on June 23, 2003
This book and its author have received a lot of media exposure, so I decided to check it out. While Abrashoff espouses proven leadership techniques, the only really new learning is how one man applied the principles on a Navy ship with a complement of 311 sailors. This is more a story of one man's awakening to how leadership is considerably more effective than management; how getting out of people's way is wiser than micromanaging them.
Leadership is emphasized in the book, and in every endorsement quote on the back cover. Yet, the subtitle says "management techniques," not "leadership techniques." Leadership did not come easy to Abrashoff; he had a lot of learning to do...and undo. As he moves through the chapters, this retired Navy Captain talks about his experiences in leading by example, listening, communicating purpose and meaning, creating a climate of trust, focusing on results, taking calculated risks, building people and unity, and strengthening quality of life.
Good leaders can tell you all about these concepts and how they are applied in their organization. Aspiring leaders and those who have not yet seen the light will be awe-struck by what Abrashoff accomplished. Solid, experienced leaders will see this book as more of a case study and a reinforcement of what they're already doing. As I have observed today's military leaders-as a citizen and as a consultant who has had the privilege of working with military leaders, the "system" is not as counterproductive as the author would lead us to believe. Bureaucracy is still bureaucracy, but Abrashoff is not alone in his practice of leadership skills.
Abrashoff applied leadership skills on his ship to achieve significant measurable results. I'm glad he documented his achievements so others might be inspired. I noted that he compared and linked his military experiences and perspectives to civilian applications. Through relationships with Fast Company magazine and other organizations, this author is now giving speeches and probably consulting. This book and the attendant publicity could be viewed as effective tools to position him as a sought-after speaker.
In all fairness, while the leadership principles and anecdotes from the USS Benfold are certainly present, this book struck me as more of an autobiography of the growth of a leader. For a treatise about leadership and considering the title, I was surprised to see such heavy use of first person pronouns in the writing.
Company owners and senior executives will find the book valuable as a case study of one man's experience. Managers will learn principles and techniques that can substantially improve their performance. Some readers will feel reinforced; others will feel discomforted by the heavy sense of ego and rationalization. It's a shame that Abrashoff did not choose to stay in the Navy to effect those changes he says are so needed; instead he left the service to write a book focused on two years of his work and hit the lecture circuit.
on December 11, 2003
I am a plankowner of the Benfold and admired Capt. Abrashoff's leadership. His superior leadership brought the moral of our ship from just ordinary shipboard life to a ship that many in the fleet wanted to become a part of. Our ship was a show-piece and we were proud to carry out his orders. What could have been a horribly desolate six months on deployment, including the holidays spent in the Gulf in 97-98, turned into a memorable experience for all, thanks to Capt. Abrashoff who even made UnRep a grand event! We learned from him that although we had a VERY important job to conduct, we were rewarded with pride in our accomplishments. Capt. Abrashoff was a very approachable Commanding Officer, an experience I had never encountered in the military and has been rare while employed with state government. He made an effort to see that his crew not only did their jobs exceptionally well, but that we enjoyed the festivities he provided for the ship while in port. I have read his fantastic book, reliving all the memories of my Benfold life and have used his leadership knowledge to become a successful professional in the "civilian" world. To the readers who feel Capt. Abrashoff is "arrogant" in his leadership style--I think if you had as awesome a ship as the Benfold to be a part of, you would be extremely proud of it and the leadership that made it such a fine place to spend a few years of your life.
on March 31, 2003
As Yogi said... De ja vu all over again. D. Abrashoff graduated the USN Academy in 1982, I graduated the USAF Academy in 1983, a comtemporary of mine then. Reading his book reminded me of all the things I suffered through my tour of active duty. It also reminded me of the basics I was taught at MY academy. On a theoretical level, nothing new here. On a practical level, this book is a gem, and I have just recommended it to my process improvement team.
The book is packed full of some ones learning on how to implement what a lot of other books explain in theory. The author doesn't plot out checklists, but gives meaningful anecdotes to explain his experience and point he is making. His key points are the chapter headings:
Lead by Example
Communicate Purpose and Meaning
Create a Climate of Trust
Look for Results, Not Salutes
Take Calculated Risks
Go Beyond Standard Procedure
Build Up Your People
Improve Your People's Quality of Life
A key take away for me, and in my experience, it is one thing to "COPY EXACTLY" (stealing an Intel term), it is another to understand the principle. By his examples, he indicates that other ships copied techniques (benchmarking) and improved specific areas of performance (all good), but failed to understand the principles involved. This allowed them to not extend improvements to other areas of their processes. This has been mimiced in business by all the failed initiatives that litter the highway, all good if you pay attention to their design, key assumptions, and core principles.
I though the book was well written, to the point, well illustrated with examples, all expressing key truths (though not new, well done). You can find other books that take each aspect (check the chapters) and dive deep into theory, but if you want a practitioners guide to how to get it done, this is a great book.
on May 12, 2002
I just read Abrashoff's "It's Your Ship" and strongly recommend the book to managers at all levels and academics that teach Management, Organizational Behavior and Leadership. The author, Captain D. Michael Abrashoff - former commander of the USS Benfold, write in an engaging, easy to read style. The information he conveys is priceless. If you are concerned about productivity, profitability and opportunities for growth, the book is a handbook for success.
