Upside down leadership: A Review of “Turn the Ship Around” by L. David Marquet








Hardcover, 250 pages
Published August 1st 2012 by Greenleaf Book Group Press (first published July 19th 2012)
1608323749 (ISBN13: 9781608323746)


One of the words that are used in leadership in civic leadership, corporate leadership, non-profit leadership, and the military is the use of the term ‘empowerment.’ The use of this word is inspiring and it has great meaning to people but the truth is very few leaders and organizations really do not know how to correctly share power with others. To empower people requires the discipline for the leader not to over-perform as to take matters into one’s own hands and to complete tasks themselves or the leader to simply give directional commands to people in order to complete a specific task. Most often, what occurs in organizations is that we empower ‘followers’ which creates a dependency on people for not having to think for themselves as well as not having to take on any real ownership of what the mission and goals of a particular organization is leaving the desire for excellence to be regulated to a few leaders who are brokering all the power. What this creates are organizational cultures that cannot realize the best of the intelligence, talent, and skills from their greatest resource which is their people. In this top-down culture leadership is not understood to be an emotional phenomenon not simply a cognitive process by which transformation of the individual begins in the interior life of an individual person as one is given the opportunity to take risks and explore the credibility of one’s on authority as part of a team.

Therefore, the author takes the reader on his journey of becoming the captain of the nuclear powered attack submarine U.S.S. Santa Fe. The author begins to discuss his own emerging philosophy borne out of his reflection that he no longer desires to lead from the top down but instead desires to lead leader to leader. It is in the context of becoming a leader of a low performing ship with men who were used to a top-down culture that dehumanized their ability to contribute to the betterment of the operation of the vessel by thinking and taking responsibility for more than just their own assigned task but to see how they contributed to the overall mission of the ship. The understanding concerning this new paradigm of leadership is more of an enabling art as it related to releasing human talent and potential. In the words of the author, David Marquet,”You may be able to “buy” a person’s back with a paycheck, position, power, or fear, but a human being’s genius, passion, loyalty, and tenacious creativity are volunteered only. The world’s greatest problems will be solved by passionate, unleashed “volunteers.”[1] This writer appreciates what Dana Theus in her review of this book presents a functional definition of empowerment by writing,” By definition, we’re sending our troops inside their soul, where we have no control. The essence of empowerment is that you hand over control and see what they can do with it. When it works, they boost performance with creativity, drive and innovation. But of course, they sometimes don’t.

Leading this way is impossible for control freaks and nerve-wracking for everyone else, because we may end up presiding over a performance nosedive, lost profit or angry customers. True empowerment that which leads to inpowered success, is not bunk, but it is a risk.”[2]

None of us are as smart as all of us!

David Marquet’s definition of leadership is interwoven throughout the book: “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” [3] It is with this definition that you the reader can begin to see the writings of Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership Theory on steroids. Ultimately a leader is more concerned for the success of those that leader serves than even their own success. In order to embrace this perspective as more than a trendy approach for a leader to disguise their mechanisms for control the author presents how a leader must begin to deconstruct a culture of control and then build mechanisms on two pillars which are competence and clarity. A leader who is going to begin a leader to leader culture must begin with the conviction that genius resides in the people that they serve with and decision-making at its best requires that genius to be heard.

Me Pastor- You Sheep

I highly recommend ecclesiastical leaders to read this book because most of the mistakes of leadership in the church come from archaic notions of leadership that are simply untrue. We are living in the middle of one of the most profound shifts in human history, where the primary work of mankind is moving from the Industrial Age of “control” to the Knowledge Worker Age of “release.” What a think this book can do for Pastors in the local church is a functional matrix by which the theological conviction of the “Priesthood of all Believers” can possibly find expression. Protestants for years have been critical of other Christian traditions identifying them as being theologically institutional giving birth to hierarchical systems which create top-down priestly elite. Thus, people must be dependent on these leaders for their ability to contribute and grow. What I have experienced is that Protestants have created their own hierarchies with very controlling environments just different language. If ecclesiastical leadership are convinced that each person is “God’s workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10) than I agree with the author, David Marquet, that our goal should not simply be “empowerment”  but instead “emancipation.”  With emancipation we are recognizing the inherent genius, energy, and creativity in all people, and allowing those talents to emerge. It is with this understanding of emancipation that one comes to the sobering awareness, “That a leader realizes that they do not create the talents in people nor do they empower them to use their talents. But a leader understands that they do have the power to prevent the talents of the people they lead to come out.”  The awareness that I as a leader can limit the giftedness and talents of others being expressed is enough for me to recommend that you read this book.

[1] L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around, p xxi.

[3] L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around, p xxii.

About PastorAl

Al Soto has been married to his incredible wife Valerie for 30 years and they have five sons and one grandson. Al has been in Local Church Ministry for 35 years as both as a Lead Pastor, Associate Pastor, and for five years as a Regional Overseer for his denomination. He has a BA degree from LIFE Pacific College and is currently completing an MA in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Vanguard University. He currently resides in Lincoln, CA where he is the new Lead Pastor for one of the Campus locations for Bayside Church. He continues to coach High School Football for the Lincoln Fighting Zebras for the Junior Varsity Program and is facilitating Leadership training and coaching as well as facilitating Spiritual Retreats. His hobbies include Golfing and Scuba Diving as well as he is a veracious reader. His Life Statement is “Real Success is Helping others to Succeed!”
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