Dec 7, 2007

Leadership Lessons from Commander Mike Abrashoff

At the Gartner Conference, one of the keynotes was from Mike Abrashoff, a former Navy Commander. During his talk, which was titled "It's Your Ship!," he focused on leadership and how you can change the performance of an organization. He used anecdotes from his command of the USS Benfold.

When he took command of the ship, he found that performance suffered from:
  1. Infighting among the 5 deparments on the ship
  2. Training was cut, due to budget reasons
  3. People would complain about things not under their control
  4. Tradition: Things were done as they had always been done
Abrashoff worked for William Perry, whom he described as "excellent without being arrogant." He modeled his own leadership after the way Perry treated people.

He spoke about how to instill a sense of urgency. Each month, a different division would "be in the spotlight."

Abrashoff would routinely walk around the ship and talk with sailors. He would ask:
  • What do you like most?
  • What do you like the least?
  • What can we improve, within budget?
Abrashoff instilled a culture where anyone on the ship, regardless of rank, could make a suggestion. Here are some of the suggestions that he implemented:
  • Change the bolts on the ship from iron to stainless steel. Instead of painting the ship every 2 months, the ship could be painted every 10 months. This best-practice was then implemented throughout the US Navy.
  • Thursday evenings, the crew would gather on the flight deck and listen to jazz and watch the sun set. This improved morale and was relatively cheap to implement.
Abrashoff believes in setting limits and letting people take action within those limits. He also believes in recruiting people everyday even they're already on-board. During his command, the Benfold became one of the top ships in the US Navy based on different performance and productivity criteria. It all starts with leadership!

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