In his widely acclaimed book, L. David Marquet outlines in an autobiographic way his path from a leader that leads followers to a leader that creates more leaders.
The book Turn the Ship Around! is worth reading cover-to-cover. While it has a tremendous breadth and exposes the topic skillfully, there is one sequence that summarizes the entire problem that is addressed by the Intent-Based leadership approach introduced in this book:
The captain ordered, “ahead two-thirds.” The officer on deck repeated the order, “ahead two-thirds.”
Captain Marquet noticed the helmsman who was to execute the order looked unsettled. When asked what the problem was, the helmsman pointed out that there was no two-thirds in the electric propulsion mode unlike all his previous submarines. When asked, the officer on deck said he repeated the command knowing it was wrong.
David realized that the leader-follower environment meant his crew would do anything he said—even if it was wrong.
In “Turn the Ship Around!”, Marquet shares his experience as a submarine captain and the transformative leadership principles he applied during his time in command of the USS Santa Fe. He realized that the traditional leader-follower model was not effective in situations where quick and accurate decision-making was crucial. Instead, he needed to create an environment where every crew member felt empowered to take responsibility and make decisions that would benefit the overall mission. This shift in mindset led to the development of the Intent-Based Leadership approach.
In his widely acclaimed book, L. David Marquet outlines in an autobiographic way his path from a leader that leads followers to a leader that creates more leaders. “Turn the Ship Around!" serves as a powerful reminder of the potential that lies within each individual and the incredible impact that can be achieved when leaders focus on unlocking that potential.
Traditional leader-follower models often rely on a hierarchical structure, where decisions are made at the top and passed down to subordinates for execution. This approach can lead to inefficiencies, lack of innovation, and a disengaged workforce. In Marquet’s experience, the leader-follower environment meant his crew would do anything he said—even if it was wrong. This realization led him to develop the Intent-Based Leadership approach, which aims to empower individuals and create a more effective, engaged, and innovative workforce.
Giving Control, Rather Than Taking Control: One of the key components of Intent-Based Leadership is the concept of “giving control, rather than taking control." Instead of micromanaging every aspect of the team’s work, leaders should provide guidance, set expectations, and then trust their team members to make informed decisions. This approach allows for greater autonomy and promotes a sense of ownership, leading to increased motivation and engagement.
Focus on Competence and Clarity: Another essential element of this leadership model is the focus on competence and clarity. In order for individuals to make effective decisions, they must have a deep understanding of their role, the overall mission, and the necessary technical knowledge. Leaders must prioritize ongoing training, education, and skill development to ensure their team members are well-equipped to handle their responsibilities.
Foster a Culture of Learning and Continuous Improvement: A further aspect of Intent-Based Leadership is fostering a culture of learning and continuous improvement. This involves creating an environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth, rather than failures to be punished. Encouraging open dialogue and feedback helps to identify areas for improvement and promotes a growth mindset among team members.
To support the Intent-Based Leadership approach, Marquet outlines several practical tools and techniques that can be implemented within organizations.
Empower Decision-Making at All Levels: Encourage team members to make decisions within their area of expertise, providing them with the necessary information and resources to do so effectively. By empowering individuals to take ownership of their decisions, leaders can create a more engaged and motivated workforce.
Implement a Questioning Attitude: Promote a culture where individuals are encouraged to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and seek clarification when needed. This helps to ensure that decisions are based on accurate information and fosters a more open, collaborative working environment.
Use “I Intend To” Statements: Instead of requesting permission for every decision, encourage team members to communicate their intended course of action and the reasoning behind it. This fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility, and allows leaders to provide guidance and feedback as needed.
Encourage a Solution-Oriented Mindset: When problems arise, focus on finding solutions rather than placing blame. This helps to create a positive and collaborative atmosphere, where team members feel empowered to take initiative and address challenges head-on.
Prioritize Transparency and Open Communication: Share information freely within the team, ensuring everyone has access to the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. Transparent communication helps to build trust, foster collaboration, and promote a more effective decision-making process.
By adopting the principles and practices of Intent-Based Leadership, organizations can experience a range of benefits that contribute to their overall success.
Empowering individuals to take ownership of their work and make decisions leads to improved performance and increased innovation. When team members are given the autonomy and resources to explore new ideas and solutions, they are more likely to identify opportunities for improvement and drive positive change within the organization.
By fostering a culture of learning, continuous improvement, and open communication, employees feel more engaged and satisfied in their roles. This, in turn, leads to increased retention and a more motivated, committed workforce.
Organizations that embrace Intent-Based Leadership are better equipped to adapt to changing circumstances and overcome challenges. By empowering individuals to make decisions and take ownership of their work, teams can respond more quickly and effectively to unexpected situations or new opportunities.
Adopting the principles of Intent-Based Leadership helps to build a stronger, more inclusive organizational culture. By prioritizing transparency, collaboration, and continuous learning, organizations create an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and motivated to contribute to the organization’s success.
To demonstrate the impact of Intent-Based Leadership, let’s explore a few real-world examples of organizations that have successfully implemented this approach.
A manufacturing company was struggling with low employee morale, high turnover, and stagnating productivity. By adopting the principles of Intent-Based Leadership, the company saw a significant turnaround. Employees were empowered to make decisions within their areas of expertise, leading to increased innovation and efficiency. The focus on competence and clarity ensured that team members had the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their roles. The result was a more engaged workforce, improved productivity, and a stronger organizational culture.
A technology startup was facing challenges in scaling its operations and maintaining its innovative edge as it grew. By implementing Intent-Based Leadership, the startup was able to maintain a culture of innovation and collaboration even as it expanded. Employees were encouraged to take ownership of their work and make decisions, fostering a sense of autonomy and accountability. By prioritizing transparency and open communication, the startup was able to maintain a strong organizational culture and continue to drive growth and success.
“Turn the Ship Around!” by L. David Marquet serves as a powerful reminder of the potential that lies within each individual and the incredible impact that can be achieved when leaders focus on unlocking that potential. By embracing the principles of Intent-Based Leadership, organizations can create a more engaged, motivated, and high-performing workforce, ultimately driving success and long-term growth.
Feature image: Los Angeles-class ballistic nuclear missile submarine SSN 755 from Seaforces.org