Turn the Ship Around: A Book For Frustrated Leaders


Our annual global spend on leadership development is estimated to be around £30bn. With this size of investment you would expect to see a demonstrable improvement in leadership capability. However, one indicator suggests that this may not be the case - levels of employee engagement have remained largely static over the last 20 years. That could be seen as a pretty damning indictment of the effectiveness of leadership and therefore leadership development overall.

There is no shortage of leadership advice out there - 21,000 books available through Amazon, a multitude of executive leadership business school programmes and a healthy private sector provision. Yet despite this, we still struggle to see a good return on investment from these resources.
A recent Global Workforce Study found that nearly two-thirds of the global workforce are not highly engaged. And that, “In contrast to many of the more reward-oriented elements that affect attraction and retention, the drivers of sustainable engagement focus almost entirely on the culture and the relational aspect of the work experience.”


David Marquet’s book ‘Turn the Ship Around’ provides an insight that challenges some of the well-established orthodoxies of leadership and management. 

Marquet proposes that the traditional ‘leader-follower’ model creates a barrier to getting people fully engaged and committed to an organisation’s purpose and objectives. If we divide our workforce into ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find different levels of engagement, drive, initiative and commitment. 

He addresses the question that many senior teams ask about their workers: “How can we get them to think and act like us?” and suggests that we follow his ‘leader-leader’ model that creates leadership and accountability at every level and encourages a questioning attitude towards blind obedience. 

“Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.”
David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around


Marquet developed his ‘leader-leader’ model while commanding a nuclear submarine in the U.S. Navy; transforming it from being the worst to the best performing submarine in the entire fleet.

Instead of the Russell Crowe/ Sean Connery submarine captain of the movies, we find a Captain who decides that the only order he will ever give is when there is a need to fire a weapon. He replaces a culture of order and obedience with one of responsibility and intent, ceding control from the senior ranks to everyone on board the submarine.


Marquet pulls off the trick of both inspiring us to be better (indeed different) leaders as well as giving us some solid advice and building blocks - he is a very generous author.

The ‘leader-leader’ model rests on these 4 pillars:

  • Control - Give control, don’t take control
  • Competence - Create technical competence in the workplace
  • Clarity - Be honest, public, and clear about the organisation’s goals
  • Courage - Resist the urge to follow cultural stereotypes of the “in charge” leader
His thinking is very much attuned to that of Simon Sinek, the star turn at the London Vistage conference in February. Fundamentally, Marquet and Sinek ask us to consider the purpose of leadership.

To take a prompt from Sinek’s other great theme, if we ‘start with the why’ of leadership the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ becomes much clearer and more effective.


There are many books such as Rudolph Giuliani’s that tell the story of a leader’s journey and others that provide a more practical manual for leadership. But Marquet manages to do both which is one of the reasons why ‘Turn the Ship Around’ stands out from the crowd.

This is a book for the ambitious, for the frustrated, for those who have ‘been there, done that’ with leadership development, for those who want to be good leaders but find the benefits of one off programmes wear off after a while.

‘Turn the Ship Around’ is one of the very few leadership books that I have read from start to finish in one go, and even then I was left thirsty for more inspiration, and more practical tips.

I believe that by following Marquet’s leadership approach we can become better leaders and improve the performance, engagement and morale of our workforce.

What are your thoughts? How do you motivate and inspire your teams?

Let me know if you have already implemented David Marquet’s or Simon Sinek’s ideas into your organisational culture and what the outcome was.

More from Vistage:

The 5 Dyfunctions of a Team- Jim Alampi

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