Or: The Submarine-Way

Roald Kvam 2022

A submarine captain once did a change in his preferred leadership style that changed everything on his submarine – and beyond. 

This is his story:

 — — — 

I became captain of a new submarine. But I was trained for another kind of submarine. And my 134 guys were trained to do what they were told. 

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 the submarine like they did.

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 with its miles of valves and pipes? That demands years of studying and training. It is 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. Well, 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… 

— — —

I love this captains’ story! 

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 that is the kind who need to be on job 24/7, 365. 

Sorry, but really, it’s stupid – not leadership! 

On another submarine there was 1 guy in charge; giving orders and thinking  – and 134 people doing what they’re told to do. On our captains’ submarine, we now got 135 thinking-active-passionate-creative-proactive,-and-taking-initiative-kind-of-people. 

What crew would you prefer to be a part of? 

The Submarine-way, as I’ve named it, is to move the authority to where the information is. E.g. Software Engineers can decide any software questions, and Marked Developers can close the deal all up to… yes, whatever the price is.

If you’re picturing a lot of people doing crazy things, you’d be scared. But you’d have the wrong picture. Frame the picture like this instead: You create the environment so that your people are making decisions as if the CEO is standing beside them… Not to monitor and mark mistakes, but as a reminder of the three keys to this methodology – or the “Submarine-way”: 


Extreme Clarity

Ownership (as in Accountability). 

If you are in leadership, I challenge you to test the “Submarine-way”: If it’s not the same decision you would take, it’s probably the better one, because your people 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… and reports back up… Also, what happens is that your people feel like they matter because you create the environment for thinking. 

Do you want to know a secret? Nothing in this methodology is hard, but YOU… This move of authority may feel wrong for you if you have been culturally programmed to take charge and make things happen; take control and attract followers… But what if you instead do the “Submarine-way”; give control and create leaders… 

That, my friend, is Greatness

— — —
Source and Inspiration: D. Markquet: «Greatness» (MindSpring Presents)

Publisert av dreieskivaroaldkvam

Coaching, Advisory & Strategic Thinking

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