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ASTD Conference - Washington DC :: 23 - 27 May 2004

Part II - Leadership miracles on the USS Benfold (The best US Warship in the Pacific Fleet)

Captain Michael Abrashoff former commander, USS Benfold

When he took over the ship, the USS Benfold was equipped with every cutting edge system available, it was like a business that had all the latest technology but only some of the productivity.

The following 5 reasons was given by the crew as the main reasons, for low morale and high staff turnover. - Staff turnover was at 29%

  • We are not treated with respect
  • No one listens to us
  • We are not allowed to impact in areas of our responsibility
  • Not groomed for the future
  • Poor salaries

"I could not do anything about the money… but I could do something about the top 4, and it was very much my intention as a leader to do something about it!" Within months he created a crew of confident and inspired problem solvers, eager to take the initiative and responsibility for their actions. The slogan on board became "It is your ship" and Benfold was soon recognized far and wide as a model of naval efficiency

Leadership is the art of doing simple things well!!!

Take command!

Get people to understand you are not about winning a popularity contest. We are still in the business of results… we are a war ship! But I also did not want to break things purely for trying to put my stamp on it. I stopped the diversity programme on the ship, the results on the ship showed it didn't work, so we started a unity programme

Lead by example!

  • "It is funny how often the problem is you"
  • "Never fail the Washington Post test"
  • We have on these ships and in organisations a culture of "importance". The more senior officers eat first and sit on the officers deck"- I quickly broke this down. I went to stand in the back of the queue. I work for the crew and wanted to let them know that if we ran out of food, I will go without it!!! The following day all my officers joined me in the back of the queue!

Listen aggressively

  • We need to transmit less and listen more
  • See your ship through the crew's eyes
  • One day one of my sailors told me that our organization is like a tree full of monkeys. The tree has monkeys all on different levels in the tree…
  • When you look down from the top of the tree, all you see is monkeys and their smiling faces looking up at you… when you look from the bottom, up the tree, you have quite a different view!
  • People became more comfortable sharing ideas, taking initiative and ownership

Communicate purpose and meaning

  • "Make your crew believe we can do anything"
  • Open up the clogged channels -" If you see we do things stupid, raise your hand!"
  • "This is your ship" we are all captains

Look for results not salutes

  • Help knock down the barriers
  • Innovation knows no ranks-We immediately implemented the good ideas on the ship
  • Challenge your crew beyond its reach
  • E.g. Implementation of the Stainless steel nuts and bolts. Painting the ship used to be every second month now only twice a year! More time for training and giving back to the men!
  • I had talent on my fingertips!!!
  • What is your rust?

Go beyond standard procedure

  • They said they wanted to have fun!!!
  • I got them the best "Communication devise that taxpayers money could buy!
  • Friday night Karaoke evenings - 2 rules The captain does not sing, no country music!
  • Freedom creates discipline

Build up your people

  • Expect the best from your crew…you will get it
  • I got to know every sailor by name, each one had their own challenges
  • Develop them to become better at what they do
  • Council and support
  • Improve their quality of life on your ship

Generate unity

  • Coal miners that tied themselves together survived after nine days
  • Deal with punishment strictly but fairly
  • What is the secret of good work? Good play -cigars
  • When new people come on your ship marry them to the best your ship has to offer
  • At the changing command ceremony
  • When I left the ship all I said "You know how I feel"

Many companies can learn from this knowledge harvest. Some having the poor habits and battling leadership that troubled USS Benfold.

  • What is your view of the above?
  • What makes the most sense?
  • Can you identify the leadership practices that your organization encourage?

Acknowledgement to Micheal Abrashoff "It is your ship.

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