- Real Estate
- Food & Drink
This piece is brought to you by the Prairie Family Business Association.
Few people – if any – probably wanted Mike Abrashoff’s job.
When the Navy commanding officer took over the USS Benfold, the ship’s performance ranked it near the bottom of the Pacific fleet.
He was 36 – the youngest commander in the fleet – and leading a ship plagued with low morale, high turnover and terrible performance evaluations. No one expected much improvement. Except Abrashoff.
Just one year later, the ship ranked No. 1.
Abrashoff wasn’t given a bunch of money to spend.
And he didn’t overhaul his crew.
He led the exact same people to remarkably improved performance, proving leadership and culture can make all the difference.
On a Naval warship. And in your business.
Abrashoff will be a keynote speaker at the Prairie Family Business Association annual conference March 30. We caught up with him for a preview of his powerful message.
You realized that before your crew would change, you had to change your own leadership style. What was your first clue? Is it one other business leaders might recognize?
I decided to change when the crew cheered when my predecessor left the ship for the final time. I stood wondering how many times my sailors cheered when I got transferred as I was coming up through the ranks. Fact is, I didn’t know, so that meant I wasn’t as self-aware as I needed to be.
Family businesses face the unique challenge of balancing their personal relationships with their professional responsibilities. Is this something you’ve faced, or how would you advise approaching it?
I never socialized with individual sailors as I didn’t want to appear to have any favorites. If one division or department was having a get-together, I would stop by but would never stay long. I won’t criticize anybody who does it differently. I just didn’t want the crew to think that I had favorites who would get preferential treatment at work.
You were known for asking your crew: “What would you do? It’s your ship!” Sometimes business leaders struggle to “let go” and open up the organization like that. What’s your advice for those who do?
I found that the more control I gave up, the greater command I got over the organization. I wanted the crew to take personal responsibility, and they just won’t if all you are doing is barking orders. All you will have created are order-takers, and they don’t take responsibility for the results.
What do you hope people take away from hearing you speak March 30?
I would hope a greater self-awareness of how they are being perceived at work, in the community and even at home. If you have no idea as to how you are showing up, you will never be able to maximize performance, and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
He was 36 – the youngest commander in the fleet – and leading a ship plagued with low morale, high turnover and terrible performance evaluations. No one expected much improvement. Except Mike Abrashoff.