Leadership lessons from the U.S. Navy

In 1997, Captain D. Michael Abrashoff assumed command of the destroyer USS Benfold. Although at the cutting edge technologically, the ship’s crew had suffered from years of poor leadership and were in a state of low performance and terrible discipline. Captain Abrashoff resolved to turn things around through what was at the time a radical approach to leadership in the Navy. It’s Your Ship is his story of how he did that and the lessons learned along the way.

Throughout the book, Abrashoff contrasts the rigid, micro-managing, and bureaucratic approach to leadership that he encountered at different levels during his military career with the dynamic, humane, and people-driven approach he took at the Benfold. While the former style is very good at keeping people in line with their heads down, it is only the latter that actually unlocks people’s talents, creativity, and motivation.

People, whether their employees or service members, are motivated by respect as much as anything. They want to feel trusted, listened to, and empowered to take calculated risks. By really listening and genuinely seeing things through his crew’s shoes, Abrashoff was able to figure out what he was doing right and wrong as a leader, and improve accordingly.

Moreover, the crew responded, especially after seeing their captain go to bat for them against the higher ups in the military. It was this example that enabled them to take ownership of their role, instead of seeing it as just a job. This sense of mutual respect in turn motivated the crew to become much more disciplined and efficient, dramatically improving the USS Benfold’s performance.

It’s Your Ship is not a typical leadership book, but it’s a very good one. Abrashoff writes in a quick and direct style. He makes his thought process very easy to understand. While the context of the book is of course the military, it presents leadership principles in a way that fits very naturally into the business world. Any leader looking for a path to forming more motivated and responsible employees would be well served with reading this book.

It’s Your Ship is available for purchase here.

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