How to Support Your Team: Leadership Skills

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Turn the Ship Around" by L. David Marquet. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How good are you at supporting your team? Do they ever feel let down by your leadership?

Submarine captain David Marquet’s experience can help you learn how to support your team and understand what difference it can make. Marquet found that, when officers and chiefs supported their teams, they developed trust. Ultimately, this advanced the ship’s objectives.

Read more to learn how to support your team—and how that care fits in with your organizational goals.

Supporting Your Team Leads to Organizational Clarity

Along with competence, a leader-leader model that decentralizes control also requires clarity. Everyone needs to understand the organization’s goals so that the decisions they make align with what the organization is trying to accomplish. If the purpose isn’t clear, the criteria on which decisions are made may be off base, leading to bad decisions.

Here are the mechanisms Santa Fe adopted to ensure clarity:

  • Focus on achieving excellent results, not on rotely following procedures in order to avoid errors.
  • Take care of your team. When you support your team and put their interests first, you build trust and motivation.
  • Be inspired by your organization’s legacy. Create a sense of mission by connecting present efforts with the past accomplishments.
  • Create guiding principles to aid decision-making.
  • Immediately recognize excellent performance.
  • Begin with the end in mind: Set long-term goals.
  • Encourage questions, not blind obedience.

Ready to Deploy

Santa Fe was ready to deploy, two weeks early. They would head west and make a stop in Japan, then operate in the western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Sea before returning to Pearl Harbor six months later. Besides delivering an outstanding performance, Marquet wanted to focus during the deployment on addressing some needs of the crew. 

The officers and chiefs decided to encourage each crew member to set personal development goals during the deployment, such as studying or exercising. In addition, the senior staff set ship-wide goals. They understood the importance of supporting your team.

For continuous improvement during the deployment, they set goals for the ship in three areas: empowerment, efficiency, and tactical excellence:

  • Empowerment: Senior staff planned to empower crew members to achieve their personal and professional goals through education initiatives, such as helping them to improve their advancement exam scores or take college courses. 
  • Efficiency: While the crew gained more control, they would strive for greater efficiency in everything they did, ranging from more effective drills to better meal service.
  • Tactical excellence: Santa Fe would pursue tactical excellence, including battle group support, effective missile strikes, and special operations.

Mechanism: Take Care of Your Team

In the most recent round of advancement exams, Santa Fe crew members hadn’t done well. While Marquet and the officers focused on preparing the submarine for deployment, they hadn’t helped the crew prepare for the exams—exam scores were a major factor in promotions. Marquet felt they’d let the crew down.

Besides increasing training in areas of the test where the crew had done poorly, they decided to create a practice exam for petty officers. They asked petty officers to write multiple choice questions as they studied to encourage active learning. Senior staff incorporated the questions into the practice exam as well as into ongoing training.

The efforts to improve exam performance paid off months later. One of the petty officers advanced, as did 40 percent of the enlisted crew (48 men). Results were even better in the next two years. By giving the crew members tools to improve on the exams, senior staff empowered them to achieve their goals.

Supporting your team—taking care of your people—is a mechanism for clarity. Marquet found that when officers and chiefs supported their teams, they developed trust. When crew members believed officers had their best interests at heart, they took critical feedback better and improved, which advanced the ship’s goals.

What are some specific ways that you can support your team in the coming weeks and months?

How to Support Your Team: Leadership Skills

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of L. David Marquet's "Turn the Ship Around" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Turn the Ship Around summary :

  • How a captain turned the U.S. Navy’s worst-performing nuclear submarine crew into one of the best
  • The principles for developing leaders at all levels to create a passionate, high-performing workforce
  • Why the "leader-leader" model works better than the "leader-follower" model

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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