Climbing the leadership ladder
Without a doubt, the most influential leadership book I have read in the last 18 months is “Turn the Ship Around! — a true story of turning followers into leaders” by L. David Marquet. This book has had a profound effect on me.
I was attending a course aimed at making me a better leader; we focused on self-awareness, relevant company policy for management, studied significant military campaigns from recent history, practised coaching conversations, and examined values and ethics. However, one Friday, one of my class mates gave me a copy of this book, and I read it over that weekend. It was the most valuable thing I read on that course and had the most impact of any content.
I am continuously reflecting on why I found it so valuable, and what I come back to, is it just makes so much sense.
It is filled with simple enough concepts and clear enough examples, that made it a compelling and riveting read. I have since introduced several of its concepts into my daily leadership practice, and I’ve chosen to write about one of them.
It explains why I give out high-fives… It’s all about the power of language.
Marquet and “I intend”
David stumbled across something that worked during his time on the Sante Fe submarine with the United States Navy. He began by committing to not give an order. This is very unusual for a Navy Submarine Captain. To achieve this he required his staff to tell him what they intend to do.
By going through the “I intend” process of assessing clarity and competence, he was able to grow his stuff into leaders. I have presented to my teams, other organisations, and other leaders on the things I extracted from the book. This short Innoversity video explaining the book has been shown by me about 20 times in the last year;
By creating an environment where “I intend” is used as part of common language, David successfully created a culture of psychological ownership amongst the team. In doing so, he transformed the worst performing Navy submarine to the best.
But how do you create an environment where “I intend” is common language, and people seek clarity and increased competence.
You start climbing the ladder.
Climbing the Ladder
David released some additional information following the success of the book. In conversation with Stephen Covey, they devised the ladder of leadership. This is a reference tool for leaders and aspiring leaders everywhere.
Essentially, you continually level up your conversations with your team. You help them climb the ladder.
When someone walks up to you and asks, “what do you want me to do?”, you reply with “what do you see that needs to be done?”.
If they say, “I can see some things that need to be done…”, you respond with “what do you think needs to be done next?”.
When they say, “I think this is what needs to be done next”, you can reply with “If that’s what you intend to do, why is it the right thing to do next?”.
In this way, you continually level up their thinking. You test their competence and clarity and they get to have a say in what they do.
To assist in this conversation David created some pocket cards with the ladder of leadership. I have grabbed a copy from David’s website where you can buy a pack of the intent based leadership cards. The ladder of leadership is one of these leadership cards.
Your goal as a leader is to get your staff to “I intend”.
You have to keep levelling up the ladder. And, I’ll tell you why “I intend” is the sweet spot you should be aiming for.
It is because, at this point, it allows the highest test of clarity and competence and the sweet spot for communication.
As you work your way up the ladder, the team lets you know more about their knowledge of the business, and what you are trying to achieve.
But if you go past level 5, past “I intend”. The amount of communication drops off. The team, or team member is autonomously doing what they need to do.
This is great, but means you may be unaware for periods of what they are working on. This is for your high trust, high competence employees. The ones you know will keep you in touch with all you need to be aware of.
These are the ones that have grown into leaders within the business in their own right.
So, change your language
There is power in language.
Have a read of these five sentences:
• I should high five more.
• I could high five more.
• I can high five more.
• I’m excited to high five more.
• I’m excited to high five more because it feels good to help people smile.
I have fostered a habit at work. I now give out a lot more high-fives. I normally include this in my morning greeting.
For instance — everyone gets a “Happy Monday”. Then a “Happy Tuesday”. Then a “Happy Wednesday”, or “Happy Humpday”. Then a “Happy Thursday”.
On many of these days that greeting is accompanied by a high-five or a fist-bump.
So remember, saying “I’m excited to high-five because it feels good to help people smile” is a simple change in words that has a profound effect on how much it will get done, and how people will feel about it. Similarly, by starting to change your immediate response when someone asks you “what would you like me to do now?”, you can have a profound effect on how they feel about the task.
So, give more high fives and seek “I intend”, start looking at how you can improve the environment and how you can shift your language, be patient with others as you all seek greater clarity.
Back yourself to start using ‘I Intend’ language and see what happens. This takes courage, but maybe, just maybe, we can all smile more as well. It takes a little courage to put that hand in the air and smile, waiting to see if the other person will follow suit or you’ll be left ‘hanging’. The same applies in shifting your language.
It takes courage to step up the ladder, it feels unsafe the higher you get, until you realise the foundation you have built will support you.
I am a writer with a passion for leadership, growth and personal development. I try and create a spark, a little idea that nests inside and kindles your aspirations.