• Lars Christensen

Leadership is a language by L.David Marquet~5 minute read.


I finished this book in September 2021. I recommend this book 9/10.

I reviewed and absolutely loved L. David Marquet's first book, "Turn the ship around." That book describes Marquet's experience, taking one of the worst-performing submarines in the US navy and make it one of the best. The book felt like a story with wisdom drizzled in along the way.

Leadership is a language, addresses the behavior Marquet recommends a leader uses when communicating. You can get your copy here.

My notes and thoughts:

  • P25-Rather than doing the hard work and spending the time to change our own behavior, it's easier and cognitively convenient to push action onto others. Encouraging people to speak up, or even "empowering" them with statements like "don't hesitate to change course" in an environment of top-down decision-making simply does not work. Leaders say these things to assuage their conscience. When things go wrong, they can blame others for not speaking up despite the leader's encouragement to do so. But leadership is about making the lives of others easier, not blaming them. Leadership is about the hard work of taking responsibility for how our actions and words affect the lives of others.

  • Use How and What:

  • How do you see it?

  • How ready are we for this?

  • What can we do better?

  • What did we learn?

  • What are we missing?

  • How might this go wrong?

  • If we do this and it ends up going south, what would be the most likely culprit?

  • How can we make it better?

  • How could I do better?

  • What have we learned?

  • P71-Use this playbook:

  • Control the clock, don't obey the clock.

  • Collaborate, not coerce.

  • Commit, not comply.

  • Complete, not continue.

  • Improve, not prove.

  • Connect, not conform.

  • P82-To move toward controlling the clock:

  • Instead of preempting a pause, make a pause possible.

  • Instead of hoping the team knows what to say, give the pause a name.

  • Instead of pressing on with red-work, call a pause.

  • Instead of relying on someone to signal a pause, preplan the next pause.

  • P108-To move from coercion to collaboration:

  • Vote first, then discuss.

  • Be curious, not compelling.

  • Invite dissent rather than drive consensus.

  • Give information, not instructions.

  • P116-Leaders speak last:

  • Part of the behavior behind being curious, not compelling, is withholding your own opinion until later. The higher you are in the organization, the more important this is because, the more likely it is that people will want to align to your position. You speak last not to prove you're the leader, but because speaking last allows others to freely voice their opinions first.

  • P125-Seven ways to ask better questions:

  • Instead of question stacking, try one and done.

  • Instead of a teaching moment, try a learning moment.

  • Instead of a dirty question, try a clean question.

  • Instead of a binary question, start the question with "what" or "how."

  • Instead of a "why" question, try "tell me more."

  • Instead of self-affirming questions, try self-educating questions.

  • Instead of jumping to the future, start with present, past, then future.

  • P128-Leaders, your job during any meeting is to scan the room and pay close attention to those who remain quiet. These people will often hold different opinions that they don't feel comfortable voicing. Leadership moments looks like this:

  • "Liz, I notice you haven't said anything. how do you see things differently from the rest of us?"

  • "Paul, you've presented your case. I'd like to invite someone to challenge that position."

  • "We seem to be coalescing on the view that we should do this. Now I'd like to flip it and assume it's actually a bad thing. What would be the case for that?"

  • P142-Commit to learn, not do:

  • The idea of a hypothesis is that it puts us in learning and improvement mindset. It frames the upcoming period of redwork not as redwork for the sake of redwork but redwork with the idea that we will learn something.

  • P177-Celebrate with, not for:

  • "I see that you've organized the presentation into three sections—I've got your points organized in my head now."

  • "It looks like the product will launch on time. Your team has done the coordination with all the departments."

  • "I saw that the proposal went out yesterday. Thank you. That will allow the client to look at it before the weekend."

  • Descriptive statements can start with "I see," "I noticed," and "It looks like."

  • P179-To improve performance, celebrate what people can control—their efforts—and not the things they can't—outcomes. For instance, let's say a team of software developers completes a period of redwork. Instead of saying. "I'm proud of you guys got it done," try something like, "It looks like it took difficult cross-department coordination to deliver this product."

  • P244-Connect is about caring. Four ways we can do this are:

  • Flatten the power gradient

  • Admit you don't know

  • Be vulnerable

  • Trust first

  • P303–"I am glad you are on our team—I like the fact that you might have a different perspective than me. You probably will see things that I miss, and you for sure know more about things than me. You might have ideas or concerns that I don't share, but that doesn't mean you are wrong. You might be the one that is right. I encourage you to speak up. On my side, and I commit to listen. You might have to remind me that I said this, and you are allowed to kick me in the shin.

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