It’s Your Ship by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

Summary

  1. Captain Abrashoff recounts his story and the leadership principles he used to turn around the USS Benfold, one of the worst performing ships in the navy. Believes these leadership principles to be universal and in today’s age, getting the most out of your people and helping them grow is more important than ever
Key Takeaways
  1. Preaches the leveraging of human capital
  2. Three variables to get most out of people – leader’s needs, organization’s atmosphere and crew’s potential competence
  3. Leadership is earned, not given
  4. Must know and understand yourself before can lead others. Must try to avoid making decisions based on fear, ego, etc. and doing this will be recognized in others and will garner further respect and trust
  5. Helping people attain full potential will allow you to reach higher peaks than if you simply commanded them
  6. Leadership principles – lead by example, listen aggressively, communicate purpose and meaning, create a climate of trust, look for results and not “salutes,” take calculated risks, go beyond standard procedure, build up people’s confidence, generate unity and improve people’s quality of life as much as possible
  7. “It’s your ship” was the motto he used on his ship in order to convey the responsibility everybody on the ship had with their decisions and conduct 
  8. Must ask self, “what does the boss want from me?” And do whatever it takes to make that happen. Might not be “by the book” but it will satisfy the boss. Must also act in the least threatening manner to show boss you’re just trying to do the best job possible and not taking unnecessary risk
  9. Must avoid appropriate risk takers for this is how innovation and growth happens
  10. Often, great new ideas and risks don’t have metrics and this is how innovative ideas die in corporations
  11. Must trust your gut – can never go wrong if you feel you’re doing the right thing 
  12. As a leader you must do your best to see things out of your employee’s eyes. Only then can you make the best decision and foster their potential
  13. There is always a better way to do things. Must question everything and get people’s input as it encourages buy in and makes carrying out the order, projects, etc. fun
  14. Given the right culture and environment, there are few limits to people’s potential
  15. Considers Secretary of Defense William Perry the finest leader he has ever served. Was essentially his business manager and became an incredible leader by learning from him and how he viewed the world and made decisions. Considered his job to take care of everything so Perry could take care of his job with full attention. If you do your job right, your bosses trust you and don’t worry about you and that gives you flexibility to lead and grow
  16. Being able to think like your boss turns you into a true leader instead of an individual contributor
  17. If can get past ego and look inwards, find that often problems arise because you weren’t clear enough or  didn’t provide enough time or training
  18. Leaders must be aware of how infectious their moods, both positive and negative, are to their teams
  19. Must show your team that nothing is more important to you than their well-being
  20. Be aware of how important it is that your motives are pure and that you express them that way. Self-promotion will only get you so far
  21. Cover ups always fail
  22. Newspaper test – if what you do on the front page of the newspaper, would you do it?
  23. Fine to disagree and discuss but once you have lost the argument, important to back the new plan completely
  24. Aim to treat every encounter as the most important thing at that moment. Establish a personal connection with every team member – “become every person’s biggest cheerleader!”
  25. Aim to match team members personal goals and talents with tasks
  26. Practice what you preach! Words and confidence are infectious and tend to be a self fulfilling prophecy
  27. Clear communication is crucial for high performance
  28. Talent knows no rank
  29. After creating a great brand, defend it
  30. With good leadership and culture, freedom creates discipline.
  31. The “after action review” concept from the army is extremely powerful. Looking at the results of your decisions and actions after the fact helps clarify whether it was accidental or not and is a great way to learn and improve
  32. Give people all the responsibility and then stand back. This type of trust and freedom is an boost to maturity, learning and leadership
  33. Earn trust only by giving it
  34. Great leadership begets great leadership. You mentor and teach those below you who go on to teach others. Flywheel effect
  35. Welcome the bad news messenger or else you won’t hear about issues until it’s too late 
  36. By not bringing up small problems you can solve, urgent matters will receive great attention. Do your homework and know exactly what the problem is and have some suggested solutions ready
  37. Dealing effectively with difficult bosses is an invaluable skill
  38. In times of peril, people always look to the top for guidance and motivation
  39. Trust makes money
  40. Rigidity gets in the way of creativity
  41. Let your crew feel free to speak up. “Yes” people are a cancer to any organization
  42. Nurture the freedom to fail. Empowerment is vital as it leads to autonomous innovation
  43. Strive to offer high quality at low cost so customers are fighting for your skills
  44. Challenge your crew beyond its reach
  45. There’s an art to handling your boss and it involves knowing what their trigger points are (saving money, time, etc.)
  46. Take calculated risks which are worth taking
  47. Bet on people who believe in themselves
  48. If a rule does make sense, break them subtly
  49. Sometimes solutions are so simple we ignore them. Don’t
  50. Build your people up. Praise is infinitely more productive than punishment
  51. Make people look and feel so good that they can’t imagine working without you
  52. Positive, personal praise is the essence of real leadership
  53. Trust people. You’ll find they’ll often prove you right and step up to the challenge
  54. You cannot order excellence. You have to nurture it and create an environment which encourages it
  55. Make cross training your people a priority
  56. Continuously and honestly provide feedback
  57. How you achieve your goal just as important as achieving it
  58. Must take people’s background and circumstances in consideration before judging them
  59. A leader’s final evaluation should not be made until 6 months to a year after they leave. Setting up a successful succession plan crucial
  60. The greatest satisfaction transcends personal achievement, it lies in helping others
What I got out of it
  1. One of the best leadership books I’ve ever read. Excellent real life examples of how to implement simple yet hard leadership principles. Highly recommend reading

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