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How to Lead Like a Captain: The Leader-Leader Philosophy

In 1999, Captain David Marquet took charge of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine that was ranked last in the fleet. Soon enough, he realized that the traditional leader-follower model was not working for his crew.

In the leader-follower model, the leader gives orders, and the followers execute them. This creates a culture of compliance, dependence, and fear.

So, Marquet decided to transform his crew from passive followers who waited for orders, to active leaders who made decisions and solved problems. He chose to follow a leader-leader model. He did this by giving his crew control, competence, and clarity.

Control means that people have the authority to act within their areas of responsibility, without having to ask for permission or approval.

Competence means that people have the skills and knowledge to perform their tasks effectively, and they are constantly learning and improving.

Clarity means that people have a clear understanding of the purpose, vision and goals of the organization, and how their actions contribute to them.

Marquet observed that giving control, competence, and clarity lead to Collaboration, which is essential for the organization’s success.

The results were astonishing. The USS Santa Fe went from being the worst-performing submarine to the best-performing one in the navy. The crew became more engaged, motivated, and happy. They also achieved higher levels of operational excellence, safety, and innovation.

Marquet's leader-leader philosophy has been proven to increase engagement, motivation, innovation and performance in various settings, from the military to the business world.

By creating a culture of leadership at every level, Marquet's philosophy unleashes the potential of every individual and creates a more agile and resilient organization. It inevitably leads to higher performance, better collaboration, and greater satisfaction among employees and customers.

How can you apply the leader-leader model in your small business?

You can start by applying these four main principles:

- Push authority to information, not information to authority. Instead of waiting for orders from the top, people who have the most relevant information should make the decisions and inform their superiors.

- Don't brief, certify. Instead of telling people what to do, ask them to explain what they are going to do and why. This ensures that they understand the situation and the goal, and that they have considered the risks and alternatives.

- Don't manage, mentor. Instead of micromanaging people's work, coach them to develop their skills and confidence. Give them feedback, guidance, and support, but let them learn from their mistakes and successes.

- Don't be good, get better. Instead of focusing on being perfect or avoiding failure, embrace a growth mindset and seek continuous improvement. Celebrate learning, experimentation, and innovation.

By applying these principles, Captain Marquet was able to turn his submarine from the worst-performing to the best-performing in the fleet. He also created a lasting legacy of leadership, as many of his former crew members went on to become successful leaders themselves.

If you want to lead like a captain, you can start by adopting the leader-leader philosophy in your own team or organization. You will be amazed by how much more engaged, motivated, and productive your people will become.

Keep reading: How the Leader-Leader Model Can Help Small Business Owners in Their Digital Adoption Efforts?