Have you ever thought about how a Responsible Leader acts in a life or death situation? David Marquet, former US Navy Submarine Captain, talks about his style of Intent-Based Leadership that contradicts classical hierarchical leadership ideas. In his discussion with our host Friederike Kara Vieten he reveals how he treated his crew as leaders, not followers.

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(00:25) – Introduction

(01:32) – The power of “I don’t know”

(03:56) – David’s story as a submarine captain

(11:45) –Transparency & Information are key

(14:56) – Intent-based Leadership

(17:21) – A culture of trust in a life or death situation

(21:50) – In what ways Intent-based Leadership is Responsible Leadership

(24:16) – Intent-based leadership in a large company

(27:57) – Outro

Further Readings

1)You can learn more about David Marquets views on leadership in his Weekly Leadership Nudges or in his book “Turn the Ship Around!”. He also talks about his Intent-Based Leadership at CMX Summit in 2015.

2) David Marquet also talks about submarine movies, especially “U-571” and how they depict a wrong style of Leadership in his eys. Similar examples might include “Hunt for Red October” or “Das Boot”. The latter is often seen as the most realistic submarine movie of all time. On the other hand, war movies often have trouble finding the right tone in leadership styles, shown by a conference paper by Kuri and Kaufman.

3) As a leader, one has to think about what to tell people what to do. In the worst outcome, one could give their subordinates a free pass in the wrong behavior. This can end up in a situation of diffused responsibility where the leader says that its the misbehavior of the subordinates and the subordinates say that they just followed orders. A Responsible Leader has to foresee those situations and avoid them by using the right language, not like in the example of Volkswagen and Martin Winterkorn that David Marquet and Kara discuss in this episode. Papers on diffused responsibility include Hamman, Lowenstein & Weber “Self-Interest through Delegation: An Additional Rationale for the Principal-Agent Relationship” and Bartling & Fischbacher “Shifting the Blame: On Delegation and Responsibility”.

A stressful situation led David to rethink leadership. If he had not been sent to a different submarine than he was trained for, David would have stayed on the traditional hierarchical leadership style. 

Just giving out orders can have fatal consequences if your subordinates do not question those and if you do not know everything about the topic – like David Marquet as a commander on a new ship for him.

Nowadays one has to think differently about information. Even today leaders tend to hold on to information.

Information should not follow the chain of command but instead move anywhere it can because everyone can benefit from that.

Just give the direction of what you intend to achieve and listen to your subordinates what they intend to do

Learning intent-based Leadership is like learning a new language where you have to learn to allow yourself to show vulnerability and situations where one is not sure what to do.

Most of the time David Marquet did not face life or death situations – delegate as much as you can because then subordinates train to make decisions.

But if a life or death situation arises, a Responsible Leader has to take the responsibility. He or she has to face the moral obligation of making decisions – in David Marquet’s situation pressing the final button to send a torpedo that kills people.

“I was always a little bit dissatisfied with the way I was treated. I always felt like ‘Oh, but I have more ideas’ and they were like ‘No, no, just do what you’re told.’ I always felt like that was diminishing  for me and the organization.”
David Marquet
Former US Navy nuclear Submarine Captain