Turn the Ship Around

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A guide to transforming top-down organizations into lean ones, where everyone is a leader. Written by a submarine commander, it’s mostly useful to managers in big corporations and other institutions, and more of a fun read to people already used to small, lean companies.

Question to consider: If a successful organization is run by an charismatic top-down leader, and then after they leave, the organization crumbles — what does it say about the leader?

The normal answer is thast the person was a great leader! And obviously, if the organization crumbles, it’s because they lack a good leader.

This is bonkers! They were good at commanding people to do stuff, but they failed as a leader! A good leader thinks long-term, and empowers the whole organization to do a good job after they’re gone.

The problem is the leader-follower model. In that model, followers are just “doing their job” and require someone who understands the goal of the group to command them. But this fails in the long term, and is an inefficient use of people’s intellect and creativity.

What you want to instill is the leader-leader model, where everyone leads in their own part of the organization. This way it’s everybody’s job to understand the purpose, values, and goals of the organization, think solutions to problems, and fix stuff because it needs to be done, and not because someone directed them to do it. Such an organization is resilient to the leader leaving, being on vacation, or simply incapable of knowing about everything and commanding everyone.

The pillars that must support such a change are: clarity (everyone knows the goals of the organization) and competence (everyone has the knowledge required to make the right decisions).

Some of the most interesting techniques:

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