David Marquet - Intent Based Leadership: Create Leaders at Every Level

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Leadership Nudge™ – Don’t Be Good, Get Better

One of our Intent-Based Leadership principles is “Don’t be good. Get better.” Why is that?

Don’t Be Good

When you want to be good, you’re often trying to prove task accomplishment or, sometimes, avoid appearing incompetent. You end up anxious, closed and defensive. You feel this ‘need’ to prove yourself.

Get Better

Getting better is an open, growth and learning orientation. We’re curious. We’re readily taking feedback and ultimately we get better.

If you get better at something by just 1% every month, in 6 years you’ll be twice as good at it.

The mindset is: “Don’t be good. Get better.”

Trying to “be good” crowds out the behaviors for getting better.

I’m David Marquet and that’s your Leadership Nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Just Say No

Sometimes I have a hard time saying “no”. That results in me being over-committed, anxious and unfocused. I end up not spending time on the things that are really important.

A strategy for saying “no” to those unwanted obligations is important. When you want to say “no”, try saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t”.

“I can’t” leaves it open to discussion. It opens you up to:

“Well, what’s in the way?”
“Let me help you get those things out of the way.”

It implies that you really want to, but you can’t.

Now, if that’s truly the case, then say “I can’t”, but if you just don’t want to commit to an unwanted obligation, then it’s better to say “I don’t”.

Studies show that people who say “I don’t” are more likely to decline the unwanted obligation and feel OK about it than people who say “I can’t”.

I’m David Marquet and that’s your Leadership Nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Google’s Mechanism for Better Choices

Due to the high demand of my toilet seat nudge, I’m going to show you another great mechanism.

I’m here at Google in Ann Arbor and here’s a mechanism to help people to eat, (or in this case – drink), healthier.

There is clear glass in front of the healthier drinks. The less healthy and sugary drinks are behind a shaded curtain.

The frosted pane encourages people with a slight nudge: “Why don’t you go with the stuff you see?”

We are more likely to choose what we see. With this mechanism, it makes that choice a little healthier.

I’m David Marquet and that’s your Leadership Nudge

Leadership Nudge™ – The Science of Empowerment

One of the fundamental constructs of Intent-Based Leadership is this idea that there is a relationship between control, competence and clarity.

It turns out that science supports these three legs as motivations for human beings.


Dan Pink summarized and popularized that science in his book DRiVE. Pink uses the words autonomy, mastery and purpose. but “autonomy” is what we mean when we talk about control, “mastery” is competence and “purpose” is clarity.

Now, ours is better because we have all C’s, but if you want to learn about the science behind control, competence and clarity, read Dan Pink’s book DRiVE.

I’m David Marquet and that’s your Leadership Nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – What Limits Your Growth?

We’re back to Figure 1a, our Control-Competence-Clarity graph, where we talk about leaders tuning the level of control to the level of competence and clarity of the team.

It turns out that we actually have a little “z-factor”. So, we say “The level of control is a function of competence, clarity and ‘Z'”.


What is ‘z’?

Z is the growth factor where the leader is inviting the team to take slightly more control than perhaps is warranted by the exact level of competence and clarity that they have.

So, ‘z’ is a control gap. The leader does that first by inviting people to take more control. This then provokes the team to “up their game”. It now puts the onus on them to up their game in terms of their competence and their clarity. Then, they grow to fill those roles and show more competence and clarity. Then the leader invites them up a little bit more and they grow even more. Then the leader invites them up a little bit more.

The size of that ‘z’ is dependent on two things:

  1. The learning orientation inside the organization and the people.

  2. The psychological safety.

If there’s no learning orientation or it doesn’t feel safe, then that z is going to be very small. It may even be 0. At 0 it feels very static. It doesn’t feel like we’re developing people. We’re not building leaders.

So, the speed at which you can develop leaders, (the size of that z-factor), is a function of learning orientation and psychological safety.

I’m David Marquet and that’s your Leadership Nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Hitting the Bullseye with Empowerment

Principle One of Intent-Based Leadership is that we tune the level of control to the competence and clarity of the team.

The Ladder of Leadership is a proxy for how much control the team has. Control is decision making authority.

At level 1, all the control rests on the boss. “I’ll tell you what to do.”

Further up the ladder at level 5, the team is saying “This is what we intend to do”. Level 6 is the team saying “This is what we’ve done”.

