Leadership Nudge® 323 – Foundations for Giving Control

We tune control based on competence and clarity, but those rest on the more fundamental pillars of ownership, processes and language.


The idea of Intent-Based Leadership really centers on this idea of control, giving the team as much control as possible. Another way we say it is let the doers be the decider. Let the people who are actually doing the work make as many decisions about the work as possible. That’s what we call control, the ability to make decisions.  Now, you can’t just willy-nilly give people control.  It needs to be anchored in their technical competence. If you’re going to make decisions about the reactor, operating the submarine, or operating a nuclear power plant, flying an airplane, making software, whatever it is, you need to know your job.  But you also need organizational clarity.  What are we trying to achieve now? This is where I play within the book. This is the structure of the book Turn the Ship Around. 

I under-appreciated three other elements of this structure, because they were so ingrained in the Navy, which allowed me to give control. And they were these down here. Clear ownership, which connects to clarity, is “do we know who owns this thing?” If I could walk around the submarine and touch the processes and ask “Who owns this?,” there was always a one to one relationship between, here’s the process of the thing, and here’s who owns it. And that was great, because then we didn’t have to worry about figuring out what decision rights there were. Then there were clear processes. 

This is part of the technical competence. And then underpinning the whole thing was clear language. We even had a book. It’s called the Interior Communications Manual, which tells you how to say the name of every piece of gear on the submarine and how you give orders. An interior communication violation is one of the most fundamental errors on the submarine.  

For example, a high pressure air compressor (HP AC) we’d write it HP AC number one, HP AC number two, if we were writing in order.  But it’s pronounced Hi Pat, not HP AC or high pressure air compressor.  Those are all big no-nos. If someone said that someone else would most likely raise their hands and say, “We pronounce it Hi Pat.”  And it may seem silly, but if you got some part of your organization calling people clients, and another part is calling them customers, then you spend all this time arguing and there’s this ambiguity that’s unnecessary. You want to remove all unnecessary ambiguity. 

If you want someplace to start and you feel like maybe your organization is at the level where giving control doesn’t seem to be working, you might want to start down here in the language.  Make an organizational dictionary. And say, “Okay, what do we call this? What do we call this?  When I say this word, what does that mean to everybody?” 

We tune control based on competence and clarity, but those rest on these more fundamental below the iceberg pillars. I’m David Marquet. That’s your Leadership Nudge®. 



%d bloggers like this: