When Mike Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold, the ship’s performance ranked at rock-bottom. Worse - the crew didn’t feel safe should they be called into action. Determined to improve performance, but without the power to hire, fire or promote personnel, Abrashoff focused on what he could change: the ship’s culture. His innovative approach broke from the traditional command-and-control leadership style and sought to see the ship from the eyes of his crew - creating a guiding set of principles he calls Grassroots Leadership. His results-oriented approach equips organizations with the strategies, tactics and tools necessary to unleash innovation, lead significant change and increase operational performance. Publications from Fast Company to The Harvard Business Review have heralded this remarkable story.
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Mike Abrashoff is at the center of one of the most remarkable modern day stories of organizational transformation. At the age of 36, the Navy selected Mike to become Commander of USS Benfold. At the time he was the most junior commanding officer in the Pacific Fleet - on a ship that was plagued by low morale, high turnover and abysmal performance evaluations. Few thought that the ship could improve - yet 12 months later the ship was ranked #1 in performance - using the same crew. People were amazed and the lesson was clear - leadership matters and culture is everything.
In many ways, the USS Benfold was an extreme example of the same problems facing many organizations today. That’s why dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal and Fast Company have cited Mike’s story as an inspiring lesson for business. Leaders especially identify with Mike’s being accountable for the results in an environment where he couldn’t make the rules.
Mike is clear, “I didn’t turn the ship around - my crew did that. What I did was to reinvent my leadership style and create an environment where they felt safe, empowered and supported. When they came to me with a problem, I’d say ‘It’s your ship - how would you fix it?’.” Mike focused on the one thing he could influence: his crew’s attitude, because culture is the ultimate competitive weapon for any organization.
Mike’s solution was to establish a set of management principles that he calls The Leadership Roadmap. At the core of his leadership approach on Benfold was a process of replacing command and control with commitment and cohesion, and engaging the hearts, minds, and loyalties of workers with conviction and humility. “The most important thing that a captain can do is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew. The idea is to empower every individual to share the responsibility of achieving excellence.”
By every measure, these principles achieved breakthrough results. Turnover decreased to an unprecedented 1%. The rate of promotions tripled, and the crew slashed operating expenses by 25%. Regarded as the finest ship in the Pacific Fleet, Benfold won the prestigious Spokane Trophy for having the highest degree of combat readiness. This remarkable change was accomplished by the same crew.
Mike is author of three books. His first, It’s Your Ship, has sold over one million copies. Its message is timeless: don’t use outside forces that stand in your way as excuses - control the things you can influence and amazing results will happen. His next books, It’s Our Ship and Get Your Ship Together, showed how these principles have been put into action by business leaders in their own organizations.
A popular keynote speaker for audiences looking to ramp up organizational performance, Mike has spoken to every industry and kind of audience - from board retreats to front line personnel; from sales groups to universities; from Fortune 500s to startups. He inspires audiences to rethink their beliefs about leadership and organizational culture and tailors the message to focus on engagement, execution, change, safety, diversity, leadership, teamwork, innovation, accountability and more.
Prior to commanding USS Benfold, Mike served as the Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. He also helped draft the air defense plan for naval forces in the Persian Gulf in 1990, coinciding with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait; and served as the Executive Officer of the Cruiser Shiloh, where he deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of United Nations sanctions against Iraq.
Mike Abrashoff is the founder of Aegis Performance Group, a consulting firm which works with and supports leaders as they address leadership, talent and performance challenges within their organizations. Mike and his team prompt leaders at all levels to re-imagine their leadership thinking and create new ways to elevate individual, team and organizational performance.