I was skeptical at first because leadership and management style in the military are not really my cup of tea, but this is different: the author seems to have the same feelings, except he was a submarine commander in the US Navy.

The whole book is about turning the leader-follower approach used in the Navy into a leader-leader management style, explaining why the latter works better in a nuclear submarine. The author explains how Control, Competence and Clarity are the key requirements that will allow any org to delegate leadership down the command chain. Real world examples from the life aboard the submarine are used to explain the various concepts, with a format like “situation due to a leader-follower approach” -> “problem” -> “switch to a more leader-leader approach” -> “problem solved”. Most of the tales from the submarine are entertaining, making the reading very easy, some of them seemed a bit too stretched, or “too good to be true” so to speak.

All in all, I really liked how pretty much each concept described in the book could be applied to a different industry, or even different departments in the same organization. For me it was Engineering Management but the same lessons learned could’ve been applied to Marketing, SRE, even Sales at times.



  • Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.
  • Remember, leadership is a choice, not a position.

Part I: Starting Over

  • Do people really need to be “empowered” when this is most likely innate?
  • The way I was told to manage others was not the way I wanted to be managed. I felt I was at my best when given specific goals but broad latitude in how to accomplish them. Another case where autonomy seems to be a driver
  • Ships with a “good” commanding officer (CO) did well, […] Ships that didn’t have a good CO didn’t do well. If performance directly depends on the leader, that’s a sign of a bad process because it might work the other way around: a bad leader could easily worsen an otherwise functioning team.
  • The team has to be competent by itself and stay competent when the leader goes away
  • One of the things that limits our learning is our belief that we already know something.
  • When the performance of a unit goes down after an officer leaves, it is taken as a sign that he was a good leader, not that he was ineffective in training his people properly. This is counterintuitive but if the leader is good, the team should perform well even when the leader is gone

Part II: Control

  • Good intentions and unactionable plans lacking factual follow ups are worse than doing nothing: the perception is that upper management albeit aware of the problem, ultimately doesn’t care.
  • If you don’t have time to change the culture and wait for a change in behaviours, try changing behaviours and wait for it to affect the culture
  • Being able to bypass formal communication and get information out of your teammates in an informal ways can be very powerful. But what about remote workers? How do you get those info if you can’t casually hang out with the team at the coffee machine?

Part III: Competence

  • the mechanisms we employed to strengthen technical competence […]: Take deliberate action. We learn (everywhere, all the time). Don’t brief, certify. Continually and consistently repeat the message. Specify goals, not methods.
  • The point is not removing mistakes, that’s not possible. The point is about having a process in place that helps you recognizing a mistake and take remediation to avoid it happening

Part IV: Clarity

  • You can’t really push decisions top down indefinitely, the team needs clarity if we want to give them control
  • Intimate technical knowledge means that each of us is responsible for learning our area of responsibility. We make decisions based on technical reasons, not hope. We understand the details of our watch stations and the interrelationship of systems. We diligently study.
  • I like to call these man-versus-nature as opposed to man-versus-man awards. When you rank teams against each other, you don’t push for improvements: if I’m first, no need to work more. Better to rank the teams against a measurable goal, so that they strive to do better to get more rewards not regarding being the best or the third.
  • Empowerment means “I give you the power” which doesn’t make sense, power isn’t something that can be transferred between people. Managers don’t empower anything. Emancipation is different in the sense that the manager acknowledges somebody’s inner potential and does their best to remove the obstacles that are preventing it to emerge.