Ladder of Leadership - Figure 1a

It’s situational in the sense that in any particular situation, leaders may need to operate anywhere on the spectrum. If you have a brand-new team and they don’t really know what their purpose is yet or you don’t know what their technical abilities are, you may need to drop down and you may need to tell them what to do.

However, it’s also aspirational. The aspiration is always to drive to level 5. 5 is the bullseye because that’s the sweet spot between communication and authority/empowerment. So, at level 5 the team is saying, “I intend to…” and there is a lot of communication because it happens before taking action.

So, it’s situational in that at any time you may need to operate up and down on this ladder, but it’s aspirational in that whenever you operate on the lower end of the ladder, you’re always thinking “Ok now, next time can I move slightly up?” Level 5, “intent”, is where you want to get to.

I’m David Marquet, and that’s your Leadership Nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Manage Up!

Today we’re going to talk about the responsibilities that you have as either a leader or a team member in terms of this Control-Competence-Clarity diagram.

Figure 1a

If you’re a leader:

You’re responsible for how much control you can give the team because you’re generally the one who has the control. You want to give the team a little more control than is exactly warranted by their competence and clarity.

That will invite the team to higher levels of control, participation and thinking. It will invite them to “up their game” in terms of competence and clarity. You are responsible for the Control axis.

If you’re a team member:

You’re responsible for the Competence and Clarity axis. Your job, if you get invited to higher levels of control, is to up your competence and clarity. Even if you’re not, do this anyways. Make it so easy for your boss to say, “Wow, this person really knows what they’re doing. I’ll just let them make more decisions.” Make sure to be transparent.

The leader’s job is to move the team upward, giving more control, the team member’s job is to move to the right, increasing clarity and demonstrating competence.

Everyone works together, the team moves upward, and the organization does better.

I’m David Marquet and that’s your Leadership Nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Stories Create Culture

The stories we tell ourselves really help define our culture.

We all know the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Aesop’s Fables, and Grimms’ Fairy Tales. We have a nicely annotated collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories which includes classics like, The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen; which you probably know as Frozen. You can do this in your organization too.

If you create an award based on your values, and have peers submit nominees, then you’ll uncover and collect stories where people are acting in a way that supports the organization’s values.

You can collect those stories, make them available, then perhaps, after a year or so, when you have a nice collection, you too can put them in a binder and have a book to compliment your policies.

So, when new people come into the organization, you can say “Hey, here are our policies, but here are the stories that illustrate our values.”

I’m David Marquet, and that’s your Leadership Nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Got Frustration?

Today we’re going to talk about Principle One of Intent Based Leadership

Leaders tune the level of control they grant the team to the team’s competence and clarity. We’re going to illustrate that with fig. 1a.


On the vertical axis we have Control

Control is the ability to make decisions. You can think about it also as empowerment. Higher up, the team has more authority. Down low, the boss retains all the decision making authority.

On the horizontal axis we have competence and clarity.

Competence is the technical part of my job. And clarity is the purpose or why or what we’re trying to achieve.

So in any particular situation, the job of the leader is to tune how much control he or she is giving the team to the team’s competence and clarity.

If you give too much control, or you’ve given more decision making ability to the team than is warranted by their competence and clarity, then they’re going to make bad decisions. We call this “chaos.” It’s the fear of every leader trying to execute an empowerment program.

On the other hand, if we play it too safe, and the team doesn’t have the ability to make decisions that are warranted by the training and the understanding that they have, then that’s “frustration.”

When we poll organizations, 63% of people say they’re down here in the frustration zone. You probably have the ability to just give a little bit more control without even doing anything in competence and clarity.

Your job as a leader is to tune the level of control to the team’s competence and clarity.

I’m David Marquet and that’s your Leadership Nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Be Happier With This One Practice

One of the things that is scientifically proven to help people be happier is to focus on gratitude.

Focus on things that you’re grateful for. An easy way to do this is to keep a “gratitude journal.”

At the end of the day write down at least one thing that you’re grateful for. Really commit to doing it.

Here’s why: If you know that at the end of the day you’re going to have to write down one thing, you’re going to be looking for positive things all day long.

That’s going to help you maintain a positive mindset and help you be happier.

I cut and paste my gratitude journal for a year into a word cloud and that was interesting too.

Maintain a gratitude journal and you’ll be happier.

I’m David Marquet and that’s your Leadership Nudge

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