David reflects on how he’s so glad he ducked a question about his all-time favourite book on leadership for a year because it gave the book time to find him.
About 20 years ago, I attended a seminar at Manchester Business School on the subject of success. It inspired me to start to read books on the subjects of leadership and psychology (previously I had ‘pretended’ to read, which involved skimming a book to glean enough information to scrape through the exam at school). The tutor at the seminar pointed out that the average UK person watched 3.5 hours of TV per day and if they could devote one of those hours to reading on a specific subject, they would be considered an expert after only a couple of years. So I started, slowly and painfully at first, to read. As time went on, my pace of literary consumption increased to two books per month for an average month and three or four per week when I was on holiday. Over 20 years and counting, that’s a lot of books. Some confirmed beliefs I already had, some challenged them and shaped new beliefs and others shattered my illusions…all were good in some way.
About this time last year, one of my coachees asked me the killer question, “If a leader (or aspiring leader) could only read one book in their career what would I recommend?” I declined to answer. There are so many great books on leadership…how could I pick just one?
Last month, however, I found my answer (or it found me). ‘Turn The Ship Around’ by David Marquet is a true story of an experienced Navy officer who was appointed as captain of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine. The book tells the story of how the Santa Fe skyrocketed from worst to best in the fleet by challenging the US Navy’s traditional leader-follower approach. It’s an honest reflection of how David went against his own instincts to take control and achieved amazing things by giving control instead. I found it fascinating in its insights into military leadership and life on a submarine alone. But the reason I would say that this is now my number one book on leadership is that the story of the Santa Fe is the ultimate antidote to ‘command and control’ style leadership. It’s also a very practical guide to a way of leadership that engages with people, inspires them and delivers results through them…and let’s face it…if you can give control to people on a nuclear submarine, whilst being immersed (not intended!) in a culture that’s all about command and control, you can probably do it anywhere.