Imagine spending a year of your life studying and preparing to captain a nuclear submarine, only to be re-assigned to a brand-new sub just two weeks before departure. That's exactly what happened to David Marquet, who has turned his amazing story into a best-selling business book, Turn the Ship Around.

Marquet found that crew members often knew the answers and solutions to problems, but they were trained to only follow directions instead of speaking up. When Marquet made a small mistake, he later found out that a crew member knew he was doing it wrong but didn't speak up. By creating a  leadership change on the submarine and breaking traditions to turn followers into leaders, Marquet and his crew were able to turn their notoriously unsuccessful submarine into the beacon of the fleet and one that sent an astounding 10 crew members on to future leadership positions on other submarines.

Turns out there are a lot of similarities between submarines and offices. Like a captain on a submarine, many office employees view their boss as someone who gives out instructions for them to simply do as they are told. But as Marquet says, no submarine in history has ever sunk only half the vessel--it either all sinks or all succeeds based in large part on the teamwork of the crew and the leadership of the captain.

To turn the traditional way of leadership thinking around, Marquet says it is important to reframe the thinking of every member of the organization. Workers need to be taught to think for themselves and not just to do as they are told. To put this into practice, Marquet turns to the "leader-leader" model, as opposed to the common "leader-follower" model. In the new model, everyone is a leader of themselves and has the power to think and make decisions. The leader's job is to create an environment where thinking naturally occurs, which gives the workers the framework they need to feel empowered.

To create a cohesive environment with distributed decision-making that doesn't turn into chaos, Marquet highlights three important principles:

  • Control. Good leaders don't tell people what to do, but rather give some of the control to the workers. Marquet cites the example of switching from pushing information down the chain from a manager to the person who is actually making the decision to instead pushing information up the chain so that the person who is making the decision has all the knowledge she needs.
  • Competence. Giving control can be a scary thing, especially if you aren't confident the workers have the technical competence to be successful. Strong leaders encourage workers to think and figure things out on their own to give them the confidence and skills they need to be successful.
  • Clarity. Clarity is the key that ties everything together without the ship falling into complete disarray. For the organization to be successful, the goal of each person and of the entire unit must be clear. A leader's job is to define and talk about what greatness is and then encourage it in other people. True clarity comes when everyone on the team is working to achieve greatness, not just to avoid errors or make it through the day.

Marquet's model embraces differences of opinions and thoughts. After all, if everyone had the same opinion, all of the workers except one would be useless. In an organization that empowers workers through strong leadership and thought-provoking decision-making, everyone can come up with the solution they think is best.

A new way of leading an organization is a scary prospect, especially when it involves handing power over to a large group of employees. However, just as Marquet experienced great success in the submarine when he turned things around, so too can organizations see themselves on a new and more successful path.