It’s Your Ship

I recently read D. Michael Abrashoff’s It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, and I found it a very enjoyable read. I’d highly recommend it for anyone, but especially those in leadership positions.

Abrashoff walks us through 11 fundamentals of leadership he used to turn the USS Benfold around from being one of the worst in the Pacific fleet to the best:

  1. Take Command
  2. Lead by Example
  3. Listen Aggressively
  4. Communicate Purpose and Meaning
  5. Create a Climate of Trust
  6. Look for Results, Not Salutes
  7. Take Calculated Risks
  8. Go Beyond Standard Procedure
  9. Build Up Your People
  10. Generate Unity
  11. Improve Your People’s Quality of Life

Here are some gems captured from the book:

  • “A recent Gallup study found that when people leave their companies, 65% of them are actually leaving their managers.”
  • “Leadership is earned, not designated.”
  • “Crisis spawns leadership.”
  • “Most obstacles that limit people’s potential are set in motion by the leader and are rooted in his or her own fears, ego, needs, and unproductive habits.”
  • “My ship’s job was war; your company’s purpose is profit.”
  • “The art of leadership lies in simple things – commonsense actions that ensure high morale and increase the odds of winning.”
  • “Leaders must be willing to put the ship’s performance ahead of their egos, which for some is harder than others.”
  • “Show me an organization in which employees take ownership, and I will show you one that beats its competitors.”
  • “Promotions and glory go to innovators and pioneers.”
  • “Since, by definition, new ideas don’t have metrics, the result is that great ideas tend to be stillborn in major companies today.”
  • “The timeless challenge in the real world is to help less-talented people transcend their limitations.”
  • “The key to being a successful skipper is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew.”
  • “I began with the idea that there is always a better way to do things.”
  • “The secret to lasting change is to implement processes that people will enjoy carrying out.”
  • “I have learned over and over that once you squander an opportunity, you can never get it back.”
  • “A leader will never accomplish what he or she wants by ordering it done. Real leadership must be done by example, not precept.”
  • “Mediocre leaders don’t even take the trouble to know their people.”
  • “As a manager, the one signal you need to steadily send to your people is how important they are to you. In fact, nothing is more important to you.”
  • “I decided to minimize interaction with my crew on days when the (my) dark side was evident, so that at least I would do no harm.”
  • “I was always careful never to take any ethical shortcuts.”
  • “Everyone blossomed in his presence, because he was so respectful.”
  • “The whole secret of leading a ship or managing a company is to articulate a common goal that inspires a diverse group of people to work hard together.”
  • “Change frightens workers, and their fears thrive in silence.”
  • “Some leaders feel that by keeping people in the dark, they maintain a measure of control. But that is a leader’s folly and an organization’s failure. Secrecy spawns isolation, not success.”
  • “No matter how fantastic your message is, if no one is receiving it, you aren’t communicating.”
  • “Intrepid sailors win wars; intimidated sailors lose them.”
  • “When people saw me opening myself to criticism, they opened themselves up. That’s how we made dramatic improvements.”
  • “With good leadership, freedom does not weaken discipline – it strengthens it. Free people have a powerful incentive not to screw up.”
  • “The best way to keep a ship – or any organization – on course for success is to give the troops all the responsibility they can handle and then stand back.”
  • “Nothing is sadder than people who try to inflate themselves by deflating others.”
  • “If they see you give up on someone, they understand instantly that there’s no room for redemption in this outfit, and they could be the next to go.”
  • “I cared more about results than recognition.”
  • “Bad news does not improve with age.”
  • “In today’s fast-paced world, rules should be treated as guidelines, not as immutable laws, unless they truly are critical.”
  • “Some bosses are heartless yet effective, and you have no choice but to endure them until they self-destruct or retire…They are autocrats who verge on lunacy.”
  • “The price of being a go-to ship is that you often get the toughest jobs.”
  • “Helping your boss when he or she needs you badly is a pretty good investment.”
  • “Trust makes money.”
  • “Sometimes all you need is a seat at the table.”
  • “As is often the case with accidents, someone senses possible danger but doesn’t necessarily speak up.”
  • “Facts are facts and deserve attention, not retribution.”
  • “Few skills are more vital or would benefit them and their organizations more.”
  • “Good ideas are where you find them.”
  • “Strive to offer high quality at low-cost in versatile areas.”
  • “All bosses can be managed if you know what their triggers are. A universal trigger is saving money.”

I’d highly recommend reading this book.

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