61: How to Use Intent to Create Ownership with L. David Marquet

We feel honored and privileged to be speaking to a fascinating leader today! Captain L. David Marquet is the founder and owner of a company called Intent-Based Leadership International. He is a former nuclear submarine Commander, a Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the books Turn the Ship Around, and Leadership is Language. He is also a global keynote speaker.

In this episode, he shares his fascinating and inspiring story and describes his leadership structure, which frees people to think for themselves.

We are sure you will enjoy this episode!

David Marquet’s bio:

David Marquet is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller: Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders. He is also the author of The Turn the Ship Around Workbook, a companion workbook for implementing Intent-Based Leadership. David’s newest book, Leadership is Language, is a Wall Street Journal Bestseller and Financial Times book of the month selection for February 2020. David imagines a workplace where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity, a place where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work–a place where everyone is a leader.

A 1981 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Captain Marquet served in the U.S. submarine force for 28 years. After being assigned to command the nuclear-powered submarine USS Santa Fe–then ranked last in retention and operational standing–he realized the traditional leadership approach of “take control, give orders,” would not work. He “turned the ship around” by treating the crew as leaders, not followers, and giving control, not taking control. This approach took USS Santa Fe from “worst to first,” achieving the highest retention and operational standings in the Navy.

After Captain Marquet’s departure, the USS Santa Fe continued to win awards and promoted a disproportionate number of officers and enlisted men to leadership positions, including ten subsequent submarine captains. Stephen R. Covey said it was the most empowering organization he had ever seen, and he wrote about Captain Marquet’s leadership practices in his book, The 8th Habit.

Captain Marquet retired from the Navy in 2009 and now speaks to audiences both virtually and in-person around the globe who want to create empowering work environments that release the passion, initiative, and intellect of each person. This bold and highly effective framework is summarized as “give control, create leaders.”

He is a student of leadership and organizational design and was named one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc. Magazine.

There is nothing better than a submarine for an introvert

David grew up during the Cold War. Although he did not have the profile of a typical military guy, he felt passionate about the Cold War situation. He also felt strongly about liberal democracy and wanted to do his part. So, even though it scared him, as an introvert, he could think of nothing better than a submarine because he could go underwater and hide from people, and he felt that was the place to be during the Cold War.

A submariner

He applied at the Naval Academy to be a submariner and became one. He always felt a bit like an outsider, however.

Getting promoted

David kept getting promoted for the ability to make decisions and get the team to do what he wanted them to do.

A standard organizational design structure

In the Navy, there is a standard organizational design structure. Senior people make decisions, and junior people do what senior people tell them to do. That gets done without thinking, so nobody even realizes that there are other ways to design hierarchies in organizations.

The USS Santa Fe

David was sent to the USS Santa Fe, which had a reputation for being the worst submarine, with the worst morale. She was the laughing stock of the fleet. David had to go there because the Captain quit.

A different kind of submarine

The USS Santa Fe was a different kind of submarine. David tried using his usual ability to sort things out and make things better, but he made a technical mistake with an order he gave. In carrying out that order, the officer repeated the mistake. When David asked him why, the officer explained that although he knew better, he followed the order because he was told to do so.

People are conditioned and trained to do what they are told

David explains that those things do not only happen in the military. They happen in many different organizations because people are conditioned and trained to do what they are told. Eight out of ten times, people do not speak up even when encouraged to do so.

David Marquet’s view of leadership

That realization changed David’s view of leadership. He understood that because he was the most senior person in the organization, he had to get out of making decisions. The team had to make the decisions for two reasons: They knew more about the mechanics than he did, and they knew which buttons to push. He also needed them to take ownership and initiative without waiting for him to tell them what to do.

A new journey

So David and his team set off on a journey where David would not make any decisions. His team would tell him what to do. They would tell him what they saw, thought, liked to do, and what they intended to do.

The core

The core was the intent to create ownership.

The senior person

As the senior person at a meeting, don’t say what you think. Let people vote first.

Asking the right questions

David became adept at asking his team the kind of questions that would help them and ultimately allow them to feel safe in making their own decisions. They had to learn to get out from behind their eyeballs and look back at themselves.

The problem

The problem with modern hierarchical structures is that they were designed to be stressful.


We need to learn to react to new ideas with curiosity.


Intent is a magic word for David. With intent, you get your team to align, and you get them to think.

David Marquet’s thoughts on thinking out loud

Leaders and team members should practice thinking out loud so that they share what is going on in their heads with others, according to David. That includes talking about how they feel about things.

A structure

The leader is doing things right when they create the structure for how the team will interact. Then the team can decide how they will carry out the project.


Burnout comes from continuously having someone try to control you and continuously trying to control someone else.

When the leader does not know

All learning starts with the admission that “I don’t know.” If the leaders cannot admit that they don’t know, the team will not be able to admit when they don’t know. When the team does not admit they don’t know, you will not learn anything.

The best performing submarine

They became the best performing submarine in the fleet, with the highest score ever in the history of the Navy for operating a ship on the strength of the team being able to admit it when they did not know something more often than on any other submarine.

Creating more leaders

For David, the strength of what they achieved with the USS Santa Fe was that they created more leaders. Ten of the officers in the wardroom became submarine commanders because they were thinking like Captains when they were still junior officers.

Connect with L David Marquet

On Website

We simplify the concepts and mechanisms from the books into 1-minute bite-sized pieces on our YouTube channel because the reminders help people. It’s called “Leadership Nudges” and I invite you and your team to subscribe: Leadership Nudges with David Marquet on YouTube

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Eric Rozenberg

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