French Caldwell

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

French Caldwell
VP and Gartner Fellow
15 years at Gartner
19 years IT industry

French Caldwell is a vice president and Gartner Fellow in Gartner Research, where he leads governance, risk and compliance research. Mr. Caldwell also writes and presents on knowledge management. His research includes analysis of the impact… Read Full Bio

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A New Year’s Resolution on Leadership — ‘Turn the Ship Around’

by French Caldwell  |  December 31, 2012  |  1 Comment

At the Gartner Symposium in Orlando, I found just about every 1-1 meeting with attendees and Gartner clients could be boiled down to “things just aren’t working right in my organization.”  I found that instead of engaging in discussions about the GRC vendors I cover, I was providing leadership counseling.  Fortunately, I had just read David Marquet’s book, Turn the Ship Around.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known David since 1989 when he and I reported aboard the USS Will Rogers, a fleet ballistic missile submarine, or boomer.  I was the XO and he was Chief Engineer of the blue crew — boomers have two crews so the missiles can remain hidden under the sea as much as possible.  At that time, the Will Rogers blue crew was facing tremendous uncertainty — they had flunked a key nuclear weapons examination and had to be re-certified before they could go on another missile patrol, and the skipper was going to admiral’s mast over a collision with a trawler.  I fully expected the skipper to lose his command, but he was retained.  The next two years were life-changing for a lot of people in that crew, including David.

When David earned his own command, the USS Sante Fe, a nuclear attack submarine, he vowed to apply a new style of leadership — one in which every crew member is a leader.  I am going to say without humility that the one lesson I passed on to David is to stand by first principles no matter what.  And I was glad to see that in command he did just that.  What’s interesting is that the doubters and the resistance to his principles of leadership were not his bosses.  His squadron commodore and the commander of the submarine group were fully supportive.  Rather it was middle management, the chief petty officers, that resisted and at times caused David to doubt his own leadership principles.

Yet David survived his own self-doubt, his chiefs became fully vested leaders, and Sante Fe went from worst to first in the course of a year.

So how do you turn your organization around in a year?  You can’t — but your people can.  Study after study shows that when employees are engaged and they believe in the goals of the organization, then companies actually see their valuations increase.  The real challenge is getting those very employees to believe that things will be better if they truly take responsibility — and that’s the magic in this book.

While there are many business books that describe strategies for gaining employee engagement, what’s really different about this book is that David ends each chapter with practical action items and workshops that you can use in your organization, whether that organization is a small IT shop or a global mega corporation — or even your son’s or daughter’s scout troop committee.  This book is about creating employee, team, and volunteer leaders, no matter what the organization.

The only downside to the book is a dearth of parallel examples from the business world.  Perhaps if readers take on the lessons learned from David’s experience, in his next book he’ll have many examples to share.

And as for my advice to clients on governance and leadership, research areas into which I’ve been pulled by Gartner colleagues and clients, you can bet that when we talk, I’ll suggest that you read David’s book – so why not read it now and then let’s talk.

Happy New Year!

Recommended Gartner Reading:  Maverick* Research: Socially Centered Leadership

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  • 1 David Marquet   January 4, 2013 at 10:16 am

    French, thanks for the post and more importantly, thanks for being there during those Will Rogers days! You were a savior there.