Have you ever read a book you wish you'd read years ago? One that captures and clarifies thoughts and approaches you agree with and offers new insight that changes how you think. That was my reaction to reading Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet.
I've always been a fan of servant leadership since hearing the term when I first became an Engineering Manager. The likes of Simon Sinek have repeatedly stated that leaders should be there to serve their teams, and it's a sentiment with which I absolutely agree. To summarise in an overly-simplified phrase: if you look after your team, they look after the company. David Marquet's approach complements this: he outlines multiple mechanisms to allow team members to become leaders themselves, describing a "leader-leader" model (as opposed to a "leader-follower"). Mechanisms include certifying rather than briefing (ensuring your team has time to dedicate to self-directed learning and not simply telling them what to do), rewarding those who show initiative and responsibility, and encouraging an environment where a leader can be contradicted.
The book is structured in a way that outlines these mechanisms while following a narrative of his time with the USS Santa Fe, joining a submarine notorious for failure, challenging the conventional navy wisdom of giving orders, and its overall success as a model for good leadership. Each chapter opens with a description of a challenge faced, describes how it was tackled and finishes with multiple prompts for thinking about similar situations in your own organisation. The author never shies away from admitting his mistakes and describing scenarios in which he was tempted to contradict his advice.
Perhaps my favourite passage in the book is his description of the efforts to ensure everyone is always learning. This principle is actively embraced throughout the crew, backed by a document underpinned by the simple phrase "we learn". It's a helpful reminder of the importance of always learning. In technology, this is an uncontroversial sentiment - programming is such a complex and fast-developing area that it is impossible to know everything, even in a specialised niche. Hence, there is always more to learn. In management, this is easier to forget as you become absorbed in the challenges of day-to-day product delivery.
As I embark on job hunting, I intend to keep learning more, spurred on by Turn the Ship Around. It really is a terrific piece of writing that both summarises fundamental principles of leadership and provides multiple new perspectives and mechanisms for achieving success.
In keeping with the book, I'll end this article with some prompts.
- Is there a book that inspired you to think about things differently?
- How do you keep learning? When things get stressful, and you're buried under the day-to-day work, how do you ensure you take time for self-directed learning?
- How does your organisation encourage self-directed learning?