Having spent many years in the "old Corps (USMC)", heavy industry and higher education, I, too, have come to reject the old fashioned and dysfunctional command and control approach to leadership. There is a much better model and it is well described and richly illustrated in this book.
on February 22, 2007
I am a cynic on business books. There is a lot of drivel out there penned by half-wits. This book is not one of them.
This book presents practical, common-sense leadership ideas that have been field tested in one of the most rigid organizations going- and yielded extraordinary results. I particularly like the author's emphasis on encouraging feedback from lower level team members, common sense solutions, quick action on new and promising ideas, and concern for all members of the team. The fact that his ideas on leadership are the distilled results of what he did to turn a troubled ship into a Navy-leading example give the author credibility. It's an inspiring read, and I found myself unable to put the book down.
This is definitely a book I'll put front and center of my bookshelf, and come back to again and again. I've already passed it to another member of my team.
on June 26, 2002
I was fortunate enough to hear the author speak once at work. He provides the inspiration and can-do attitude that empowers people that they can make a difference. He is so effective because he has done it. He could have never changed his part of the Navy unless, his employees, unless he led them through the change himself. He led from the front and backed up his employees. He could have never pulled things off without having the courage to make mistakes and learn. He provides excellent examples of managing up and down the organization...something every leader needs. It is also a skill every employee wants to see in their leader. It was refreshing to see Abrashoff apply his daily learnings to his work. Each time a new risk was taken, whether the risk was successful or not, the author applied the learnings for the next opportunity, readying his team to learn from their trials.
This book is easy to read and practical...a leadership guide that all leaders should read. This will be a must read for my team.
on December 26, 2013
Most of the bosses I’ve had since leaving the U.S. Navy haven’t stood up to Capt. Michael Abrashoff. He was a visionary leader who knew how to manage, as well.
In the early 1990s, I had the privilege of working under the leadership of Capt. Abrashoff. He was my Executive Officer (XO) at the time. Though I am not directly mentioned in his book, Its Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, I might be one of the sailors to whom he vaguely refers several times throughout the book.
As a Boatswain’s Mate, I was one of several young men who came from a working-class background, who didn’t have many examples in life of what constitutes a good leader. We didn’t know much about what made several naval officers such men of stature onboard the Shiloh. When I boarded the U.S.S. Shiloh, I, like several fellow seaman with whom I served, experienced that subtle but profound initiation into manhood. I’m sure much of the programs and activities were products of Capt. Abrashoff’s vision.
Captain Abrashoff is telling the truth about creating a culture of inclusivity. I just didn’t know at the time that he was one of the leaders who helped create this culture. For instance, throughout the duration of a WESTPAC, which took us to the Persian Gulf for six months, we witnessed several examples of officers reaching out to enlisted personnel. Good communication always flowed up and down the chain-of-command.
Good leadership is one of those elusive, invisible phenomena, that, when it works well, often has the ability to stimulate motivation among its followers. Though I didn’t know it until I read his book, Capt. Abrashoff was able to encourage such a following.
On several occasions in the past, I have written about Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff, USN (Ret.). Mike has made the transition from being a decorated and acclaimed naval officer to offering his leadership insights to business leaders. His newsletter - available on his Website at [...] - is one I look forward to reading each month.
Capt. Abrashoff has authored two fascinating books that I have devoured and now look forward to sharing with you. I offer them as a one-two punch! In this posting I will review his first best seller: It's Your Ship - Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy. Later this week I will offer my thoughts on the sequel.
By his own account, Mike Abrashoff was dragged reluctantly to the enlightened conning tower where he now stands and from which vantage point he offers advice to those who desire to grow as leaders. As a young officer, Abrashoff was like many newly-minted Annapolis graduates, passing along the command and control ethos that he had absorbed and that has been the hallmark of military "leadership" for generations. As XO aboard the Shiloh, he learned a signal and indelible lesson in command when he unthinkingly passed down the chain of command an order that eventuated in a sailor falling asleep while standing watch - an egregious offense aboard a warship.
"Well, this was an open-and-shut case - if you are asleep on watch, you are guilty. There was no need to bother about the facts. So, I sent the sailor to the captain for punishment, without any further investigation.
To my utter surprise, the captain asked the sailor why he had fallen asleep on watch. The sailor said he had been up all night cleaning a dirty workspace. Why did he have to stay up to clean it? Because the chief told him it had to be done by 8:00 A.M."
As the investigation continued and the chain of orders found it's way back to Abrashoff, the department head told the captain: "The XO told me to get it done by 8 A.M."
