As human beings we tend to play small. We don’t take the action we are capable of because we’re afraid, we don’t believe we can, we make things too complicated or we think we don’t know how. There is a way of thinking, coaching and planning which empowers us to take responsibility for what we can achieve. A way to think openly and practically. To coach ourselves and others into big, energised action.
In 2002 US Submarine Captain David Marquet was preparing to take command of the USS Olympia. At the last minute, the plan changed and he was asked to take over the Santa Fe. David then had two problems. One, the Santa Fe was the worst performing sub in the fleet: morale was low, performance was low, personnel retention was worse than any other sub in the navy. Two, he had no idea how that particular vessel operated. He quickly realised he couldn’t tell his officers what to do, because he didn’t know. Neither could he fix all the problems that existed himself. So he did the only thing he could – he started asking questions and letting the crew make the decisions.
For the captain of a nuclear submarine, this was revolutionary. The ‘Do as I say’ style is the only leadership method these military men would have ever known. But Marquet’s approach worked, because the psychological ownership for action moved to the crew. Over time, instead of having a crew trained to follow orders he had a crew trained to think for themselves. The result was huge. The Santa Fe went from worst to first, achieving the highest retention and operational standings in the Navy. All because his staff were empowered to make their own plans and decisions.
This story makes us think: If Captain Marquet could empower his people in a metal tube under the sea, sat on a nuclear reactor, what excuse do we have not to try? If we were incredible at this skill of thinking, coaching and planning. If we felt truly empowered and if the people around us felt truly empowered – what might we be able to achieve?