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Six Business Lessons to Get You in Shipshape

May 8, 2013
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Recently, I attended the National Demolition Association’s 2013 Convention. While I was there to learn more about the demo industry, I got some unexpected lessons during the keynote speech given by former Cmdr. Mike Abrashoff that really resonated with me. I think these could also be helpful to you, so I thought I would share them here.


Abrashoff is the best-selling author of “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy,” in which he shares what he learned during his assignment to one of the worst-performing ships in the Navy’s Pacific fleet, the USS Benfold. With Abrashoff’s leadership, the ship turned around to be one of the best in the Navy. Here are six lessons he learned:

1) Stop being a victim and influence the things you can. When Abrashoff was assigned to the Benfold, he could not change his crew—he had to figure how to get his current team to perform. We all have circumstances at the workplace that we can’t change. Abrashoff says the key is to focus instead on where we can have an impact.

2) You can order your team to get the mission accomplished, but you can’t order excellence. Abrashoff says you need to provide the right atmosphere to foster excellence. Get your associates to take on more responsibility—don’t leave success all on your shoulders. Share the budget with them. Get them to take ownership in meeting financial goals.

3) Have a sense of urgency to continue to be the best. If your team can do something better, cheaper or faster, make it clear you want to hear about it. Ask for suggestions. Incentivize innovation.

4) Take an active interest in your crew. Listen to what your team has to say—and look for people that are doing something great and thank them. Make training a top priority.

5) Don’t let your staff do $5/hour work. Abrashoff says his crew was constantly spending time painting the ship due to rust streaks from the types of nuts and bolts used. A crew member suggested to him that they could avoid this tedious work by replacing the nuts and bolts with stainless steel. The change was made, freeing up his team to do work that better utilized their skills.

6) Challenge the plan, even when you have nothing to gain from it. Once, Abrashoff asked his higher-ups to port early in Hawaii—just so his crew would have more time on the beach. Find ways to boost your team’s morale.

As a leader of your team, you will always face challenges. But above all, Abrashoff says, do things for the right reasons. That will serve as the foundation to your success.

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