L. David Marquet was a teenager when he first discovered his passion for leadership. He discovered a series of books—History of United States Naval Operations in World War II by Samuel Eliot Morison. David’s dream came alive; he wanted more than anything to one day captain a Navy vessel on which people thrived. In 1981, L. David Marquet graduated top of his class from the U.S. Naval Academy and embarked upon an enormously successful career within the US Navy.  L. David Marquet retired from the Navy in 2009 and is now the author of Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders. Fortune magazine called the book the “best how-to manual anywhere for managers on delegating, training, and driving flawless execution.” L. David Marquet’s Intent-Based Leadership model is turning around all types of organisations—from big manufacturers to start-ups and sport teams to government. He helps leaders build environments where people contribute and feel valued —where everyone is a leader. 

Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet is available now.

Please enjoy my interview with L. David Marquet…

When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?

Ha! If I’m interested in a conversation, then I’ll say I help people – especially leaders – give up control. Almost everyone reacts with a knowing smile to that and starts to talk about themselves, their boss or parents. But, if I’m feeling tired at the end of a day and just want to be left alone, I’ll tell them I’m a business consultant. That will kill any conversation.

What are you reading at the moment?

Affective Neuroscience by Jaak Panksepp. He’s a neuroscientist Affective Neuroscience - L. David Marquet Interviewand psychobiologist who tickled rats to see how they laughed. The book is about how our brains have evolved and what is going on when we feel certain things. I only understand ¼ of it but it impresses people when you carry it with your bag. Oh, and about 3 others that I’m more like grazing.

What’s your earliest memory of reading?

They were at the Concord Public Library in Concord Massachusetts, maybe when I was in middle school? That does not sound that young but the building is a striking Victorian Gothic brick structure with an open central rotunda and rows of books on balconies 20 stories high. OK, well, 2 stories but at the time it seemed awesome. I spent hours and hours there. The kids section was this architecturally boring add-on to the back of the building so I always hung out in the grown up sections.

If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be and why?

Read the book that you find easiest to read. Give yourself permission to try a book and not finish it. Give yourself permission to skim back and forth through a book. Now I read the front/back jackets, then the foreword and intro and maybe look at the back matter before I commit more time to a book.

One of our things is not to make it too hard for people to do what’s good for them and the world and reading is good for everyone. As soon as we start adding restrictions: oh, it needs to be this kind of book, or this long, or this serious, then we make the barriers to reading higher and the invitation to read more daunting.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had?

I was a senior officer in the Pentagon. The Pentagon is a big place and I’m sure there are parts of it that are run well and people find joy and passion in their work. That wasn’t where I worked.

Do you read as much as you’d like to?

No <<gasp>>. You can buy books a lot faster than you can read them. I buy 3-4 books a week and read about 3-4 books a month. The pile on my nightstand just keeps getting higher.

What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path and why?Mindset - L. David Marquet interview

Mindset by Carol Dweck to make you understand you can continueto grow and learn in any trait all your life. Start with Why by Simon Sinek to make you understand the importance of purpose and how to tell a compelling story. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman to understand our own biases. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell to understand how to describe without judgment. Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairytales to understand story structure.

Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Just too good not to relive.

What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?

Book recommendations for me are very individualized. I got Don’t Make Me Pull Over by Richard Ratay for my dad, Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver for my wife, Actionable Gamification by Yu-Kai Chou for a colleague at work, and The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath for a friend who runs a travel business.

What’s your favourite genre of book?

Single volume histories of World War 2. Its global scale and epic proportions mean that any writer who tries to take this on will need to do a serious amount of synthesizing and simplifying without making it too simplistic. Good ones will keep the human drama and tragedy of the war alive while, at the same time, provide a sense of the tectonic forces shaping mankind.

What do you think a world without books would be like?

Something like Mad Max: Road Fury but even the cars would eventually break down.

Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?

Robert A. Heinlein and Dr. Seuss but they’re dead so I’m good. There are so many captivating writers out there, that was really hard to commit to. Biographies by Walter Isaacson, history by Rick Atkinson, history by Anthony Beevor, narratives by Michael Lewis.

Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?

Not a chance. Who doesn’t love the Kindle library they can take with them on their iPad but when I’m home I read books. I have piles of them in my home office and at work. I grab them randomly and stack them up in different groups, they spark ideas and thoughts just lying there.

What book do you feel humanity needs right now?Factfulness - L. David Marquet Interview

Factfulness by Hans Rosling. First, watch a couple of his presentations. He had an amazing way of turning boring boring statistics into amazingly interesting stories.  But the power of his book is its ability to paint a story of optimism for humanity; that things are getting better even though we may feel worse and worse, and that we are letting small startling events color our outlook on life.

What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. This led me to rethink what I was doing in my life and at work, increase my effectiveness and happiness, and eventually meet Dr. Covey who wrote the foreword to Turn the Ship Around!

Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?

Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. Makes you question everything you thought you knew about rewards and praise. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a psychiatrist who was a prisoner of the Nazi’s between 1942 and 1945. That will give you perspective on your “bad day.”

What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?

I bought a number of history book and recommitted myself to reading them. We just founded a VR game company and we are building a leadership simulation so I’ve got a lot of gamification, story telling, world-building, and mythology books – that’s a lot of fun.

If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?

Think. Do. Repeat.

If you’d like to learn more about L. David Marquet, you can find them on their website and Twitter.

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