A couple of months ago, our CEO Aaron shared this book with our team: Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet.  This book is fascinating and it really inspired us, as we’re always trying to be better leaders and support every team member at our company to feel like a leader.

The author, L. David Marquet, is a former U.S. Navy Captain — as you can imagine, he knows a lot about leadership during stressful situations.  Although this book is considered one of the best business books ever written, the takeaways in it are applicable to life in general.  His story is about how he turned the “worst” fleet in the Navy into the best fleet through his unique approach to leadership, called the “leader-leader” model.

Long story short, he treated everyone in his submarine like a leader and empowered them to have an equal stake in the decision-making process.  He learned — almost the hard way — that having people just take orders without deliberating or offering an alternative could be dangerous in a setting like a nuclear submarine, when any choice affects many’s safety. 

Marquet delves into the history of prosperity and progress, which uses what he calls “the leader-follower” model.  Basically: leaders led, and followers did what the leaders directed.

“The widespread development of farming, the pyramids in Egypt, and the factories of the Industrial Revolution were all built using this structure.  It generated tremendous wealth.”

But now, in the modern world, “much of the important work we do is cognitive” and the leader-follower model doesn’t work as well.  That’s because cognitive work requires the ability to problem-solve.  According to Marquet, the most powerful thing a leader can do is elevate everyone else around him into a leader as well.  That way, everyone has equal responsibility in being a problem-solver and coming up with solutions.  As a Navy Captain, Marquet witnessed firsthand the importance of everyone involved in a mission being equally equipped to think quickly, strategically, and logically.

During our discussion, my daughter Kayla brought up a great online course she took a while ago called the Art of Accomplishment.  This course guides people through a deepdive into their habits and values so that they can live an authentic life and meet the goals that matter to them.  One activity ties directly back to leadership: the concept of “How/What” questions when brainstorming, strategizing, and trying to look at a problem in another way.  This is something we try to empower our team to do.

There are many ways to find a solution when we have a problem to solve.  Rather than telling our team the way we think is best, we’d rather have everyone bring their ideas to the table because, more often than not, this leads us to an even better idea.

“How/What” questions are open-ended and non-accusatory, and are designed to question your assumptions.  The point is NOT to answer the questions, just to ask them and let everyone’s brains stew on them.  Here’s an activity you can try in your own life: share these questions with a friend or loved one, and take some time to reflect on them yourself.

  1. What would it look like if I never knew the concept of perfectionism?
  2. What consequences does having a problem-solving outlook on everything create?
  3. How do I find more time?
  4. How do I change my mindset around time from scarcity to abundance?
  5. What if I didn’t prepare for anything?
  6. What if I lost all my knowledge tomorrow?
  7. What would it look like if I went into every conversation not knowing anything about the topic?
  8. How do I shed beliefs that no longer serve me?
  9. What if I lost everything tomorrow?
  10. How can I retrain my brain to see the positives in life instead of focusing on what needs to be solved?
  11. How can I stop managing myself?
  12. How do I disentangle my identity from my output/productivity?

I hope these questions, and Marquet’s fascinating book, may spark some breakthroughs for you and the people in your life.