How to Turn Passive Followers Into Active Leaders

You aren’t worthy of leadership if fear of giving control controls you.

Successful leaders move away from “permission mode.”



Don’t you hate it when someone asks permission to do something?

Real leaders give authority not permission.

Stop controlling, outdoing, and limiting. Release by giving control, developing competence, and providing clarity of purpose.

Command and control systems create followers.

Capt. L. David Marquet, former commander of the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Santa Fe, embraces a leader-leader model and rejects a leader-follower model. In other words, his goal is turning passive followers into active leaders.

Permission or intention:

“Use ‘I intend to …’ to turn passive followers into active leaders.” David Marquet

Followers ask permission.

  1. Request permission to…
  2. I would like to…
  3. What should I do about…
  4. Do you think we should…
  5. Could we…

Leaders have intentions.

  1. I intend to…
  2. I plan on…
  3. I will…
  4. I’m moving forward…
  5. Our next steps include…

Followers ask permission. Leaders have intention.

First time:

Marquet explained that his first encounter with, “I intend to…” was pivotal in his leadership journey. As the Officer On Deck, he asked his Captain for permission. The Captain chided, “Just tell me what you are going to do.”

Marquet says, “I started saying, ‘I intend to…’

In his own words (1:12):

Intention on a nuclear-powered attack submarine:

“Captain, I intend to submerge the ship. We are in water we own, water depth has been checked and is four hundred feet, all men are below, the ship is rigged for dive, and I’ve certified my watch team.”

“Very well.” (Turn the Ship Around, pg. 82.)

Next time:

The next time someone asks, “Is it alright if I …” say, “Tell me what you intend to do.”

Ask, “What do I need to know?” Then, if appropriate, sign off.

How can you minimize permission-giving and maximize intention-making in your organization?


This post is based on my interview with Capt. L. David Marquet and his book, Turn the Ship Around. (Recommended reading)

Added resource: Turn Your Ship Around: A workbook  for Implementing Intent-Based Leadership in Your Organization

Twitter: @ldavidmarquet

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