If You Want Your People To Perform, Don’t Give Them Permission…Give Them Intent


By Simon Sinek

David Marquet graduated at the top of his class from the Naval Academy. After serving aboard submarines in the Atlantic and the Pacific, Captain Marquet finally earned something many officers dream of – his own command. Marquet was handed the keys to one of the finest boats in America’s fleet – the fast attack submarine, USS Santa Fe. Stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, this was a great honor indeed. But there was a catch. The crew Marquet inherited was the lowest performing crew in the US submarine fleet.

But it didn’t stay that way.

In just a short period of time, things turned around. A lot. Very quickly Captain Marquet’s submarine became the highest performing crew in the fleet. Scoring the highest marks in a number of metrics, Marquet’s crew went on to win a number of distinguished awards.

All to often, those in leadership positions too quickly blame poor performance on the people around them. That may be the true in some cases, but more likely than not, it’s the leadership that failed to produce results. In the case of Capt. Marquet, it was all about the leadership. And what Marquet did was change the culture aboard his boat from one of permission to one of intent.

The Navy is a permission based culture. Before a sailor performs any act he asks for permission. For example, “permission to dive to 400 feet.” To which the captain will reply, “permission granted” And the sailor will acknowledge the permission and perform the task, “Aye sir, diving to 400 feet.”

Marquet completely did away with this.

Aboard his boat, his sailors didn’t ask permission, they announced their intentions. “I intend to dive to 400 feet, sir.” The captain was still in charge and could still affirm or deny the intention. The task was the same. Everything that happened, in fact, was the same. Except aboard Marquet’s boat, every action was owned by the person performing the action. He built in accountability. And not in the traditional sense of setting a goal and a metric and making someone responsible for achieving that goal, but in a deeper, more personal sense. The crew aboard the Santa Fe weren’t just accountable for the results, they were accountable for their actions.

We don’t think of businesses as permission based cultures, but they are. Pay close attention how people talk to each other in status meetings or when they talk to their boss. “What do you think we should do?” Is a common question. “Can I…?” “Should I…?” “What if I….” very often precede a thought someone has. What if companies required all employees to announce their intention instead of passively asking permission? Imagine a status meeting in which every person at the table explains their intentions not their plans. “I intend to call this client to apologize for over charging them.” “I intend to get the website built by the end of the week.”

Nothing at the superficial level changes. The boss is still in charge. The tasks are the same. But everything changes in how people feel about their jobs. With intent, psychologically every member of the team puts some proverbial skin in the game. They are not just accountable to some arbitrary metric, they become accountable to themselves. An employees ability to perform is now on their shoulders.

Intend to try this and see what happens. The effects are felt immediately. And the results are profound. David Marquet proved it. With the same people, the same resources and the same tools, simply by allowing people to have intent instead of permission, you can completely turn the boat around.

3 Replies to “If You Want Your People To Perform, Don’t Give Them Permission…Give Them Intent”

  1. I am acquainted with David. I will let him know that you posted this. David has been featured on my blog, and he has featured my blog on many occasions. I am certain he will be happy to see you share his philosophy on empowerment.

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