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

Ladder of Leadership

  • Purpose
  • Concept
  • Cards
  • Level Up
  • Scenarios
  • Practice


When we give people authority, we create leaders.

The words we use shape our work environments. Our mission is to focus on the words we use and how they shape the environment we are in. It starts with understanding the impact of our language and then practicing with more effective word choices.

After we understand the impact of our words we will use them to coach our teams to ask the right questions, share information and make decisions.


Developed with Dr. Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People … the seven rung ladder helps bosses and workers understand the power of communication as you give people control.

Learn more about the Ladder

Ladder Cards

The Ladder of Leadership cards will walk your group through conversations they have with their team every day.

Together, you will introduce language to encourage employees to think and scale the ladder of leadership.

Each participant will use a set of Ladder of Leadership cards. Groups will role-play managers and workers at differing levels of empowerment.

Take the First Step: Leveling Up


Here’s a start: recognize when your people are trying to get you to “tell them what to do” and resist it.

The first rung of the ladder is “tell me what to do” You job is to hear what “tell me what to do” sounds like (people often camouflage it) and resist the urge to tell them what to do. Instead, help them level up to where they are saying “I think…”

Learn more about the other 5 rungs of the Ladder


  1. Change Perspective (put them in your seat)
  2. Fast Forward (imagine it’s a date 6 months from now)
  3. Make the change small (talk about a part of the decision)

Create Your Own Scenario

Think of decisions you make every day. Has there ever been a situation where something did not go according to plan? What happened?

In your situation who would be involved in making the decision?

Boss: We use this term to describe the person in the situation that has more authority in the company.

Based on your situtation what is the decision that needs to be made?

Here this company had a delay in a shipment and waiting for an inspection pushes out the delivery date further. For you this could be a project deadline that needs to be extended because of a miscommunication or closing a sale with a client that has special requests.

Role Play A Scenario:
Practice Leveling Up

Imagine you are a new Senior Vice President for Operations at the ABC Toy Company. You took over from a very top-down boss and want to get your people to “level up” the ladder.

You are responsible to producing and shipping your products. Your normal process is to include a quality inspection prior to shipping but this week’s batch is coming off the line late and if you do the inspection you will have to airfreight the products incurring extra costs. If you skip the inspection, you can ship normal freight but risk sending a small number of defective toys out.

The line manager (we will call him the “worker”) comes in to report the problem and discuss the decision you need to make: do you ship the toys to without going through product inspection or do the inspection and pay the extra costs?

Remember, we are going to have the worker play level one. They have been told what to do for a long time and will stubbornly resist moving up. The conversation might go like this…

Since we had to drop the machine for unexpected maintenance we are behind on a client’s order. The current batch will come off the line 24 hours behind schedule. [Notice, when the worker presents a problem without a solution, this is a camouflaged “tell me what to do.”]

Ok, what are our options? What do you see? [You will no doubt already realize that you have two main options but resist telling the worker. Let him or her express them.]

Well, I don’t really know but if we do the inspection we are going to have to airfreight. That’s big bucks. I guess we could skip the inspection…? [Said hesitatingly]

What do you think we should do?

I don’t know. You are the boss, that’s what I think. [The worker is used to being told what to do and might not feel safe expressing their opinion.]

Well, I want to know what you think. Let’s imagine I weren’t here and you had to make this decision yourself, tell me how you would think through which option were best.

Well, if we don’t do the inspection …

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