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Book Recommendation: The One Book All Leaders Should Read

I recently finished reading the best business book I have ever come across, Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, by L. David Marquet. I believe that it is the one book all leaders and business owners should read if they want to manage effective teams. From cover-to-cover, I felt energized and motivated to implement what I was learning.

As I read the book, I thought about the teams I managed at Catalina. During my tenure, there were times I was asked how I dealt with what seemed like common challenges. My answer would sometimes be, “I do not have those problems.” When they would question why, I would say, “I am just lucky and have great employees.”

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I now see things a little clearer. Yes, I had great employees; they were open to a leader-leader relationship. Yes, I was lucky; most of my employees were hired by other managers who made good hiring decisions. However, I now know that part of the reasons I had great teams was because of my management style.

Now, I know I was not the perfect manager. Turn the Ship Around! showed me what I was doing well, but also allowed me to identify things I could have done different or better. While I left that career to start my own business, I wish I read the book while still at Catalina. With my new knowledge, I wonder how much more successful my teams could have been or how I could have helped my peers with their teams.

Because of my experience, I believe that every leader needs to read Turn the Ship Around! and implement the concepts. Below are my top 10 reasons why I recommend Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, by L. David Marquet.

Book Recommendation: The one book all leaders should read

It reads like a novel

Turn the Ship Around! is not written like your typical business book. Most leadership books tend to define a theory or tool, tell you how to implement, and then provide short examples.

One of the features that makes Turn the Ship Around! unique is that it reads more like a novel. It is clear that the examples and experiences were the top priority when writing the book. They drive the lessons rather than supplement the book.

Unlike most business books, there is no “Take the example of company…” with each example being about a different company or team the writers have consulted or managed. There are no hypothetical examples made up to illustrate the topic. Instead, Marquet shares his story of taking over and preparing the USS Santa Fe for deployment. It is through his experiences that you learn the concepts he implemented.

There’s a pull to continue reading as you will want to know what happens next. Plus, each chapter will leave the leader inside you with the desire to implement the concepts with your team. There is a connection that is formed through reading the book that makes it the one book all leaders should read.

He shares his failures

Marquet did not write Turn the Ship Around! pretending to be perfect. He shares the truth: change is hard even when you are the one leading the change.  Creating new habits takes time.

Marquet gave examples of when he fell into old habits and how it impacted the progress of the changes. He could have skipped over these parts and just shared the failures of his team members. He could have also been like most leadership books and share only the positive. However, he knew the reader needed the full story to understand what it took to be successful with the changes.

Just like Marquet, you and your team will have failures when you try to implement the same concepts. What makes this book so impactful is that he shares his failures with you.

It promotes action

Hands down, the book is immediately actionable. Many business books give a one size fits all approach for implementation. If your company or team does not fit the mold, you are left wondering how to manipulate the concepts to be what you need.

Turn the Ship Around! is actionable for all leaders. Instead of giving steps for implementation, each chapter ends with a section call Questions to Consider. The questions are designed to get you thinking about your team and how to apply the concepts.

For me, the questions are what turned the book from a biography about David Marquet’s time on the USS Santa Fe into a practical leadership book. As I read the questions, I felt the need to answer. I often had to wait a few minutes before reading the next question because I was contemplating the previous question.

Unlike with most business books, I never thought about how I would have to sit down later and see how this applies to my team; I already made the connection. I felt more prepared and motivated to implement the concepts of this book than any other book I have read. Turn the Ship Around

It teaches you to put responsibility where it belongs

In your company do you have multiple layers of approvals? Do individual contributors often lack a sense of ownership? During check-ins with your employees, do you have to ask them if they have completed tasks instead of them providing updates?If you answered yes to any of these questions, your team or company has a problem with responsibility.

Marquet believes that responsibility belongs to each level of a company. This is not saying that everyone has the same decision-making authority. It is saying that everyone should have a sense of ownership for his or her tasks. In Turn the Ship Around!, methods are shown on how to create this culture.

A sense of ownership is what made my best team so effective. They held themselves responsible for the client’s standards, worked together to problem solve, kept me updated on project statuses, and alerted me of errors even when knowing quality impacted their performance rating. They held themselves accountable which allowed me to focus on my responsibilities instead of being tied down by theirs.

You learn not being missed is a good thing

As people, we want to take vacations, take maternity or paternity leave, and take time off when a loved one or we are sick. As leaders, we are often afraid to take this time. We believe that we need to be there daily to guide our employees to success. We think we are good leaders because we are always accessible to direct our teams and make decisions even on our days off.

