[September 28, 2021] In January 1999, U.S. Navy Captain L. David Marquet took command of the nuclear submarine USS Santa Fe (SSN-763). At the time, the sub was known throughout the Navy as its worst-performing vessel and yet had been listed for deployment later that year. The story of Captain Marquet’s success was, at its core, turning followers into leaders and aggressively in pursuit of excellence.
It’s a compelling story about how Captain Marquet took a Navy sub and turned around the performance of its crew. When he took command, he noted that the crew was in a self-reinforcing downward spiral where poor practices resulted in mistakes. These mistakes feed on each other and degraded morale, resulting in the crew having less initiative and only doing the minimum to get by.
Who hasn’t seen this in an organization? The question is, “what do real leaders do about it?” His focus was to change the daily motivation from avoiding errors to achieving excellence. This meant that short-term rewards were sacrificed for longer-term goals. Senior leaders like Marquet know that to achieve excellence means more than just avoiding errors.
However, organizations heavily influenced by bureaucracy will always struggle because the leaders can never get beyond short-term goals and focus on eliminating errors. Reducing mistakes is a byproduct of pursuing excellence, not the other way around.1 The best way to do this is by giving more authority to people in the organization.
Pushing authority, and the motivation, down to those who do the job works because that is where better information on the problem resides. Solutions to practical problems are solved best at the lower levels in any organization.
Many senior leaders are reluctant to do this. Too many have been caught in the trap of their own personality of importance. That is why only the best leaders can effectively distribute their authority; failure is the most likely outcome for those who cannot make this happen. Yet, with authority comes responsibility, accountability, and hard work. And these are the seeds of the most successful organizations.
Leaders can always be successful at pursuing excellence. They do this in many ways, but the most important is recognizing that they must rely on others, avoid micromanagement, and look to long-term goals.
To read more on this story, visit Captain (Retired) Marquet’s website at https://davidmarquet.com/turn-the-ship-around-book/ and read his book (my recommendation link here).
See Simon Sinek’s 2009 book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Also, see my recommendation here.
Please read my newest book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).
No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.
Keep your focus, learn from the success of others. That is the way to get things done and done right. We reject the past lessons of humankind only to our peril.
Forgive me for jumping to an obvious conclusion but our political elites are rejecting any pursuit to excellence because, somehow, they see it as racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. General Satterfield has made a compelling case for excellence. This is not new but must be said again and again, for those who give up on excellence, or standards, are destined to fall.
Very true, Valkerie and well said. We are on a downhill slide in American and now we see China and Russia and Iran and North Korea cheering us on. Why not should they do so? It is in the best interest of evil to see America fail.
biden is evil
dont ya get it
If you are not pursuing excellence, then you are failing. ❤️
Another, spot-on article from Gen. Satterfield. I like it. Gen. Satterfield, just a thought, but you should create a phrase that you can associate with yourself. Like Rush Limbaugh and others, “from the underground bunker of mayhem and commonsense comes a true warrior….” Something like that…. just thinking.
Gen. Satterfield, your insights here are spot-on and I love it. This is just another reason to continue reading your blog. I’ve been a long time fan, as you surely know as you have responded to my comments before. Please allow me to also hawk your book a bit. For those new to this forum and to Gen. S’s website, here is the Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Our-Longest-Year-Iraq-Construction/dp/1737915510/ I ordered my book on Kindle AND paperback. I like having both, so when I travel, I have access to both and it helps me pass the time in the pursuit of my excellence. Pay close attention to what Gen. Satterfield tells us. It is from his many decades of successful service to our nation.
Hi Wendy and thank you for supporting this blog. It is the only leadership blog I go to now.
Hey thx, Wendy. You are welcome to ‘hawk’ Gen. Satterfield and his book.
Yeah, I ordered my copy and got it last night in the mail. Today and tomorrow, I’ll be reading it too.
Funny thing, people today esp. young folk are not interested in “excellence.” I wonder why. Well, one explanation is that they are too narcissitic. Another is that they were raised in such abundance of things they have never struggled or had any hardship. As Gen. Satterfield and many others have noted, you cannot develop your character without struggle. These folks have zero struggles.
Very good point, Willie. I know that this website is an attempt to help ‘right the boat.’ Let’s see how well we can do in the leadership forum to assist.
👍👍👍👍 Well said.
Thank you Gen. Satterfield for alerting me to this retired US Navy Captain. I had not heard of him and so, now I’ll go buy his book. That is, after I read your new book.
Once again, another excellent article from the archives of Gen. Satterfield brain. Lot’s of good info here for us to ponder but, alas, not new. Gen. Satterfield addresses some of the important things in the lives of good humans and the desire to get better. What drives us is at the heart of leaders who are willing to stand and help us.
Excellent article and I’m happy that you brought up Captain (Retired) Marquet’s ideas about excellence. I heard him speak once and was enthralled at his insights into the human mind. Understanding people is one of those things important to great leaders like him. I’m surprised that he was not promoted to Admiral.
He was probably too good for the Navy to consider. They want team players and nothing else matters. In time of war, maybe they are saying being a team player is more important than pursuing excellence. That is an intellectual struggle the US military needs to get an answer to.
I’m surprised as well. I wonder what criteria the Navy uses for promotion. 😊
Today, it’s the love of Critical Race Theory and those “woke” ideas. If you ain’t supportive of Joe Biden and the “we hate American” crowd, then you ain’t gettin’ promoted.
Yeah, me too, I do wonder. Gen. Satterfield hints that it is no longer merit but some form of loyalty to a political party and that is very very very dangerous.
You got that right, Anya.
I read his book several years ago. Worth buying.
If there is one thing that the US Democrat Party is after, it certainly is NOT the pursuit of excellence in anything but making us poorer and more dependent on government. Nuff said on that topic, and don’t let the truth hit you in the butt on this.
Fred, you nailed it. If you want destruction of the human condition and soul, then vote Democrat. Only a very few will gain anything from it. Just look at the history of socialism and the destruction it has wrought.
Democrats are the party of hate.