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IT'S OUR SHIP
on June 25, 2008
I'm a big fan of Captain D. Michael Abrashoff's leadership methods and his books. His latest, IT'S OUR SHIP - The No Nonsense Guide to Leadership is the third in a series based on his command tour aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG65) and building on his experiences with leaders in the business world. In this third book, I see Michael's growth as an author and as a leader. The third book includes some snippets from the story outlined in his first best seller - IT'S YOUR SHIP. Sure to be a best seller in its own right, IT'S OUR SHIP provides a great blend of Michael's own story with those of other proven leaders in the business world. These are stories worth telling and Michael tells them exceedingly well. In his latest book, he takes you back to USS Benfold, then to The Container Store, Pitney Bowes, Aflac, 1-800-GOT-JUNK and many other commercial enterprises before ending where he started - USS BENFOLD. From each enterprise, he brings together their leadership lessons with his and demonstrates that these principles work in every environment. All it takes is "collaboration" - the key word in this book.
I come at the three books (the second was GET YOUR SHIP TOGETHER) from a different perspective and much more critical eye than most readers. I was commissioned the same year (1982) Michael was - though from Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island rather than the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. We both assumed command in 1997 (though my command was a shore command) and we both worked for the Secretary of Defense (though mine was Donald H. Rumsfeld - as fine, patriotic, and honest a man as ever served (twice) in that demanding position). When I assumed command, I was taking over for an interim caretaker Commanding Officer who was nurturing a command back to health after two failed Inspector General inspections (somewhat like the Operational Propulsion Plant Examination that USS BENFOLD had failed before Michael assumed command). I know first-hand the challenges of command. I retired as a Navy Captain in 2006 with a career spanning 30 years of service as an enlisted Sailor and a commissioned one. I am a Navyman. I fully appreciate the context of his books and the purpose for which they were written. Read these books, apply the principles and watch your people grow, succeed and surpass your expectations.
I know that the leadership principles that Michael outlined in all three books work. They work extraordinarily well, when properly employed. They worked for him, they worked for me, they work for Commanding Officers at sea and ashore today, and they will work for you. Captain Abrashoff is a masterful leader and brilliant storyteller. I've gone back to do some research and can't validate that "virtually all 310 Sailors were deeply demoralized" or that "clearly his (the former CO's) leadership had failed", as Michael has described the situation. I say this, because statements like these are toned down a bit in his second and third books, which shows Michael's growth as both author and leader. While this over-dramatization tells a better story, Arleigh Burke destroyer Sailors are the cream of the crop of surface Sailors. Michael started off in a far better position than a reader might otherwise think, though he and his crew faced significant challenges and overcame them together to achieve remarkable successes by any measure.
Commander Abrashoff assumed command of a nearly new Arleigh Burke destroyer and inherited a crew that suffered the natural trials and tribulations of pre-commissioning a ship and `bringing her to life.' The truth of the matter is that three of the officers under the former CO and the former CO himself are all Navy Flag officers today - the enlisted Sailors of that first crew went on to enjoy great success as well. The first CO of USS BENFOLD was certainly doing something right and continues to do well on active duty today. I think it's more a matter of different approaches to leadership - there are many ways to effectively command an Arleigh Burke destroyer.
I give you my own insight so that you understand fully that there is no doubting that Commander Abrashoff's approach is successful - and he fills you with genuine confidence that you can be equally successful (that in itself is a sign of a good leader). Leaders everywhere would do well to make his three books a part of their libraries - but only putting them on the shelf after they have devoured every word. I remain a student of leadership and Michael's books have contributed greatly to my education. I could have used them at the start, in the middle and at the end of my Navy career. I read and reread them today. And I will, again, tomorrow. I hope you'll join me. You will not regret it.