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November | Business Transformation | Read time: calculating...

Small Steps: Meeting with David Marquet

Small steps can have a big impact on an organisation. This was a take away for our team after meeting with David Marquet, bestselling author of Turn the Ship Around, as he joined Keogh Consulting last week as part of our Thought Leadership Series.

David talked about the importance of small steps. Music to my ears. All too often, I see senior leaders seek solace in complex culture programmes. But if it doesn’t work – well it’s the programme, it’s not about me and what I do as a leader. But that’s the point. It is all about what leaders do and say that matters.

When the ‘ship’ hits the fan.

What led Marquet to writing what USA Today has rated one of the “12 best business books of all time”? David graduated top of his class from the US Naval Academy, thereafter he joined the submarine force.  As his career progressed, he began to question the traditional leader-follower model, used by the Navy and most companies around the word.

Ultimately, David was selected to captain the USS Olympia, a nuclear-powered attack submarine. He studied for over a year to take command, learning how every detail of the submarine operated.

Then unexpectedly, David was ordered to take command of the USS Santa Fe, one of the worst performing submarines in the fleet… and a different submarine that he knew little about. Captain Marquet quickly realised that he was out of his depth and the leader-follower model was not going to work, deciding to try a different approach, one which he calls “Intent-based leadership®.”

I have long been a fan of David’s intent-based leadership approach. There is a quote by 7 Habits author Dr Stephen Covey in the foreword of Turn the Ship Around which reads: “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” It’s this quote that compelled me to read David’s book, sign up to his Leadership Nudges®, and eventually reach out to him to see if he would come and talk to (what turned out to be) very appreciative leaders in Perth.

David’s approach describes what we stand for at Keogh. We truly believe that if you unlock the potential of the people who work for you, success will follow. We’ve been working with our clients to achieve exactly that for over three decades.

The Santa Fe represents an outstanding example of where this type of thinking can take you. Under Marquet’s ‘command’ it achieved the highest retention and operational standings in the Navy. Even after his departure, it continued to win awards and promote more officers and enlisted men to positions of increased responsibility than any other submarine.

It was an absolute delight and privilege to hear David speak with different audiences in Perth. I walked away with a treasure trove of insights, some of which I’d like to share with you here:

Empowerment is not an either/or deal. 
Just telling someone they are empowered, will not make it so. Telling someone they are fully empowered to make a decision when they do not have the appropriate level of competence and clarity is not responsible.  Meet them where they are at, and then move forward together.  Some will step into their own power faster than others. It’s not a one size fits all approach.

Focus on your language. 
Remove the words ‘wrong’ and ‘fail’ from your vocabulary. Encourage your teams to conduct experiments and test hypotheses – there is no right and wrong when you use this kind of language to try new things. Talk about what you learned, rather than what went wrong.

It’s ‘we’ not ‘they.’
If you want to tackle the silos in your organisation, resist using the word “they” and start using “we.” And yes, this means sharing ownership of problems and their resolution.

Don’t think you have to solve it yourself.
When a team member comes to you seeking advice to solve a problem, resist the temptation to solve it. Ask them to share their thinking with you, then ask how you can best help them think through the problem. Think with them, don’t think for them.

Stop talking.
This has to be my favourite piece of advice (to myself). Stop talking; listen more. Stop advocating for your own point of view, instead, listen to others. And, if you want to up the ante, try advocating their point of view as if it was your own.

You’ve taken a small step today by seeking to improve your own leadership skills, I want to challenge you to take another. We’re always looking to bring to light relevant topics for leaders and solutions to our clients’ problems, so be sure to subscribe to Keogh’s updates. Or, if you already have, let us know if you’re interested in attending our next Thought Leadership event to be held in 2019.

Furthermore, if you would like to know more about our Leadership Programs, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly,