Andy Worshek

From achievement to leadership: how to turn your ship around

It sounds counter-intuitive, but digital transformation is more than just implementing a new software in your enterprise. To truly transform your company successfully, you must have full commitment from your employees. But to get full dedication from your workforce, there has to be trust. And one of the most effective ways to instill trust in your workforce is by allowing them to make their own decisions so they become fully invested in their work. Not only do your employees become more productive, they can reach their full potential.

This concept is called Intent-Based Leadership.

In part one of a two-part interview, we talk with speaker and intent-based leadership expert Andy Worshek, a member of David Marquet’s Turn This Ship Around team. The consultant group works with companies to help bosses become leaders who encourage employees to take charge of their work through Intent-Based Leadership.

David Marquet wasn’t supposed to be on the USS Santa Fe. At the last minute, he was transferred to the nuclear submarine from another ship he was supposed to command. Once aboard, he found low performance and morale among the crew, resulting in the Santa Fe ranking among the lowest in the fleet.

Andy Worshek had already spent 13 years in the Navy and had grown disenchanted with his time there, experiencing, in his own words, “the top-down, controlling leadership style.” Worshek, at this point, was considering ending his time with the Navy. He just didn’t see the point anymore. He wasn’t getting anything out of it. And that’s when Marquet introduced him to a new way of doing things.

Instead of leading with fear and intimidation by barking orders and expecting his crew to blindly obey his commands—something that Worshek and his peers felt was not working anymore—Marquet began giving control to his team by letting them make their own decisions, something he called Intent-Based Leadership.

It was a simple concept, but one that, at the time, was unheard of in the military. “We actually thought that maybe he’d gone too far, that that’s not what submarine captains do,” says Worshek. “The results were actually quite incredible.”

Worshek believed in what Marquet was doing so much, that he teamed up with Marquet to implement this new strategy. And stayed in the Navy for another 10 years.

The USS Santa Fe rose to the top of its fleet and began winning awards for performance, with an unusual number of officers and enlisted crew moving to positions of increased responsibility. After witnessing Captain Marquet’s leadership practices, Stephen R. Covey wrote about it in his book, The 8th Habit, calling it the most empowering organization he’s ever seen.

Marquet wrote about his experiences on the USS Santa Fe in a book called Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders, which has since become a staple in many companies. He also heads his own consulting firm, where he and Worshek speak about and teach Intent-Based Leadership to companies all over the world.

Their message is this: Leadership is not for the select few at the top. In highly-effective organizations, there are leaders at every level. To create productive work environments where morale is high and employees care about the work they are doing, you must release the passion, initiative, and intellect in each person. You must, in Marquet’s words, “Give control, create leaders.”

Worshek points out that the same kind of controlling atmosphere he experienced in the Navy before Marquet came on board is the same many employees experience in the workplace. “We don’t really call that leadership,” says Worshek. “That’s achievement. That’s one way to achieve things. Leadership is when you create an environment where your people fully engage, and you can see a marked change in their health and their happiness, because they have control over their work. And you see people start leading from every position that they’re in. That’s the leadership that David brought to the Santa Fe, by giving control to us. We still followed, but we followed principles.”

For Intent-Based Leadership to work, it comes down to one simple idea: The leader and his or her team share their intent and expectations with each other.

Worshek describes how it worked when Marquet first introduced it on the Santa Fe. “David shared his intent with us about what he wanted us to achieve for the week. And, in turn, we shared our intentions with him, how we intended to accomplish the missions or the tasks that were assigned to the Santa Fe.”

As a sonar technician with 14 years experience in his field, Worshek felt he had the authority to tell Marquet exactly how he was going to run sonar and what he was going to do with his team to make sure it was going to get done properly. To have that kind of control over his job, Worshek had to show Marquet why it was the right direction, not just for him and his team, but for the whole submarine.

The challenge of showing his competence and clarity motivated Worshek to do a better job, holding him accountable for his actions on the sub. But it also gave him control over his job, shifting the psychological ownership to really own what he did and how he did it. “It changed me from a guy who just wanted to do my best at work to a guy who wanted to be the best, and help others be the best that they could be in their role,” says Worshek.

Senior Copywriter

Charlie Moss has written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Week, Slate, MOJO, VICE and other publications. He has a passion for comic books, Star Wars, and The Beatles.