Take Pride in Your Work: Lessons From a Submarine

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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When you take pride in your work, what difference does it make for you—and your work? How can you, as a leader, help others have this attitude—and behavior—of pride?

David Marquet shares leadership principles that he employed to turn around a demoralized submarine crew. He offers practical ways—such as the three-name rule—that you can take pride in your work and turn around things for your team. The key is to start with behaving proud, and thinking proud will follow.

Read more to learn how taking pride in your work can lead to a change in thinking and morale.

The Three-Name Rule

It was January 11, 1999. Santa Fe was at Pearl Harbor, and there were 169 days to deployment. The chiefs’ new authority generated excitement and strengthened their connection with the sailors responsible for day-to-day maintenance and operation of the submarine. Both chiefs and crew became more engaged in their work and the overall mood was more upbeat.

There was also a lot of work ahead. In the months before deployment, there would be an escalating series of inspections, starting in eight days when Commodore Kenny and squadron staff would ride on the submarine and observe. Marquet needed a success to convince skeptics that his leader-leader model would work.

Mechanism: Change Behavior, Then Thinking

Marquet decided to involve the entire crew by instituting a behavior change that he hoped would lead to changed thinking and morale. His idea emerged from a discussion with his officers about morale. Marquet asked them how they’d know if the crew were proud of Santa Fe. The answers included:

  • They’d brag to family and friends, including friends on other submarines.
  • They’d look visitors in the eye and greet them.

Marquet essentially decided to institute that behavior in hopes that a different way of acting would lead to a way of thinking. He established a “three-name rule.” This required that, when any crew member saw a visitor, he would greet the person using three names: the visitor’s name, his name, and the ship’s name. It would go like this: “Good morning Commodore Kenny, my name is Petty Officer Smith. Welcome aboard Santa Fe.”

Taking pride in your work is a matter of behaving proud, and the mindset will follow.

From Victims to Actors

The three-name rule helped crew members feel proactive rather than like victims or passive reactors. By taking the initiative to greet visitors, each sailor was taking charge of the moment.

Marquet believed that feeling victimized rather than taking responsibility had contributed to the low morale. For instance—the crew felt deadlines couldn’t be met, parts would always arrive too late, they wouldn’t get jobs they requested, and so on. Practicing the three-name rule helped to break that cycle and introduce new thinking.

Changing behavior is a mechanism for decentralizing control. Taking pride in your work is one behavior that illustrates this principle.

Questions for Leaders

  • What do you do when your employees don’t want to change the way they’ve always done things?
  • What are the costs and benefits of doing things differently in your company and industry?
  • Which do you do first: change behavior or change thinking?
  • Do you take pride in your work?
Take Pride in Your Work: Lessons From a Submarine

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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 has always appreciated nonfiction, especially about history, politics, and ideas. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. As a former intelligence analyst and a teacher of critical thinking skills, Elizabeth enjoys analyzing arguments on all sides of an issue. Her nonfiction preferences include theology, science, and philosophy. She studies the intersection of these three in pursuit of the highest truths. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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