© Roald Kvam 2021

A submarine captain once did a change in his preferred leadership style that changed everything on his submarine. This is his story:

I was trained for one kind of submarine and my guys were trained to do what they were told. That’s a deadly combination we all know. Organizations where people just follow the leader into disastrous situations. So I got my guys together. I said: – Hey, we have a problem here. I was trained for another kind of submarine, than this one. You’re trained to do whatever nonsense comes out of my mouth. – That’s right, they said. They already knew: Whatever order I would give, they would do. Even though I did not know their submarine…

Then I said: – What are we going to do? What could we do? And we talked about it, and we came up with all these different things: – Well, you captain, you just got to be smarter… You got to give better orders… But, how I’m going to learn a whole nuclear submarine miles of valves and pipes? That’s when I spent a year learning. That’s not going to work! So we talked about it and they said: – Okay, there’s only one logical solution. We figured it out: You shut up! 

Wow! That’s not what captain’s do. They walk around giving orders? 

Well, I thought about it and they’re right. So at that point I vowed never to give another order. And if you came down to my submarine today, it would have been very confusing because you couldn’t have pointed out who’s the captain here. You wouldn’t have seen me giving orders. I did retain one order: The final order to launch a weapon. Since that was going to result in the deaths of other human beings, I didn’t want that on anyone’s conscience. That was my moral and ethical responsibility as leader. But regarding everything else, and in the Navy there’s long lists of things that the captain has to authorize,- I just refuse to give those orders.

What we replaced it with was intent instead of giving instructions… 


If you want your people to think, give intent. It might seem like a very small nuance change of language but it is hugely powerful because the psychological ownership now shifts to your crew. They need to discover the answer otherwise you’re always “The answer man”… and you can never go home and eat dinner. 

Any mission requires two pillars that I think support this idea of giving control. These are the two pillars that need to be in place: 

  1. Competence which is represented by the key question: “Is it safe?”
  2. Clarity which is represented by the key question: “Is it the right thing to do?” 

On another submarine there was 1 guy in charge. 1 guy giving orders. 1 guy thinking and 134 people doing what they’re told. On our submarine we got 135 thinking, active, passionate, creative, proactive, and taking initiative kinds of people. What sub-crew would you prefer to be a part of? 

Here’s the hard core: Move the authority to where the information is. E.g.: The software engineer can decide whether we ship the software. And the marked developer can close the deal all up to… yes, whatever the price is.

What does it take to make that happen? Now, if you’re picturing a lot of people out there doing crazy things and a bunch of arrows going a bunch of different directions, you have the wrong picture. You create the environment so that those people are out there making decisions as if the CEO is standing beside them. I challenge you, leader, to test it: If it’s not the same decision you would take, it’s probably a better, because they have the information and expert skills in their field. Not only will you get a better speed of execution because now you don’t have this delay moving thoughts up and orders down. Also, what happens is those people feel like they matter because you create the environment for thinking

Do you want to know a secret too? Nothing is hard, but YOU… This move of authority may feel wrong for YOU because, as a trained leader, you may have been culturally programmed to take charge and make things happen: Take control and attract followers… But, what you want is to give control and create leaders… And that, my friend, is greatness.

Source and Inspiration: 

Publisert av dreieskivaroaldkvam

Coaching, Advisory & Strategic Thinking

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