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6 Takeaways from “It’s Your Ship”

By June 11, 2019February 8th, 2024Inspiration

Have you ever felt as if you were a captain of a sinking ship?

Captain D. Michael Abrashoff sure as heck did when he was put in command of the USS Benfold, a ship that had gained the reputation of one of the worst naval crews at sea. The ship was a top-notch vessel, equipped with the best technologies but still, the crew was not performing. The Navy wanted to get the ship in shape and fast.

In June 1997, Abrashoff set foot upon the USS Benfold. This was Abrashoff’s first run as sea command, and his nerves ran high at the sheer task of being a Captain. What he saw left little to ease his worries. The crew was blatantly disrespectful to the departing captain, a man who was known for ruling with an iron fist. It made Abrashoff cringe to see the behavior. At that moment he knew that the cold-hard leadership style of the departing captain didn’t resonate with the crew. Abrashoff needed a different approach to reach the excellence he was aspiring to achieve. Before laying down new law, Abrashoff turned inward and did some hard soul searching. He knew that this arduous task would be entirely dependent on his leadership skills. Over the next several months he honed his leadership skills, and by bettering himself built a crew of confident, hard-working problem-solvers who were eager to take the initiative and responsibility for their own actions. The slogan on board became: “It’s your ship.”

After only a few short months under Abrashoff’s command, the USS Benfold became a top producing naval unit. Abrashoff memorialized his story and lessons in It’s Your Ship, one of the top books on leadership.

Abrashoff’s compelling story of top-down change can apply to all areas of business. Companies like Calyx have taken lessons from It’s Your Ship and implemented them into our own business culture. We’ve quickly realized an increase in morale and enthusiasm. For those looking for a quick improvement on their leadership skills here are 6 takeaways to enhance your teams’ comradery and productivity.

Lead by Example

Do you walk your talk? Do you bark orders from your desk, or are you willing to get your hands dirty?  Those who lead by example create a stronger, more agreeable, and productive team.    Leaders set morale by helping to inspire and assist those around them to meet their full potential.  Great leaders rise to challenges and boost their comrades higher than themselves. To gain the trust of your employees, lay down footsteps for them to follow. Be the leader that you would feel confident following.

Listen Aggressively

Abrashoff conducted interviews with each of his 300 crew members. He got personal in his discussions while learning about their personal lives, why they joined the Navy, and their thoughts on how to improve the Benefold. He discovered that he had a crew of smart, talented, and innovative men and women, but they weren’t being heard. Abrashoff “decided that {his} job was to “listen aggressively” to his crew.

When leaders listen and act upon suggestions, employees feel validated for making a difference. You never know who will come up with the next big idea. Extending an ear and responding accordingly can profoundly increase morale and productivity.

Communicate with Purpose

Lack of productivity often results from a sense of disconnect between the employee and the mission of the organization. Abrashoff took notice that the crew wasn’t invested in the ship. “No one had ever thought to give {the crew} a compelling vision of their work, a good reason to believe it was important.” When Abrashoff made them aware of their purpose, their performance increased tenfold.

Abrashoff goes on to explain, “No matter how fantastic your message is, if no one is receiving it, you aren’t communicating.” It is up to the leader to clearly define the mission and vision of the organization and then to communicate clearly and concisely.

Go above and beyond

In business, as well as in the Navy, standard operating procedure tends to take precedent. You will never get in trouble for following basic expectations and protocols. Staying in line is safe and effective. However, following standard operating procedures rarely results in exceptional outcomes. Innovation and progress occur when employees feel comfortable and motivated to go above and beyond.

The Washington Post Test

The end goal is essential, but how you get there is just as critical. Abrashoff writes, “If what I’m about to do appeared on the front page of the Washington  Post tomorrow, would I be proud or embarrassed? If I knew I would be embarrassed, I would not do it. If I’d be proud, I knew I was generally on the right track.” Leading with integrity is doing the right thing, even when it is difficult.

Take risks

For greatness to occur, everyone in an organization must feel comfortable taking calculated risks. As a leader, ensure that your employees know the parameters in which they can operate. Let them know that thinking outside of the box will be rewarded, even if it doesn’t result in success. Encouraging perfection snuffs out your team’s desire for risk-taking and creative thinking, thus, killing innovation.

Captain D. Michael Abrashoff has shown that excellent leadership can completely change the course of an organization. You too can elevate your leadership skills and strengthen your team by implementing strategies from It’s Your Ship.