Leadership Nudge® 355 – What Intent Sounds Like . . .

June 30, 2021by Sandy Wilmer

Watch David explain what intent sounds like, and what intent doesn’t sound like, on a submarine. The ultimate goal is to stop giving orders.


Hey, so there’s a nice documentary by Smarter Every Day of onboard a nuclear submarine up in the Arctic. This is very recent. And it’s got a great example of how Intent-Based Leadership sounds on a submarine and then it’s got an example of how it didn’t sound. 

“Ready, sir.” 

“Yeah, ready to dive.”  

“Ship is ready to dive with the exception of Arctic full blow and the sounding of 1490 fathoms beneath the ship, check the chart and water depth, I intend to have the stationary guide the ship to 180 feet.” 

Perfect. The Officer on Deck, he’s saying here’s all the things that are making it safe and/or (in this case) there were a couple of exceptions. And he intends to stationary dive. So in the end, normally we dive kind of this way. But in the ice, we’re gonna dive vertically, just straight down because the ice is basically blocking all around the submarine. So he’s gonna do a vertical or stationary dive straight down to the depth of 180 feet, as he says. And then this . . . 

“Officer Deck, Submerge the ship.” 

“Submerge the ship. Aye, sir.” 

No. The Captain then gives them the order “Officer Deck, submerge the ship.” And then the Officer Deck acknowledges, “Submerge the ship. Aye, sir.”  

This is unnecessary with intent. He might as well have been asking, “Captain, request permission . . .” which is what we used to say. “Request permission to submerge the ship.” And then the captain would say submerge the ship, you would say submerge the ship, aye. 

What we’re trying to do is have the ownership rest with the subordinate and not give orders because now, still at the end, they can say, “Well, you know, the captain told me to do it.” It doesn’t really matter that was quote “initiated by the subordinate.” The captain still ordered it.   

With intent, we say “I intend to stationary dive the ship.”  

“Very well.” 

Or you ask questions. Very well. Or you don’t respond.  

“In five minutes, I intend to stationary dive.” Now here, it’s gonna be immediate.  

So that’s what Intent-Based Leadership sounds like on a nuclear submarine and that’s what’s happening today in the submarine force.  

I’m David Marquet. That’s your Leadership Nudge. 

Sandy Wilmer