Abrashoff shares the lessons he learned that memorable day:
"How in the world could I have known that they were so short-handed that they would have to keep someone up all night to get it finished? But in fact I should have known or at least been approachable enough for the officers to feel safe explaining to me why it was a problematic order. I didn't get all the facts; I didn't realize that there were not enough resources to get the job done in the time I had allowed. The captain dismissed the case and I felt like a complete idiot. Never again, I promised myself, would I give an order without clearly articulating the goal, providing the time and resources to get it done, and ensuring that my crew had the proper training to do it right." (Pages 34-35)
That watershed moment in Captain Abrashoff's career led him to make many adjustments in his view of leadership, his willingness to listen, his approach to the chain of command, and his commitment to champion the cause of his people so that they could be equipped for success. The pinnacle of his career as a naval officer was commanding the USS Benfold in the Persian Gulf and seeing his ship transformed from a dysfunctional amalgamation of misfits and malcontents into a proud vessel that was awarded the Spokane Trophy, emblematic of the best ship in the Pacific Fleet.
In this book, Abrashoff recounts many of the lessons he learned along the way - lessons that are all immediately applicable to any business or organization. He manages to tell the story of his own development as a leader and the development of his shipmates without coming across as arrogant. Clearly, the unapproachable Abrashoff of page 35 somehow transformed himself into a very approachable and engaging leader who not only set a high standard for his own crew, but offers transferable lessons to business leaders willing to listen and read.
Each chapter treats one leadership lesson or principle and fleshes out the abstract ideas with stories of the men and women who were the crew that brought about the transformation of the Benfold.
Lead By Example
Communicate Purpose and Meaning
Create a Climate of Trust
Look for Results, not Salutes
Take Calculated Risks
Go Beyond Standard Procedure
Build Up Your People
Improve Your People's Quality of Life
I had two over-arching reactions to the book. First, was a realization that all of these lessons can be boiled down into a simple dictum and recipe for success: Set high standards for yourself and your people, create an environment that challenges them
to embrace those standards as their own, and then train, equip, encourage and communicate with your people in such a way that you empower their success.
Second, this approach to excellence and leadership is very reminiscent of the
principles of leadership I have heard articulated by my friends who have flown and taught at the Navy's Top Gun school.
Abrashoff's style of writing is one that I enjoy. His use of colorful and apt metaphors raises the quality of the writing above the level of most leadership books I have encountered. By way of encouraging you to read this book, I share the closing paragraph:
"In business, I have encountered many companies with the kind of bad habits and poor leadership that troubled Benfold when I first went aboard. Too many company departments appear blind to what they could accomplish together. Bereft of good leadership, they are trapped in needless bickering, politics and posturing, with predictable damage to the bottom line. And yet unity of purpose is quite achievable, even against heavy odds, and sometimes because of them. We created unity on Benfold. The U.S. military did it in Afghanistan. I am convinced that businesses everywhere can do the same. After all, it's our ship."
Enjoy reading this book, and bon voyage!
on May 31, 2014
I'm prior military, so naturally I was drawn to this book. When two of my most respected supervisors and one of my peers ranted and raved about this book, I knew it was something special. I read it in probably three days and I just couldn't put it down once I started. It almost brought me to tears a few times because I've had some pretty horrible leaders during my time in the military, and this was the absolute polar opposite of that. I was so happy for the crew and the author's leadership. I would easily re-enlist if I knew I was going to be serving under a leader like the author was. If you supervise anyone, you MUST read this book. If you hope to supervise someday, you MUST read this book. Both of those respected leaders I just talked about said they both base their leadership off this book and I had NO idea in the 2 years I have known them so far, but it all makes so much sense now.
I highly recommend this book. It has many specific recommendations and techniques that one can take and immediately apply to any leadership role. The book is well written and reads quickly.
However, think it is important to point out a couple of issues. First, the "by line" of the book lists "Captain" Abrashoff as the author. Yet the picture shows him as a "Commander", the next rank below Captain. While it is Naval tradition to call any Commanding Officer Captain, that does not change his actual rank nor does that officer get to keep being called Captain after they leave the Commanding Officer job. It seems to this reader that Captain Abrashoff is indulging in a little self-promotion (pun intended) to give his book a bit more credibility.
That brings me to the second point. Mr. Abrashoff is no longer in the Navy and has started a leadership and consulting business. This book is part of the marketing plan that supports that effort. It is a mistake to assume that he is a disinterested Naval Officer who just wants to share some good ideas that he has had with the larger public.
Third, while BENFOLD is indeed a great ship with a superb reputation, many of the accomplishments discussed in the book, such as passing the Final Examination Period early, happened in a larger context of changes in the Navy's training cycle. At that particular time, the emphasis was on allowing ships to complete the first third of the cycle (often called the basic phase) as early as possible. This was done so the Commanding Officer could use the remainder of the time and fuel allotted under the basic phase for training that he deemed important. So while Mr. Abrashoff did have quite a lot of success in early completion of training, the larger system was primed to support him.
However, despite all these exceptions, the book is extremely useful. As a career Naval Officer, I would recommend this book to anyone about to assume their first command, officer-in-charge, or executive officer billet.