It's Our Ship: The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership Hardcover – May 12 2008
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About the Author
CAPTAIN D. MICHAEL ABRASHOFF is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, and was a military assistant to the former secretary of defense, the Honorable Dr. William J. Perry. Abrashoff left the Navy in 2001 and became the founder and CEO of Grassroots Leadership, Inc., in Boston. You can visit his website at www.grassrootsleadership.com.
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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.
Instead of encouraging healthy sustainable improvements, competition (as in "the best") can actually provoke schadenfreude (glee in another's downfall) and off-track searches for armor chinks. Collaborative leadership looks to the bigger picture, to the mission and accomplishments of the larger organization that create opportunities for all to benefit.
Abrashoff uses the nautical theme to organize his material into eight chapters:
1. Ahoy - Welcome aboard our ship
In this chapter, Abrashoff describes one of the techniques he used on the USS Benfold to welcome new sailors and describes learning good and poor leadership in his experiences on the Benfold. He highlights the practices developing a company "World Tour," where new employees receive a "passport" with lists of to-do training and customer-service classes. Another company hired its best customers, resulting in a turnover rate of less than 10% while competitors routinely face 70% turnover rates. Companies must continue to recruit people even after they're onboard.
2. Buoy up your people - inspiring everyone to be their best.
In this chapter, he states, "A great leader defines excellence and then inspires his team to exceed it through training and staff development." He then reviews several companies who have developed innovative training programs.
3. No more aye-aye men (or women) - cultivating truth-telling.
Wishful thinking is dangerous and he gives suggestions on how to deliver bad news and how to keep communication flowing up and down. Honesty and integrity are to be nurtured and encouraged.
4. All hands on deck - unifying a crew.
Abrashoff says, "Mindless rivalry leads to backstabbing, an ethos of every man for himself, and probably unit failure when danger threatens." He adds, "Nothing beats the power of unifying disparate people, of showing them the magic of working with and for each other instead of against each other. Quite simply, the first law of leadership in today's world is to give people irresistible incentives to collaborate for a purpose that enhances everyone."
5. Foul weather doesn't respect rank - creating a climate of trust.
An ancient proverb says a fish rots from the head down. Abrashoff discusses the importance of developing trust, pursuing excellence without arrogance, and treating all with courtesy and respect. He also reviews the principle of fairness and justice.
6. Navigate by the stars - Clarifying what it's all about.
Do you know the mission of your organization? Then you have to communicate, focus on what matters, and teach your organization's core values.
7. Sail close to the wind - taking the right risks.
Good leaders calculate the odds so risks are minimized.
8. Fly your true colors - Leading by example and getting results. Abrashoff discusses the importance of courage. A leader's main function is to set the right example and leaders can be found at all levels throughout an organization. It's important to know that good leadership can inspire people to do their best everyday.
In conclusion, collaborative leadership is what makes an organization unbeatable. I highly recommend this book for the interesting situations and the vivid examples leaders at any level can put into play at his or her company.
* Starting well: how to attract the right kind of people, bring them aboard in a welcoming manner, and keep them happy and eager to come to work each day.
* Defining excellence: how to show your crew members what excellence is about, then share responsibility for decision making, and build confidence through training.
* Listening to truth-tellers: how to deliver bad news, challenge questionable decisions, and encourage your own crew to be candid even when it hurts.
* Prioritise collaboration: how to discourage mindless rivalry, be generous with your praise, and drive our bickering, sabotage and disunity.
* Create trust: how to keep your promises, treat your people with respect and delegate authority in order to cultivate a climate of trust.
* Be clear about the mission: how to use previous achievements to inspire staff, state your ethical guidelines clearly, stress your core values, and avoid diversions.
* Hedge your bets: how to avoid recklessness while navigating through acceptable risks with big potential payoffs.
* Lead by doing the right thing: how to use your own failures as lessons for others and turn the constant scrutiny of others into teachable moments.
There is plenty of good advice in the book, and the writing style is clear and interesting. Most readers who have some experience of leadership will find that the book reinforces their current knowledge rather than providing anything particularly startling or novel, although each issue is presented from the unique perspective of a navy captain.
Many of the tips and advice that the author gives are plain common sense, especially if you are not a tyrannical, manipulative or exploitative person. Otherwise, don't even read the book, because the advice given intends to make your subordinates feel at home, valued and respected so you can create a good workforce. If you fall into any of this categories, you probably won't be reading this book, since you base your leadership on fear and abuse, and you probably think you are the best leader ever because everyone complies with the first yell of the day.
Other tips I didn't know, the least of them I must say, but it still was a good read. It guides you to lead your personnel so everybody wins. Sometimes you have to have a firm hand and sometimes you can lose the grip a little bit, but whatever you do you have to be coherent and consistent. As a leader you really make statements and make your point by example. I have known many so called leaders who behave in such a contradictory way, that their personnel don't trust them, don't believe them, and most important, they don't follow at all. If you want to succeed as a leader you have to be the first one on board. You can't expect everyone else to do the job, row the ship, while you kick back and just yell and point fingers when things go wrong. And it's best if you do know everyone's name in your ship. Otherwise you become a god like figure who people either fear, or ignore.
The book has many examples of how good leadership has its rewards, and how bad leadership can lead your "boat" astray. But one thing is for sure, the success of your navigation in the business world depends on the captain on board. And if this "captain" makes everyone feel that the ship is also theirs, he/she will have a wonderful ride and a lot of rewards.