Teach Your People to “Think Out Loud” to Enable Them to Maintain Control

Here is yet another sneak peak inside the book, “Turn The Ship Around! How to Create Leadership at Every Level”, By L. David Marquet, Captain, U.S. Navy (retired), to be published by Greenleaf Book Group LLC on August 1, 2012:

USS Santa Fe riding on the surface

I was standing on top of the bridge in a harness. The tactical inspection was essentially over and we were returning to port. Lieutenant Dave Adams was [Officer of the Deck] OOD, driving Santa Fe up the channel into Pearl Harbor. He chatted with the bridge phone talker and lookouts. Everyone, it seemed, was in a buoyant mood except me. We had followed the attack on the submarine with a successful attack on an enemy surface ship. We sunk two “enemy” vessels, shooting two for two, and hadn’t been counter-detected. We had operated Santa Fe safely and effectively. We’d done well.

Still, I was thinking about how the inspection had gone in more critical terms and how much I’d had to drive solutions to problems.

“Bridge, navigator. Mark the turn.” I overheard Lieutenant Commander Bill Greene’s voice on the bridge loudspeaker. The navigation team in the control room was using bearings from the periscope and GPS to determine whereSanta Fe was in the channel and when we needed to turn.

“Nav, bridge, aye,” Dave acknowledged, holding the microphone to his mouth, but he didn’t order the turn. I waited a second.

“Weps, are you going to turn?” I asked directly. In the narrow channel, every second counted. I glanced sideways at the familiar day markers and palm trees and knew we were at the point where we needed to turn.

“Yes, 3 seconds. I thought they were early.” He seemed miffed I had prodded him.

“Helm, right 15 degrees rudder.” Santa Fe started a slow turn to the right, lining up with the next leg of the channel. It worked out just fine.

But I could see Dave had lost initiative, lost confidence, and lost control. He was no longer driving the submarine, I was. His job satisfaction just took a big hit.

Mechanism: Thinking Out Loud

As naval officers, we stress formal communications and even have a book, the Interior Communications Manual, that specifies exactly how equipment, watch stations, and evolutions are spoken, written, and abbreviated. By consistently using these terms, we avoid confusion. For example, we shut valves, we don’t close them, because close could be confused with blow. We prepare to snorkel, but then we report being ready—not prepared—to snorkel,

This adherence to formal communications unfortunately crowds out the less formal but highly important contextual information needed for peak team performance. Words like “I think . . .” or “I am assuming . . .” or “It is likely . . .” that are not specific and concise orders get written up by inspection teams as examples of informal communications, a big no-no. But that is just the communication we need to make leader-leader work.

We also discussed what had happened on the bridge as we approached Pearl Harbor. Here’s what I wish Dave had been saying: “Captain, the navigator has been marking the turns early. I am planning on waiting 5 seconds then ordering the turn.” or “I’m seeing the current running past this buoy pretty strongly and I’m going to turn early because of it.” Now the captain can let the scene play out. The OOD retains control of his job, his initiative; he learns more and becomes a more effective officer. He’s driving the submarine! He loves his job and stays in the navy.

We called this “thinking out loud.”

*Reprinted with permission from “Turn The Ship Around!: How to Create Leadership at Every Level”, by L. David Marquet, 2012, Greenleaf Book Group Press, Austin, Texas. Copyright © 2012 by Louis David Marquet.


  • What do you think of the newest sneak peak of “Turn the Ship Around!”?
  • Have any examples of where “thinking out loud” has or could have helped maintain control and drive empowered decision-making in your organization?


If you would like to order the book “Turn The Ship Around!: A Captain’s Guide to Creating Leadership at Every Level”, please visit THIS link at Barnes & Noble (BN.com).


Related Articles –

How We Made Leader to Leader Work on Santa Fe – By David Adams (leader-leader.com/blog)

Turn The Ship Around!: A Captain’s Guide to Creating Leadership at Every Level (commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com)

Up Scope! (commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com)

Good to Great (A Submariner’s Profile in Empowerment) (commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com)

7 Responses to “Teach Your People to “Think Out Loud” to Enable Them to Maintain Control”

  1. When you are driving a submarine with a reactor and wish to maintain a perfect accident record, verbatim compliance with all regulations, including interior communications, is critical to that end. The best discipline team in the world will not prevent such breaks from routine standardized protocol and communications from leaking into the enlisted communications once they are comfortable hearing officers communicate with each other by “thinking out loud” during evolutions. The discussion highlighted after the event described above is what after evolution debriefings and lessons learned discussions are for. So, in this instance, I’d have to respectfully disagree with the good Captain’s at sea, but would agree that ashore, in any business, this skill would add greatly to producing new, insightful leaders by talented, highly experienced mentors.


  2. Rick, thanks for participating in the discussion.


  3. […] background-position: 50% 0px ; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com – Today, 6:30 […]


  4. You are welcome Captain Marquet and thank you for your service both in and out of uniform. We can certainly used better and more effective leaders to get our economy, politics, and culture turned around and your choice to focus on this aspect of American life is filling a void that has been empty too long. Best to you and yours.


  5. […] Teach Your People to “Think Out Loud” to Enable Them to Maintain Control (commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com) […]


  6. […] Teach Your People to “Think Out Loud” to Enable Them to Maintain Control […]


  7. […] Teach Your People to “Think Out Loud” to Enable Them to Maintain Control […]


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