The bestselling author of It's Your Ship shares the team-building wisdom of some of the smartest leaders you've never heard of
Former U.S. Navy Commander Michael Abrashoff attracted worldwide media attention for his success in turning around a struggling ship, the USS Benfold--the subject of his acclaimed bestseller, It's Your Ship. Since then, he's been a fixture on the business lecture circuit, spreading an empowering message that any organization can be turned around with compassionate but firm leadership. He is now nearly as popular a speaker as Rudy Giuliani, Jack Welch, or Jim Collins.
Abrashoff never claimed to have all the answers. He also knew that there were plenty of other creative leaders in the navy, army, air force, marine corps, and even the coast guard who could teach businesspeople how to motivate, inspire, and get great results under pressure. So he asked around, found some fascinating people in every branch of the U.S. military and the business world, and interviewed them about leadership and
teambuilding. The result is Get Your Ship Together--a book that will be just as valuable as It's Your Ship.
For example, Abrashoff introduces us to a working-class enlisted man who rose rapidly in the navy for his creative leadership under fire; an army platoon leader who fought in Afghanistan; the first woman to fly an Apache helicopter in combat; a former commander of the air force's elite Blue Angels; and many other unsung heroes. Abrashoff distills their stories into fresh lessons that can be applied in the business world, such as:
-Make a contract with your people and honor it
-Develop your subordinates better so you can buy back a little quality of life
-Conduct the battle on your terms, not those of your adversary
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December 29, 2004
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Excerpt from Get Your Ship Together by D. Michael Abrashoff
MY NEW LIFE AS THE CAPTAIN OF USS BENFOLD BEGAN ON A gleaming day in San Diego Bay. A high sun warmed the salt air to a perfect 73 degrees; the pale blue horizon, flecked with white sails, blended seamlessly into an indigo sea. And there I was on the bridge of a billion-dollar navy warship, a thirty-six-year-old master of the universe lounging casually in the captain's chair, as I prepared to take my ship out to sea for the first time.
Benfold was a beautiful fighting machine--a destroyer armed with the navy's most advanced guided missiles, a radar system that could home in on a bird-sized object fifty miles away, and a presumably superb crew of 310 men and women. With four gas turbine engines at my fingertips, I could push this 8,300-ton leviathan to more than thirty knots--at least thirty-three miles an hour--sending up a massive rooster tail in her wake.
My adrenaline was flowing. The moment I had been waiting for my entire career was at hand. The tugboats were alongside, standing by for the order to guide us away from the pier.
Despite all that power and sophisticated machinery, and no matter how good a ship handler the captain may be, we still need tugboats to help steer us into and out of our berth. Mooring to and getting under way from the pier are two of our most difficult maneuvers. Lots of things can go wrong--you can smash into the wharf or into ships behind you, or run the ship aground. If any of those things were to happen, I could get fired almost on the spot; my head would roll even before the investigation started.
Also, right underneath the bow of the ship is a huge, bulbous sonar dome covered by a black rubber protective device. Think of it as a five-million-dollar steel-belted radial tire. If it scrapes the curb (read pier), you can decrease the sonar's ability to detect submarines. Or, worst case, you can puncture the protective shield and deflate it completely. So prudence dictates that we use tugs to move us away from the pier.
Now, with the engines just whispering at idle speed, their vast stores of power bridled, we prepared to shove off. What a kick. I was bursting with pride. I couldn't wait to hit the open sea and order all engines ahead, flank speed.
I gave the order to take in all lines, directed the tugs to start backing us slowly from the pier, and then, like air whooshing out of a balloon, my ego cruise ended before it ever got under way. Benfold suddenly lost power. Her engines quit turning. In an instant, she became nothing but 8,300 tons of steel likely to run aground or crash into another ship. In the eerie silence, red warning lights blinked everywhere. I dashed into the pilothouse, fumbling for emergency phones, demanding information. At that moment, I was enormously relieved and grateful to have the tugboats hovering nearby like watchful parents running alongside a kid on a new bike. I ordered the tugs to push us back to the pier while we investigated the power failure.
When a ship loses power abruptly, you have four chances to avoid disaster. You can kick-start the engines by shooting a jet of high-pressure air into the turbines. Like an old-fashioned hand crank, the air jolt gets everything spinning and firing up again. If the first attempt fails, you have three flasks of emergency air for three more tries. But if those don't work, that's it--your ship is dead in the water, a useless and dangerous hulk that has to be towed back to port. That is the ultimate disgrace, rare but not unheard of.