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Do You Have Battle-Tested Leadership?

Submarine (1)

A Story of Battle-Tested Leadership

Originally set to take over command of the USS Olympia(SSN-717), Captain David Marquet was thrilled to reach the pinnacle of his navy career. Unfortunately for him, a last minute command switch had him assume command of the USS Santa Fe(SSN-763).

Santa Fe was the worst submarine in the fleet by all performance metrics. Leadership had failed this Submarineunderwater war machine and the sailors that owned her.

As the new Commanding Officer, David was tasked with getting USS Santa Fe ready for a six month overseas deployment and had only 169 days to get the ship and crew ready! With constant pre-deployment inspections, training, and maintenance, this was an incredibly tall task.

Nuclear-powered submarines are our nation's stealthiest and most lethal form of diplomacy and it takes a razor sharp crew to properly execute our nation's tasking.

His revolutionary leader-leader model was intended to create leaders at every management level of the submarine, encouraging participation and ownership from every sailor, which was desperately missing from the current crew.

Here I have listed the top three leadership lessons I took away from our interview(Episode 60) and his book that are critical for all leaders, current or aspiring.

Leader-Leader, not Leader-Follower is the way most powerful way to lead those who you are responsible for

Organizations have been getting leaner and have rewarded more entrepreneurial thinking(empowering individuals to be more innovative) for decades. David calls leaders to take the extra step past empowerment.

In order to unleash your team's creativity, innovation, and talent, you must go beyond empowerment and give decision-making control to your team. David calls this emancipation.

He explains that we can't make our teams more talented, but we as leaders can restrict talent and the self-leadership aspirations of those that you lead by stripping away decision-making ability. Easy to understand - imagine how you feel when you are given the autonomy to make decisions, even simple ones.

Now imagine if those decisions are taken from you by someone of greater authority. Talk about popping your motivational balloon. David explains that empowerment is no longer needed when you're team is emancipated.

The Leader-Leader model relies on leaders at all levels to be aligned with the vision and the goals of the organization. If all levels are aligned with the goals of the organization, people can make thoughtful decisions that make a real impact.

To utilize the Leader-Leader model, it is critical to for you to resist the urge to take control, allowing for organic participation from all levels. Increased participation allows the entire team to provide thoughtful input, which leads to dynamic discussion.

If you consistently gives orders, it creates a passive environment where subordinates are off the hook to lead in their space. Even more, David challenges leaders to speak last in meetings, briefs, and training.

Listen to this amazing story here only on LSG!

Act your way to new thinking

The USS Santa Fe struggled with a real morale issue. Not unfamiliar to many private organizations, there was little pride in the work being done and the crew retention was strikingly low.

In fact, the USS Santa Fe retained officers and enlisted personnel, alike, that was well below the Navy fleet averages for submarines. Simply put, people did not see a purpose in staying with the navy because of their experience onboard Santa Fe.

Small changes make a huge difference. To instill more pride in the crew, David mandated all personnel to personally welcome all guests(VIPs, inspectors, non-ship's company) to the USS Santa Fe as if they were walking into your home.

Imagine how you feel when you welcome someone into your home when it's appears like effort was taken to maintain a beautiful space.

Similarly, imagine how you feel when you aren't expecting company or you house is just dirty and you have to "apologize for the mess". David knew that if people greeted outsiders into their space, they would take more pride in it.

Furthermore, a customary courtesy for sailors is to ask permission to take action. Asking for permission is inherently dis-empowering.

Instead, David instructed his personnel of all ranks, officer and enlisted, to change out "I request permission to..." for "I intend to...". This forced deliberate action from all personnel that is focused on achieving excellence rather than minimizing mistakes.Turn-the-Ship-Around-ART_0

Lastly, he wanted the deliberate action to be spoken aloud. Therefore, the vocalizer is accountable for his deliberate action that can be spot checked by those around him for potential mistakes.

To implement this in your life, take deliberate action to cultivate a strong culture that people are proud to work in. Taking deliberate action means asking your personnel to join you in vocalizing intentions with conviction.

A culture of trust and strong, prideful bonds are sure to form from leader to leader. Take the first step towards to new thinking by acting out the change you want to see in your team.

Eliminate entire steps and processes that don't add value

When you think about meetings, briefs, and training, do you think about dull and tedious they often are? David was quick to understand that a leader-leader model can help eliminate unneeded procedures that become ancestral to an organization.

Pushing responsibility to lower levels of the organization not only encourages a fully engaged crew, but can allow for shorter and more productive meetings amongst specific team members.

"Balance the courage to hold people accountable for their actions with my compassion for their honest efforts" - David Marquet

Be able to critically examine your processes and procedures, especially the ones you inherit when you enter an organization. It is much easier to set a standard early when your eyes take more notice of your surroundings. It is much harder months or years down the road when you are accustomed to how business is done.

Motivate your team to be comfortable disrupting the status quo if they feel like processes are outdated, pointless, or counter productive. Time is our most valued asset -- make sure your team knows you care about their time above all else.


If you find yourself constantly needing control, it is time to reexamine your process. Whether bootstrapping a business as an entrepreneur, a leader of a small team in the corporate world, or leading yourself, you can act your way to new thinking.

Identify opportunities to build leaders at all levels. Welcome people to your work space with pride. And take deliberate action to actively listening to team members and communicate directly with positions of authority.

Listen to full in-depth 38 minute interview here!

About the author, Tim

US Navy Surface Warfare Officer.
Lacrosse Player.

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