Type: Review
Pages: 6 | Words: 1546
Reading Time: 7 Minutes

This essay gives a review on the first three chapters of Michael Abrahoff’s book “It’s your ship”. The writer of the book shows through his personal example how he managed to grow from a command-and-control leader to a leader, who empowers his team, breaking the rules of traditional bureaucratic management approach.

The first chapter of the book with a name “Take command” describes how the author became the captain of ship “USS Benfold” in 1997, taking over extremely tough crew who didn’t respect their former captain, were dissatisfied with their work and showed horrible retention rate. This picture made newly promoted captain think over the innovative methods in management within the team. Trying to develop the most efficient leadership model, Michael Abrahoff uses complex analysis of his prior experiences in family and work career, the surveys and information on the leadership models and people attitudes toward the work, and, finally, the critical analysis of particular situation with crew. The results of the analysis fall to several main thoughts or even rules for implementing the effective leadership in any organization including the ship.

First and foremost, Abrashoff realized that being likeable is not the top requirement for the captain to be successful. In contrast, it is essential that the captain or leader be respected, trusted and effective.

Second, twenty-first century posed new challenges for the leaders, specifically not only the ability to recruit the best employees, who possess natural intelligence and excellent acquired skills, but also the talent to motivate them so that they work with enthusiasm, passion and energy and, what is even more important, the ability to empower less-talented people, helping them undergo their limitations become initiative contributors.

Thus, Abrashoff decided to concentrate on dealing with the unhappy sailors, finding the rules and changes that would provide motivating, peaceful and friendly atmosphere on a ship. In order to build the rules according to this principle, Abrashoff used the simple tool of looking at the ship through crew perspective. He began with the thought that things could be always done better, and, contrary to traditional view that captain is the god and father, the crew’s insights might be more profound than the captain’s. Therefore, the captain spent few months with the crew on discovering what things could be changed and how could it be organized in order to increase the performance of every staff member. Thus, the approach allowed crew feel they were included in management process and, consequently, inspired them. Another thing on Abrashoff’s way to new atmosphere was an assumption that the secret to lasting change is to implement processes that people will enjoy carrying out. For example, he changed the traditional ship cuisine and added new tasty meals in menu. Thus, he managed to reach two advancements. First, the crew was satisfied with their diet and second, he optimized the food costs. Another example of positive change was the innovative entertainment for the crew. One of the sailors helped to create mechanism allowing project music videos on the ship surface, making it as a cinema. Thus, the boring work was perceived easy when taking it with fun.

Finally, Abrashoff realized that no one is able to make every decision in a right way. He understood that his job was to create the atmosphere that motivates people to fulfill their highest potential. For this sake, he empowered his colleagues with the ability to think, judge and make personal decisions in their field of operations.

The result of the story is that with a new leadership model a dysfunctional ship turned to one of the most perspective, successful and demanded ships in a Navy, where retention rate achieved unbelievable 100% and operating costs were lessened.

Chapter two “Lead by Example” reveals that real leadership is not about dictatorship but the showing meaningful examples. The crew is trained by the assessment of every captain’s decision and action, thus any kind of behavior and values possessed by the leader has tremendous impact on the team. Effective leader is able to use his effect on people to make every team-player grow taller. Moreover, people are sensible to personal attention, therefore good leader will try to find the approach to set the reliable relationships with his subordinates. The positive, relaxed and friendly atmosphere is an advantage in any case, thus, as all people have good and bad days, a keep psychologist will try to minimize the effect of his bad mood on people.

Abrashoff analyzed that in case of troubles and misunderstandings, in 90% the problem may lay in him. He learned this through few personal examples and decided that in problematic situations it is important to think carefully why it happened and what his role in this problem was. This analysis may reveal interesting facts and help to avoid similar cases in future.

Another finding of Abrashoff’s effective leadership behavior is the assumption, that leaders know how to be held accountable. Operating the ship, just as running the business, means not only enjoying the victories and success, but also dealing with losses. Even the best leaders, sometimes, make mistakes. The reasons may be justifiable or not, but what is more important here, it is the ability to be responsible for the mistakes. Usually people try to avoid the accountability and blame, whereas good leader should show through his personal example his readiness to be held accountable for any loss, as the mistake acknowledgement means its prevention in future.

The author also gives an essential advice on how to evaluate the rightness of leader’s decisions. No doubt, that any leader strives to reach his goal, but it appears that fulfilling the aim is as equally important as the actions taken on this way. In ambiguous situations where it is difficult to find the right solution, he suggests the use of so-called “Washington post test”. Thus, the leader may assess the worth of the decision by asking the question if he would be proud of himself when his decision is highlighted in top news. If yes, then the decision is correct. If no, then the action is wrong and shouldn’t be taken. Abrashoff provided the example of difficult decision with the officer, asking for leave the ship for the time of his child’s birth. At the moment, the only situation of justified leave was critical condition of some family member. The captain was confused with the decision, though in spite of existing rules, he allowed the leave. The baby was born in critical condition, thus, it turned that the leave was indeed justified and the officer’s help and presence in family was significant. The captain understood that sometimes, it’s important to use personal sense of morality in difficult decisions and implemented the birth leave for all the crew. This simple self-assessment allows remembering that good aim does not justify the hypocritical means.

The last important note of the chapter is the captain’s rule to obey if even you disagree. Very often the personnel is exposed to rules they disagree with, nonetheless, the leader should show on personal example, that he supports the views. It’s important for any person to make his objections delivered in a private manner with bosses. And in case of any boss’ decision it is crucial to carry out the order as if you supported it 100%. Any kind of hesitant double-minded position will be treated by crew (or employees) as the one that could be neglected, and leadership example would be questioned.

To conclude the thoughts of the second chapter, it important to notice that leadership is preserved by promoting personal faithful examples of the leader looking at things through crew’s perspective as the subordinates are perceptible to leader’s behavior and to his responsiveness to their problems.

The third chapter “Listen aggressively” discusses the rules of active listening and words magic in leadership. The captain Abrashoff discovered how important is setting the personal relationships with every crew member of the ship. Knowing the positive and negative sides of people’s character, their educational background, their dreams, hopes and intentions helps to find the proper place for every member and to get use of their ideas in practice. In this light, he valued performance over seniority promoting the most talented. Abrashoff made a list of mission-critical-tasks and non-value-adding tasks of the crew. Thus, listening to the ideas of the sailors’ captain improved the drawbacks of the ship minimizing the routine needless work. In addition, captain realized that all his staff deserts respect and admiration.

Another proposition of the author is to use word magic in building up an effective communication on the board. He promoted the idea of Benfold as the best ship in the Navy and repeated it so often, that the crew believed it really was. The idea behind is that positive thinking and positive words encourage people to reach this things, making unbelievable aims real.

To conclude, the first three chapters of the book “It’s your ship” give the practical recommendations on how to become a trusted, respected and effective leader implementing new model of leadership. Among the key success factors in this model are viewing the situation from the crew’s perspective, creating friendly motivating environment, showing personal good examples, taking the responsibility in case of troubles and setting personal relationships with the crew. This leadership model works rather accepting the initiative “from below” than giving the orders “from above”.

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