How do you influence those onboard your Ship?

I am currently working on a Military project developing leadership competencies within a civilian division working on board ships. The Admiral who initiated the leadership development initiative is committed to changing the culture of the organization from command and control, relying on hierarchy, to a culture of innovation, influence, communication and strategy. In preparation for delivering coaching support we were encouraged to read the book: It’s your Ship by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. Though the book was published in 2002 the story told regarding the impact of leadership is relevant today for individuals in leadership roles and provides rich lessons with documented easurable outcomes.

The book describes the journey of Captain Abrashoff when he takes command of the USS Benfold as a newly promoted Captain. The USS Benfold at the time was considered the worst ship in the Navy. Captain Abrsahoff was committed to leading differently, having experienced working for both good and poor managers during his career, and took command of the ship with a drive to be leader of change. His philosophy can best be described in the chapters of his book which make up his formula for success:

* Lead by example- Walk the talk, your employees notice the congruency

* Listen aggressively- Especially to those who have opposing points of view and what you might not want to hear

* Communicate purpose and meaning- Let all your employees know the role they play and the difference they make in achieving the vision and mission for the organization

* Create a climate of trust- As a leader you must give trust to earn trust

* Look for results not salutes- Do things for the right reason; leave your ego at the door

* Take calculated risks- To be innovative and do things differently you must be willing to take risks that are thought out and strategic

* Build up your people- Focus on the strengths of your employees, encouraging them to develop and expand their capacity

* Generate Unity- Remind your employees that you are here to achieve a shared mission and to perform as a team working together

* Improve your people’s quality of life- You need to replenish your employee’s energy and investment in the work by allowing them to re-energize and experience a greater work life balance

I was truly inspired reading this book as Captain Abrashoff demonstrated an example of how someone can turn around an organization by believing in their employees, having a clear vision and knowing what was possible. He wasn’t in a position where he was able to recruit the best and the brightest but instead inherited the staff that often times were in their positions to escape bad situations back at home. He chose to believe in them and their potential, communicated his vision and his belief that they could help him achieve it, and allowed his employees to be part of something bigger than themselves and gave them an opportunity to maximize their own potential.

I would encourage anyone in a leadership role to consider reading the book and implementing his strategy. The results he achieved in his 2 years as the commander of the USS Benfold speak for themselves and assure you that if you commit to the approach, that you too may exceed your own expectations of who you are as a leader.


  1. Eric and Susan: Another wonderful newsletter! And congratulations on your military engagement. I’m so pleased for your success.

  2. Liz Aitcheson says:

    An excellent resource. Add to that Abrashoff’s second book “It’s Our Ship” where he defines the difference in the two concepts and what he learned following the publication of “It’s Your Ship.” The same formula is strengthened by new examples and how Abrashoff learned from his mistakes.

  3. Timi Gleason says:

    Enjoyed this example very much and Liz A’s addition. All the best with this contract, Susan & Eric. You’re adding a lot of value.

  4. Susi Goodman says:

    Congratulations on your work with the navy, Susan! It’s reassuring to know they’re in good hands! Sounds like an interesting project and leadership development is definitely continuing to be contribution to our society, given the reports on missing cognitive abilities. Good luck! Susi

    • Susan Curtin says:

      Thanks for the feedback.Yes I concur that providing leadership training to military personnel can make a lasting impression for the individuals participating influencing those they lead, their personal relationships and roles in their communities. Susan

  5. Charles Lloyd says:

    Great concepts. Also, consider reading the works of John Boyd and Chet Richards. Boyd had three distinguished achievements in his Air Force career, superior fighter pilot, father if the F-16 and FA-18 and creator of the OODA loop first employed in fighter pilot tactics and later by US Marine ground forces.

    The OODA loop empowers the lower ranks to act without waiting for those above to issue orders. Could be an interesting concept when combined with Captain Abrashoff’s leadership principles.

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