At the age of 36, the Navy selected Abrashoff to become Commander of USS Benfold - at the time, the most junior commanding officer in the Pacific Fleet. The immediate challenges that faced him on this underperforming Naval war ship were staggering: exceptionally low morale, high turnover and unacceptably low performance evaluations. Few thought that this ship could improve. In many ways, the USS Benfold was actually an extreme example of the same problems facing many organizations today.
The solution was to establish a system of management techniques that Abrashoff 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 by 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." According to Abrashoff, The Leadership Roadmap is a practice that empowers every individual to share the responsibility of achieving excellence. "It's your ship," he was known to say. His former sailors to this day still remind him of it.
By every measure, these principles were able to achieve breakthrough results. Personnel turnover decreased to an unprecedented 1 percent. The rate of military promotions tripled, and the crew slashed operating expenses by 25 percent. Regarded as the finest ship in the Pacific Fleet, Benfold won the prestigious Spokane Trophy for having the highest degree of combat readiness. Most important – this transformation took place with the same crew. What had changed was the ship’s culture and Abrashoff’s leadership style.
Abrashoff recounted the leadership lessons from the turnaround of USS Benfold in It's Your Ship, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, with over 800,000 copies sold to date. This extraordinary interest in Abrashoff’s leadership journey and Benfold’s organizational lessons led to two follow-up books – Get Your Ship Together and It’s Our Ship. Those books took readers deeper into ways these principles have been put into action by business leaders in their own organizations.
Prior to commanding USS Benfold, Abrashoff 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 GLS Worldwide, a consulting firm which works with and supports leaders as they address leadership, talent and business challenges within their organization. The firm challenges leaders at all levels to re-imagine their leadership thinking and create new ways to elevate individual, team and organizational performance.
Why Mike Abrashoff?
Publications from Fast Company to the Harvard Business Review have called it one of the most remarkable examples of organizational transformation: Mike Abrashoff took command of the worst-performing Navy ship in the Pacific Fleet and made it #1in twelve months – using the very same crew. In many ways, the ship was actually an extreme example of the same problems facing many organizations today. What drove the success was Abrashoff’s realization that if things were going to improve, the first thing that needed to change was his own leadership style. He began a determined effort to see the ship from the eyes of his crew – and then rethink how to lead and break from the traditional command and control model. When crew members asked him to solve a problem, his response became, “It’s your ship ─ what would YOU do?” The result was an empowered culture and an engaged team who set new benchmarks for performance. Abrashoff’s speeches challenge people to re-imagine their own leadership thinking and instill a renewed responsibility for results and success. Audiences relate to Abrashoff’s dilemma: being held accountable for results in an environment where rules and regulations pose significant obstacles. His presentation equips people with the strategies, tactics and tools necessary to unleash breakthrough performance and extraordinary results in spite of the odds. Abrashoff’s first book, It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, remains a best seller with 850,000 copies currently in print.
Mike Abrashoff’s Presentations
IT’S YOUR SHIP – ACHIEVING BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
When Mike Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold, morale was low, turnover was high and performance ranked at the bottom of the Pacific Fleet. Twelve months later the ship was the benchmark for performance – the shining star . . . using the very same crew. This inspiring talk is based on the vital leadership lessons Abrashoff learned as he led the remarkable turnaround of the ship. The first lesson was Abrashoff’s realization that before the ship’s performance could improve, his own leadership style had to change from the traditional command and control model. When the crew would present a problem, Abrashoff became known for responding “What would YOU do? It’s YOUR ship!” His Leadership Roadmap principles created a high performance culture and empowered his crew to take charge and use ingenuity and initiative to improve every aspect of the way things were done. Abrashoff’s presentation leaves audiences with the tools and inspiration to lead differently and elevate organizational performance to new levels.
IT'S OUR SHIP – PUTTING THE LEADERSHIP ROADMAP TO WORK
For organizations that want to get serious about improving performance, this presentation delivers examples of the Leadership Roadmap in action. Abrashoff brings to life stories of how the principles that led the transformation of the USS Benfold have been put into action at companies and organizations looking to harness the power of their most important asset - their people. He shows real leaders achieving dramatic results as they work to address their most pressing people challenges: collaboration, commitment, cohesion, accountability, engagement, rapid and continual innovation and diversity in the workforce. In example after example, the lessons from the Benfold clearly translate across all kinds of organizations – corporations, small business, non-profits and government. Abrashoff shows audiences, by example, how to use their new leadership toolkit. “It's Our Ship” goes deep into the how-tos of creating a culture where everyone takes ownership and responsibility for taking performance to the next level.
TAKE ACTION BREAKOUT SESSION
Meant to deepen the learning from Mike Abrashoff’s keynote talk, Take Action sessions provide attendees with additional powerful tools and strategies to apply in their work environment. Facilitated by a senior strategist from Abrashoff’s firm, GLS Worldwide, and taking place immediately following the keynote, Take Action sessions create an exciting atmosphere that examines the key components of high performing leaders, teams and organizations. Participants will experience innovative, fast-paced individual and group exercises tailored to the leadership and cultural issues most relevant to the organization. They’ll learn practical application of principles outlined in the keynote and build a roadmap to achieve the personal and organizational goals they’ve outlined. Take Action sessions are customizable to meet time and resource-sensitive needs and require a minimum of 2 hours.
“Mike Abrashoff’s address to our group in Denver was spot-on. It was quite evident that he had worked to include information regarding our company, our markets and in particular, our Project Managers Forum objectives and attendee backgrounds into the content of his presentation. Several people commented to me that they found his story inspiring and relevant. As I mentioned earlier, this was the third time I heard Mike tell his story. It seems that each time I pull something more from the information he shares.” --Facilities Manager, URS
“You gave a memorable and enjoyable keynote speech that was enjoyed by all. Thank you for making our owners understand that they are the captains of their own destiny and that they need to take all action needed to succeed. You did a great job setting the tone for the rest of the convention.” --Kevin G. Sinclair, CEO, Wireless Zone
“We have never had such positive feedback so you very much exceeded our expectations. You were quoted numerous times throughout the remainder of the conference which says people took your message to heart and will put it to work in their everyday jobs – exactly what we aimed for!” -- Dir of Staffing, Employee Relations & Development, Denbury Resources
“The "day after" is over and the impact is reverberating throughout the organization. .” I truly appreciate the effort you obviously made to incorporate our issues and to position the call to action for them as leaders of teams. The feedback was clear -- your presentation ranked #1 for most valuable . . . count me a fan.” – Head of Marketing and Corporate Affairs, North America, Nokia Siemens Networks
“Mike Abrashoff's remarkable story regarding the transformation of USS Benfold was extremely well received and appreciated by our event participants, who found great inspiration and practicality in his remarks. These are challenging times for many and his perspective on leadership and leading during difficult times is timely as well as thought-provoking.” --California Bankers Association
“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive! I personally have never listened to a better speaker. Your message was tailor made for my team and I look forward to discussing future opportunities with you. Thank you so very much Mike.” --VP, TransCanada Energy Operations
“I wanted to let you know what an amazing speaker and presentation Mr. Abrashoff gave! It was a pleasure listening to him.” --Program Analyst, SAO East