Marquet teaches us that this is simply not true. Being a good leader means your team can efficiently operate whether you are in the office, not accessible while out of the office, or after you have moved on to a new position. The mark of a good leader is how well your team performs when you are not around. The mark of a good leader is how well your team performs when you are not around. Click To Tweet

It shows you can go from the team no one wants to be a part of to keeping and attracting top employees

We have all experienced or heard about the teams no one wants to be a part of in the workplace. They are the teams that have high turnover, and few want to join. Once a part of the team, employees are quick to find a spot on another team or leave the company entirely.

When Marquet took over the USS Santa Fe near the end of 1998, it was the submarine few people wanted to be assigned. Of the soldiers up for reenlistment on the USS Santa Fe in 1998, only three reenlisted, and there was a 0% officer retention.

By 1999, everything had changed. Reenlistments of eligible soldiers were 36 with 100% officer retention. The book shows how Marquet led this change.

By following his methods, it is possible to make any team the one people want to be a part of instead of the one they want to leave. With turnover being an expensive cost for companies, retaining employees should always be a leader’s goal.

This point reminds me of my last team at Catalina. My Account Managers worked on the business for one of our largest clients. For a few years, it was the one client no one wanted to be assigned. Frequently there were openings due to departures, and seasoned Account Managers did not want to transfer despite the prestige of working on a top client account.

While not perfect, my management style unknowingly followed a few of the concepts Marquet outlined. During the year and a half I managed the team, no one turn in their notice. We went from the team no one wanted to be a part of to the team no one wanted to leave. I was even asked by other Account Managers if we had openings so they could transfer.

It teaches the reality of errors

Mistakes in business are costly. Even if there is no direct financial payout, the rework to correct errors cost the company time that could be spent on other action items. In Turn the Ship Around!, Marquet explains why the typical approach to errors does not work. Take this excerpt from the book:

“None of the reviews up the chain of command noted this problem because the reviews were all focused on making sure the charts were navigationally and procedurally correct, not on enabling Santa Fe to be an operationally effective warship. In short, the reviews were focused on avoiding errors, as opposed to accomplishing something.”

The process of eliminating errors tends to focus on whether the product was put together right. What is typically missed is if the product matches expectations.

Turn the Ship Around! shows you how to shift your focus and upfront actions to match intentions all the way through the process. The result is not only fewer errors but completed products that match the expected outcome.

Click here to buy the book!


You learn that you do not need to change company policy to have an effective team

Marquet was the captain of one submarine in the entire U.S. Navy. The changes he made were within his control. He did not try to implement actions that were above his authority, change written naval processes, or create change that immediately impacted other submarines. Instead, he focused on what was in his control on his ship.

However, he did push boundaries. While he stayed within the written rule, he challenged how those rules had always been interpreted. He informed his superiors what he was doing with his crew versus seeking approval before he acted. At times, he was afraid he was going to be reprimanded for his decisions and yet, he still forged ahead because he knew the results of success would show that the decision was right.

Turn the Ship Around

It shows you why you need a team of leaders, not followers

Even the best of us will be wrong. While there are consequences that can happen because of being wrong, there is one thing that makes the sting of those consequences worse. That one thing is when an employee says, “I knew it was the wrong direction, but I followed your orders because it was what you told me to do. After all, you are the boss.”

A team of followers will not help you avoid errors. They simply do what they are told without questioning why or if it is correct. Leaders, on the other hand, take responsibility for their actions. They want the best outcome and are willing to challenge you.

Turn the Ship Around! shows you how to develop your team into leaders. Once you have a team of leaders, you can focus on your responsibilities. It also helps you accept that it is ok not to know everything.

It teaches that it is ok not to know everything

As leaders, we often feel the need to know everything our team members know. We feel that it is our responsibility to be the knowledge hub and to be able to jump in and complete our employee’s tasks when needed. However, as leaders, that is not our job.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to lead the team and achieve your goals. It is your team member’s obligation to execute their role’s responsibilities.

While you do not need to know how to complete your employee’s tasks, you need to know what they do. Marquet shows that the best way to learn is by being curious. He provides guidance on how to do this.

For my last management position at Catalina, I was assigned a team where I knew little about the process and client. It was the first time I was not the knowledge expert, and I was terrified. I thought How can I manage a team if I cannot step in and complete their job? That is when I remembered what I was told a few years earlier when I entered management: It is not my job to do, it is my job to know.

I scheduled one-on-one time with my team members and approached the time with a curious tone. As my team walked me through their tasks, I asked questions to understand. I helped reinforce that they were the knowledge experts.

When I left the team, I understood the process, could speak intelligently about the tasks, knew the questions to ask when there was an issue, but I still could not step in and do their job. I did not have to be the knowledge expert because I had a team full of them.

Buy the book!

If you manage employees, this is one book you need to read. It will challenge you to be honest with yourself about the current state of your team or company, and it will provide you the guidance to create the sought-after leader-leader relationship.

The book is available on Amazon in hardcover, softcover, and Kindle versions.