Author, Leadership, Motivation, Ethics
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At the age of 36, the Navy selected Mike Abrashoff to become Commander of USS Benfold, which made him the most junior commanding officer in the Pacific Fleet at the time. Mike faced staggeringly dire challenges on this underperforming Naval war ship: exceptionally low morale, high turnover, and unacceptably low performance evaluations. Few thought that the ship could improve. In many ways, the USS Benfold was actually an extreme example of the same problems that many organizations face today.
The solution for the Benfold was to establish a system of management techniques that Abrashoff calls “The Leadership Roadmap.” This approach centers on a process of replacing command and control with commitment and cohesion along with engagement of the hearts, minds, and loyalties of workers through conviction and humility. Abrashoff summarizes his guiding principle: “The most important thing that a captain can do is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew.” According to him, “The Leadership Roadmap” is a practice that empowers every individual to share the responsibility of achieving excellence. "It's your ship," he always told his sailors. They still remind him of it to this day.
By every measure, this approach allowed the ship to achieve breakthrough results. Personnel turnover decreased to an unprecedented one percent. The rate of military promotions tripled, and the crew slashed operating expenses by 25 percent. Regarded as the finest ship in the Pacific Fleet, Benfold won the prestigious Spokane Trophy for the highest degree of combat readiness. Most importantly, this transformation took place with the original crew. The only things that had changed were the ship’s culture and Abrashoff’s leadership style. Publications from Fast Company to the Harvard Business Review have called it one of the most remarkable examples of organizational transformation.
Abrashoff recounts the leadership lessons from the turnaround of USS Benfold in his first book, It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy. A New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, the title has sold over 800,000 copies to date. The extraordinary amount of interest in Abrashoff’s leadership journey and Benfold’s organizational lessons also led to two follow-up books: Get Your Ship Together: How Great Leaders Inspire Ownership from the Keel UP and It’s Our Ship: The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership. These books take readers deeper into ways in which the principles of “The Leadership Roadmap” have been put into action by business leaders in their own organizations.
Prior to commanding USS Benfold, Abrashoff served as the Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. He also helped to draft the air defense plan for Naval forces in the Persian Gulf in 1990, wh9ich coincided with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. He also served as the Executive Officer of the Cruiser Shiloh, where he deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of United Nations sanctions against Iraq.
Abrashoff is the founder of GLS Worldwide, a consulting firm that works with and supports leaders as they address leadership, talent, and business challenges within their organizations. The firm challenges leaders at all levels to re-imagine their leadership thinking and to create new ways to elevate individual, team, and organizational performance.
It’s Your Ship: Achieving Breakthrough Performance
When Mike Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold, morale was low, turnover was high, and performance ranked at the bottom of the Pacific Fleet. Twelve months later the ship was the benchmark for performance, the fleet’s shining star—and with the very same crew. This inspiring talk is based on the vital leadership lessons Abrashoff learned as he led the remarkable turnaround of the ship. The first lesson was Abrashoff’s realization that before the ship’s performance could improve, his own leadership style had to change from the traditional command and control model. When the crew would present a problem, Abrashoff became known for responding with “What would YOU do? It’s YOUR ship!” His Leadership Roadmap principles created a high-performance culture and empowered his crew to take charge and use ingenuity and initiative to improve every aspect of the way things were done. Abrashoff’s presentation leaves audiences with the tools and inspiration to lead differently and to elevate organizational performance to new levels.
It’s Our Ship: Putting the Leadership Roadmap to Work
For organizations that want to get serious about improving performance, this presentation delivers examples of the Leadership Roadmap in action. Abrashoff brings to life stories of how the principles that led the transformation of the USS Benfold have been put into action at companies and organizations who want to harness the power of their most important asset: their people. He describes real leaders who are achieving dramatic results as they work to address their most pressing people challenges: collaboration, commitment, cohesion, accountability, engagement, rapid and continual innovation, and diversity in the workforce. In example after example, the lessons from the Benfold clearly translate across all kinds of organizations: corporations, small business, non-profits, and government. Abrashoff shows audiences, by example, how to use their new leadership toolkit. “It's Our Ship” goes deep into the how-to’s of creating a culture where everyone takes ownership and responsibility for bringing performance to the next level.
Take Action Breakout Session
Meant to deepen the lessons from Mike Abrashoff’s keynote talk, Take Action sessions provide attendees with additional, powerful tools and strategies to apply in their work environments. Facilitated by a senior strategist from Abrashoff’s firm, GLS Worldwide, and taking place immediately following the keynote, Take Action sessions create an exciting atmosphere that examines the key components of high-performing leaders, teams, and organizations. Participants will experience innovative, fast-paced individual and group exercises tailored to the leadership and cultural issues that are most relevant to their organization. They will learn practical application of the principles outlined in the keynote and build a roadmap to achieve the personal and organizational goals they’ve outlined. Take Action sessions are customizable to meet time and resource-sensitive needs and require a minimum of two hours to complete.