Home » How Great Leaders Serve Others: David Marquet (Transcript)

How Great Leaders Serve Others: David Marquet (Transcript)

So, I grabbed the officer deck, who’s the navigator. I’ve been on the ship the least, he has been in the ship the longest. He’s been on the ship for over two years, senior department.

And I say, Hey, nav, let’s give those nukes something to think about ahead two-thirds on the EPM, he orders it, helm ahead two thirds, nothing happens.

Very astutely, I recognize nothing’s happening. And I can’t really see the helmsmen because number two, Periscopes in the way.

So I leaned to the right and I look, and I can see, he’s kind of… I can see his shoulders are tight. He’s almost squirming. And I say, “Helm, what’s happening.”

He says, he’s facing away. He says, “Captain, there is no two thirds on the EPM”. I had made a mistake. I’m like every other ship I’d ever been on, there’s no two thirds on this ship. So of course I pull the plug, “good job”, like, I pretended it, “You pass the test.”

So, what I do next. I grabbed the nav, “Hey Nav, did you know there was no two thirds on the EPM?”

(Nav replied) “Yes sir. I did.”

So my arms are flailing at this point like “Why did you order it?”

“Because you told me to.”

Because you told me, and it was a moment of clarity unmatched in my life. Because at that moment I realized we had a crew that was trained for compliance and a captain that was trained for the wrong ship.

And that was a deadly combination. We were going to die if we didn’t fix it.

As soon as a drill was over, I gathered all the officers. We went down to the wardroom. I said, “Hey, here’s the problem.” They already knew the problem. So I was just talking for myself. 

And I said, “We’re going to turn everything around.” Instead of me take, I’m going to give control. So I stopped giving orders. I said, I’m going to not… The only order I would give is the final order to launch ordinance because I felt the responsibility for killing other human beings was not one that I can pass off.

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Every other word I stopped giving. I refused to give the orders. We replaced it instead with the officer saying I intend to, and eventually the crew, and then everyone is saying, I intend to blank.

And we were very proud of these briefs, right? Gather around the chart table. The enemy’s here. We’re going to go here. You’re going to do this. You’re going to do this. Any questions? Never any questions, but that’s me telling you what your job is.

So we got rid of all briefs and we replaced it instead with the subordinates telling the superiors in the chain of command, what they were going to do, what they thought might happen.

If you were a junior listed man, and you submitted for leave, you needed five or six people to sign your leave chit. So we eliminated the requirement for any officer to sign any enlisted person’s leave chit.

We reduced the number of signatures from five to two. We saved a lot of time. We had these elaborate systems of keeping track of what other people owed. We called them ticklers, ironically. 

And we had tickler meetings. I mean, there’s a whole culture set around the tickler.

And that was the same thing. Because again, it was not you doing your jobs, me telling you what to do. So we eliminated the tickler. No, yeah. Secretly, I kept the list for a while, but then eventually I got rid of that and there was a little bit uncomfortable.

But I literally had no list of what anyone on that submarine needed to do other than me. It was awesome. The crew took to it like wildfire.

Now we had some unexpected events. So for example, we’re getting ready to deploy final certification, we had to track the submarine… We’re getting ready to shoot it… Finally the whole hours of nail biting under sea tension and we got ready to shoot.

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And I say, ‘Shoot tube 2’. Torpedo leaves the ship. There’s this whoosh…Torpedo running wire good, fire clearance maneuver complete… Torpedo’s merging on the bearing of the target… And he’s going great.

I look over there’s this wire… there’s this, mile-long wire that connects to the torpedo to the ship so we can talk to it. And steering the torpedo is very, very complicated. It for sort of arcane, you know, seven people in the world know how to do it. And I had one of them, is a kid named Smith.

And, I look over for sort of, I’ve been super absorbed… I look over to the weapon control panel and there’s no Smith, some other kid.

The chief standing right there. They changed their, where is Smith? The inspectors are all writing furiously. “Yeah. I put them on leave. You know, doesn’t take your permission.” What?

Trust me, we’ve trained. And it was perfect with us.

The year before we did this, we re-enlisted three sailors. Now these guys are working a lot harder. They have to think ahead. They have to think like a boss. They have to be responsible. There’s no hiding from the responsibility of your job.

How many sailors do you think we re-enlisted six, nine? We re-enlisted 33 sailors that year.

Because people don’t want easy. They want agency. And it’s true, the ship went from worst to first in almost every operational and combat measure. But I don’t really think that’s interesting because I think you could do that in authoritarian way.

What’s interesting is this:

This is Dave Adams. He’s the provincial reconstruction team commander, host province on the border of Pakistan in Afghanistan, provincial reconstruction teams are the civil military teams that have army National Guard, state department, USAID, justice, NGO reps, they’re out there, right? They don’t just sit on some base. They’re out there with the people.

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