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One of the best leadership books around

It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

Are you looking for a practical, no-nonsense guide to leadership that can help you address poor retention rates, poor performance, and low morale? Do you want your team members to improve their performance and take the initiative? Do you want your team to embrace your vision?

Don’t be misled by the subject of this book. “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy” is a testament to leadership in action that you can use to transform your workforce through conversation, trust and empowerment.

When Captain Abrashoff finished his tour of duty, the Benfold was, by then, the pride of the fleet: the retention rate had jumped from 28% to 100%; the morale was high; operating costs and equipment failures were low; and performance had skyrocketed. Under his command, it became the go-to ship in the Gulf and got rewarded with the toughest assignments.

So how did he do it? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but here are some key leadership principles he embraced.

1. He did his research. He identified problematic issues by actually reading the sailor’s exit surveys. What he found out is no different than the engagement issues faced universally, by many industry sectors. What he did with that information: he committed himself to change.

2. He got to know his employees: all 310 of them. He wanted to know what made them tick and what they wanted with their career…then he did his best to match their aspirations to the ship’s needs.

3. He talked to them. Why? Because they knew the ship. Their ideas mattered. When they had a good idea, he made use of it ASAP and let everyone else know about it. The four most valuable words he used in a conversation with his crewmembers were “What do you think?” He asked them what they liked the most, the least and what they would change, if they could.

4. He created a climate of trust. He encouraged them to take responsibility and initiative…”make a decision and see what happens”. More importantly, he made them feel safe when doing so…and he would always go to bat for his crew.

5. Good communications were paramount. He knew there was a correlation between how much people knew about a plan and how well they carried it out. He made sure his crew knew what was in store for them and why. Key stakeholders always had a seat at the table and he created channels so everyone on board the ship had a chance to be heard.

6. He led by example. Abrashoff challenged tradition: instead of eating first and with the officers, he ate last and sat with his crew. He was careful to control his own emotions and he knew the power of an enthusiastic commander.

7. He reviewed his actions and decisions: “did I articulate the goals, did I give them the time and resources…did I train them?”

8. And last, but not least, he rewarded hard work with good play.

This is a very practical, easy to understand book that you can use to model leadership at your place of business.

You still think it’s not applicable to your workplace...think again. Leadership principles were tested and proven within a contained environment that housed over 300 professional employees: from executive officers and engineers to gunnery operators and cooks. Abrashoff used simple leadership skills available to all of us: conversation, trust and empowerment.

Abrashoff said he used “common sense actions to create high morale and improve the ability of the crew to perform better and win”.

A great take away quote from this excellent book on leadership: “The more command I gave up, the more control I got.”

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