Captain D. Michael Abrashoff Guest Lecture Review

by Ben on March 27, 2010

Last year I reviewed a great leadership book called “It’s Your Ship” by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff.

In the book, Captain Abrashoff shares the leadership techniques he used to turn one of the most under-performing warships in the US Fleet (the USS Benfold) into the “best damn ship in the Navy“.

Not only is the book full of “actionable” leadership techniques you can begin implementing immediately, it also draws entertaining parallels between the challenges faced by commanding officers in the US Navy and those of civilian executives in the corporate world.

As luck would have it, Captain Abrashoff accepted an invitation to speak at my company’s annual leadership conference in Sugarland, Texas March 24, 2010.  The following is a review his “commanding” performance.

The Introduction:

After a brief introduction was given by one of the managers in my company, a video clip was played over a projector to “formally” introduce Captain Abrashoff to the audience.  The video was from a Monday Night Football game in which “It’s Your Ship” was featured. 

The clip told the story of how Cincinnati Bengal’s quarterback Carson Palmer was given a copy of Captain Abrashoff’s book by his father.  Carson Palmer read the book and implemented many of the leadership principles into his position as quarterback of the Bengals.  It wasn’t long thereafter that Carson Palmer was voted offensive captain by his teammates.

Ironically, Captain Abrashoff wasn’t the biggest fan of the Bengals at the time and was disappointed the team went on to beat his favorite team twice the following year.   

The Delivery:

If you’re familiar with Captain Abrashoff’s book “It’s Your Ship”, you’ll remember that Captain Abrashoff prided himself on being approachable by anyone on his crew.  His humble approach and genuine interest in people translates into his speaking as well. 

Where most “highly regarded” guest speakers speak at you in more of a condescending tone, Abrashoff’s style is very open and welcoming; he speaks to his audience.

Another thing that stood out for me was that Abrashoff did not use a single PowerPoint slide during his entire presentation, yet he kept a consistent flow during his entire speech.

The Content:

Most of the material in It’s Your Ship was covered by Abrashoff during his lecture. 

I was surprised that he didn’t tell the story of how himself, the ship’s XO, and the five department heads were in the mess hall eating lunch with 6 Naval Inspectors when the ship got underway from the dock.  It was a great story emphasizing the amount of trust and competence he had established with his crew.

Captain Abrashoff talked about his background as a military assistant to former Defense Secretary William Perry and how Perry’s unique leadership style helped shape his own success as a leader.  (If you ever have the opportunity to see him in person, ask him about his Monika Lewinsky story!)

Abrashoff shared many great stories of how he developed trust within his team.  One story in particular that stood out was how each day he climbed down 5 levels of ladders to access the sewage treatment area on the USS Benfold to emphasis to the sailor assigned to this station how important his job was to the success of the operation.   

Abrashoff also shared the three major events in his life that really changed how he looked at leadership, people, and getting the job done.

The Conclusion:

After a very entertaining and informative hour of speaking, Commander Abrashoff opened the floor to questions from the audience. 

Not one to miss out on an opportunity, I asked him about one of the regrets he had mentioned earlier in his speach about not doing more to help other captains in his carrier group.  I asked him what specifically he would have done to accomplish with the hope that it might help my own company better communicate between “competing” business units.

Captain Abrashoff (or “Mike” as he asked us to call him) said there was only so much he could do as a commander on one vessel  His idea would have been to speak with the commanding officer of the carrier group and schedule periodic meetings between the captains of each vessel sharing what was working, what wasn’t working, and what could be done to make each ship better.

After answering a few more questions for 20 minutes or so, Captain Abrashoff was presented with a small token of our company’s appreciation (a fancy pen set with our company’s logo) and left on his way.

I’m not exactly sure how much Abrashoff charged for his appearance, but there wasn’t a single person in attendance (that I spoke with) that wasn’t very impressed with what he had to share.

I would recommend hiring Captain Michael Abrashoff as a guest speaker or lecturer to any organization looking to build teamwork, empower their leadership team , and improve their ability to get things accomplished.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Royce Wilken August 21, 2010 at 9:38 am

I have the priviledge of operating a multi million dollar brown water marine operation (1300 colleagues). I am starting up a blue water operation so far 8 vessels from HandyMax to Panamax’.

I have read It’s Your Ship. Obviously anyone working in the marine environment can relate to many of the techniques mentioned by the author. Good job.

How do I speak directly with Captain Abrashoff to determine if he is the right guy to speak with some of my staff?

Royce Wilken
American River Transportation Company

Judy Ward October 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm

My son is interested in having Captain Abrashoff speak to students at USNA. Please call or e-mail me ASAP.

Will Parker December 22, 2010 at 9:38 pm

I had the displeasure of working with CDR Abrashoff before he was the CO of BENFOLD. He is self-serving, narcissistic, and egotistical. I cannot believe that this man slipped through the cracks to command a warship. He is an intelligent person, but he was a terrible example of true leadership.

If it didn’t benefit him, he would not do it or allow it to be done. After over 24 years on active duty as a Staff NCO and Limited Duty Officer, there is no one that I despise more than him; I’ve never been to NJP or any other form of discipline/punishment.

Maybe some of these people and companies promoting him as a speaker should find out the real reason why he left the Navy prematurely.

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