Leadership Repetition and the Leader-Leader Approach

Leader-Leader Approach to Management

In our recent blog 5 Barriers to Scaling Up a Business we touched on repetition being an important factor in leadership. Repetition is a core element in leadership development (aka learning new skills!), and reaching company objectives (consistency, consistency, consistency…).

Why is repetition so vital in leadership?

A key function in leadership is delivering consistent messages of your values, purpose, objectives (BHAG) and priorities. Then reinforcing them through your decisions and actions to create your company culture. 

In David Marquest’s book Turn The Ship Around, he tells the story of how he successfully transformed the USS Santa Fe from the worst-performing submarine in its fleet to the best. In less than a year! 

One of his keys to success was the picture he had hanging in his room. The picture was a man repeatedly asking his dog to sit, and when it finally does, he exclaims “Good dog!” This was a daily reminder to repeat a message until the organisation responds. To remain consistent. 

In David Marquet’s book, he also discusses two approaches of leadership: the leader-follower model and the leader-leader model. 

‘Leader – Follower’ Leadership Model

The traditional leadership model is the ‘know all the answers and give all the orders’ model. Under this model, employees:

  • Become passive, and have limited initiative, drive and inspiration
  • Rely on the leader to make all decisions 
  • Get frustrated with their squashed creativity
  • Avoid accountability
  • Are unclear on the company vision and objectives

When people are treated like followers, they act like followers. Instead of knowing all the answers and giving all of the orders, you can try a different approach. You don’t need to know everything. 

According to David Marquet,  “I don’t know” are the most important words a leader can say – those are the words that open the door to learning. When the leader says “I don’t know” it makes it safe for the whole team to say “I don’t know.” 

This is where collaboration, experimentation and innovation begin. This is where the leader-leader model comes in. 

‘Leader-leader’ Leadership Model

This model is based on the assumption that all people in the organization can be a leader. And that the organisation achieves more when everyone thinks and acts like a leader. 

Under this model, employees:

  • Have increased motivation and drive
  • Feel valued, leading to better retention
  • Have increased confidence and knowledge to make good decisions
  • Are aligned to the company values and vision
  • Play to their strengths and become high-performing

“The leader-leader model not only achieves great improvements in effectiveness and morale but also makes the organization stronger.” – David Marquet

Watch: David Marquet, Former-Captain, US Navy Seals: Turn The Ship Around! 

How to implement the leader-leader model

In his book, David Marquet shares the four pillars of the leader-leader model: 

  • Control – give it, don’t take it
  • Competence – give them the tools and knowledge they need
  • Clarity – be clear on your vision and goals
  • Courage – trust your team to deliver, even in the face of adversity

He discusses some of the mechanisms he used to change the culture, which can be easily incorporated into a corporate setting, and include:

  1. Use passive language – Ask “Do you think we should…” or “Could we…”
  2. Encourage your people to use empowered phrases – “I intend to…”
  3. Don’t brief, certify – rather than talk in briefing sessions, ask questions, keep them accountable.

Resist the urge to fall back into a leader-follower approach. This is a sure way to reach failure in your organisation. Instead, applying the leader-leader mechanisms and remaining consistent will increase your employee engagement and performance. 

To Scale Up your business! Take our Scaling Up/Four Decisions Needs Assessment to discover how your business measures against other Scaled Up companies. We’ll contact you.


Need assistance to help your team achieve your objectives to grow your business? Contact me at tedb@strategyandexecution.com.au to schedule a free 30-minute discovery meeting.


We have been providing organisations and their leaders with facilitation support and executive education focused on strategy development and strategy execution for more than 20 years. Using business models such as Scaling Up, Exponential Organizations, E-Myth Mastery, Outthinker etc, we support organisations seeking to create or refine excellent strategies and execute them quickly and effectively.

Our expertise is based on a mixture of wide business experience, effective tools as well as a great deal of consulting and executive education. Our approach to working with clients is as unique as our specialist focus. We always seek to challenge our clients’ thinking – but equally are unafraid to roll up our sleeves and help execute the ideas we help generate. Learn more about us here or view our upcoming workshops and events.

If you are preparing for strategy development and/or a strategy implementation challenge and are committed to creating value for your organisation, we look forward to hearing from you. Contact us now