• Sarah Carter

Leaders Leading Leaders

Try saying that five times fast! Odds are you have experienced many different leadership styles in your career, no matter what industry, but they have all most likely had the Leader-Follower structure as their foundation. This style tends to go hand-in-hand with our heavily hierarchy based corporate/military world. What if there were another way? What if everyone acted as leaders in their own right? What if you were trusted to make decisions and implement them without asking higher management?


I imagine these questions are similar to what David Marquet (click for his site) asked when he was solidifying his methods for implementing the Leader-Leader approach, discussed in Turn the Ship Around (click to buy book on Amazon), on the USS Santa Fe. He, like most of us, came up in a world where leaders gave orders, followers executed them, and there was not a lot of discussion or collaboration beforehand. Marquet became opposed to this approach because he saw that "What happens in a top down culture when the leader is wrong? Everyone goes over the cliff" pg. 81. I picture him stacking that reality up with all of the added responsibilities he would be accepting as a Commanding Officer (CO) and figured that it was one step too far. So he decided to lead in a different way.


"Instead of more 'leadership' resulting in more 'followership,' [he] practiced less leadership, resulting in more leadership at every level of command" pg. 204. On such a complex platform, there is no way for the CO to know not only every detail of the ship but to then know every detail of the 150 members aboard to effectively lead every decision. Last I checked, we had not succeeded at being in two places at once or at cloning people which would be the only way one person could do, and know, everything at the level required to effectively make decisions without input from others.


"The core of the leader-leader model is giving employees control over what they work on and how they work" pg. 206. Marquet implemented this by giving all ranks control over small pieces of their jobs initially, like shift and report schedules, then increasing what they controlled when he saw success and buy-in. The buy-in with empowerment was critical for the success of his approach. He could not establish a system that people were just going to "wait him out" and watch it crumble when he left because they lacked real connection and belief in the change. "Empowerment is needed to undo all those top-down, do-what-you're-told, be-A-team-player messages that result from our leader-follower model. But empowerment isn't enough...because empowerment within a leader-follower structure is a modest compensation and voice lost compared with the overwhelming signal that 'you are a follower.'" pg. 212. He wanted lasting change.


As the members of his crew began to feel empowered and bought into his leader-leader structure, he noticed that they also started to take greater ownership and pride in their technical knowledge. They did not just go through the motions outlined on their checklists or of what was taught to them; they started to dig in and become familiar with their tasks and purposes. "If all you need to do is what you are told, then you don't need to understands your craft. However, as your ability to make decisions increases, then you need intimate technical knowledge on which to base those decisions" pg. 128.


Pretty soon, Marquet noticed that "[his] crew didn't wait for orders. They just did what needed to be done and informed the appropriate personnel. It was leader-leader all the way" pg. 199. Word spread to other ships about his methods and pretty soon people were coming to his sub to see it in action. His sailors were experiencing job satisfaction like they never had before and taking those methods with them when they inevitably transferred. Every submariner I have encountered who was sailing during Marquet's time, knows his name and the successes the ship saw under his command.


I leave you with a few more thought provoking quotes from the book below. As you read them, consider how you could be a catalyst for a shift to leader-leader structure in your work life. Maybe you already experience it! Awesome, I would really like to hear about it. How has it worked? What has not? Was it there before you arrived or did you go through the transition? Did you help bring it about? Post below or reach out via email or social media and let me know your thoughts and experiences.


Head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy of this awesome book and workbook! It's never too late to get to reading. The next book will be Authentic Happiness: Using new Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin E. P. Seligman. Click the title to order it today and join the conversation in September!


"We were going to deconstruct decision authority and push it down to where the information lived" pg. 49.


"Cherish the dissention. If everyone thinks like you, you don't need them" pg. 93.


"as authority is delegated, technical knowledge at all levels takes on a greater importance" pg. 127


"Taking care of your people does not mean protecting them from the consequences of their own behavior. That's the path to irresponsibility" pg. 172


"Encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience" pg. 200


"Only with this model can you achieve top performance and enduring excellence and development of additional leaders" pg. 215


and that "control without competence is chaos" pg. 126.