by walking around.

Listen to what your employees have to say. You may not agree with everything, but I am willing to bet you will find out the good, the bad, and the really bad in short order. Once you understand their challenges as followers, you can begin the process of creating leaders. Figure out what frustrates your people and make the appropriate changes. How many times has someone asked our technicians, or office staff, or really anyone in a non-managerial role what they do, and they reply, “Whatever they tell me to do!”

Marquet was faced with this very real response from the men in his command, and he knew that in order to change this attitude, it was going to take a radical adjustment. He had to get his crew to go from a cycle of avoiding errors by doing what they were told (nothing more, nothing less) to a can-do attitude. He saw this as the only way to achieve excellence within every position on the ship.

Stephen R. Covey deals with this same issue in his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, when he addresses the issue of proactive versus reactive employees inside every organization, or as he states, the “have’s” and the “be’s.”

The Have’s

  • “I’ll be happy when I have my house paid off.”
  • If only I had a boss who wasn’t such a dictator.”
  • If I could just have more time to myself.”

The Be’s

  • “I can be more resourceful.”
  • “I can be more diligent.”
  • “I can be more creative.”
  • “I can be more cooperative.”

Are you surrounded by the “have’s” or the “be’s”? (On a side note, Covey actually visited Marquet’s sub, the USS Santa Fe, and called it the most empowering organization he’d ever seen!)

Strategy 3 | Substitute the words “we train” for “we learn.”

We have used the term “training” since the beginning of time. What the author suggests is to use “learning” instead. His belief is that training is passive, while learning is active. In other words, “it is something we do.”

We must have a competent workforce for the leader-leader culture to work. Give employees the tools and resources they need to accomplish the task and then get out of the way and let them do it.  You can feel confident in doing this, because they have learned what needs to be done, rather than simply being trained to do it.

Expect people to learn how to perform their job. If mistakes are made, ensure that corrective action is taken to eliminate future mistakes. If the same mistakes continue, it should be evident that you may have the wrong people in the wrong jobs, and that must be dealt with accordingly. Spend time challenging everyone in your organization to learn more, grow more, and accept more responsibility by being engaged as a leader, not just a follower.

Strategy 4 | Realize that promoting clarity throughout the organization must be a top-down responsibility.

In his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Patrick Lencioni devotes several chapters to this most important concept. Lencioni states: “The point here is that alignment and clarity cannot be achieved in one fell swoop with a series of generic buzzwords and aspirational phrases crammed together. Leaders simply cannot inspire, inform, motivate, market, and position their companies in the context of a T-shirt or lucite tschotske. Clarity requires a much more rigorous and unpretentious approach.” This means it starts at the top, folks!

Lencioni suggests there are six critical questions that must be asked and answered in order to provide employees with the clarity they need to be successful in the workplace. Give everyone in the organization a clear and unambiguous understanding of what you want and need, and then drive the leader-leader culture in every way possible.

As with any new initiative you undertake in your business, this should not be a “program of the day” or “plan of the month.” This is NOT an easy, one-and-done method. Marquet’s closing paragraph in the book strongly reinforces the most critical factor in the process: you! He writes: “Ultimately, the most important person to have control over is yourself—for it is that self-control that will allow you to ‘give control, create leaders.’ I believe that rejecting the impulse to take control and attract followers will be your greatest challenge and, in time, your most powerful and enduring success.”


Scott Tackett is a Business Development Advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. He is considered the leading expert in restoration and cleaning for Human Resource Development and Organizational Leadership with over 30 years of experience. Through Violand, Tackett works with companies to develop their people and profits. To reach him, visit Violand.com or call (800)360-3513.