Change Management – It Begins With Me

By Mike Abrashoff

It’s tough out there today and no organization is safe. There are a lot of variables that many of us have absolutely no control over. It’s easy to feel like a victim and obsess over the uncontrollable. My advice to you is to forget about what you can’t control and obsess only over that which you can influence.

The most important mentor in my life once told me before I took command of USS Benfold, “Mike, no matter how hard you try, your ship is never going to be perfect. You are going to have disappointments every day. When you are disappointed in an outcome, don’t ever blame your shipmates first. Assume they want to do a great job. Look inward first and focus on the process. Did you clearly communicate the goals? Did you give your crew the resources to do a great job? Did you give them the training to deliver the excellence you were hoping for?”

You know what?  80% of the time that I was disappointed in an outcome, there was something I could have done differently to improve the outcome. This mentor caused me to constantly challenge our processes to see if we couldn’t do things a little bit better. That intellectual curiosity, always striving to improve, ingrained a culture that thrived on change and embraced it. It was implemented on terms that were favorable to us. Nobody became a victim of change and instead we led change.

I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t predict what your industry is going to look like five years from now or ten years from now. What I can tell you, with great certainty, is that if you don’t foster a culture that celebrates and cultivates change, your best days will have been behind you.

Change management begins with your own attitude and how you show up at work. Embrace it and stay safe. Fear it and lose control of your own destiny. It’s all up to you. After all, IT’S YOUR SHIP!!!

Leadership Lessons: Why “My Way or the Highway” Leadership is History

by Mike Abrashoff

The neat thing about what I do is that I get to meet and learn from all sorts of people from all walks of life. Whatever my experience, I realize that I don’t know everything and more important, that I still have tremendous opportunity for growth as a leader.

Last week, I was chatting with my seat-mate on a flight and it turns out, he is a highly sought-after television director in Hollywood. He says his phone is constantly ringing off the hook from TV executives wanting him to direct their shows. I asked him why he was in such great demand – thinking he had some technical ability few others possessed. He said that had nothing to do with it. Instead, what he is known for is his leadership ability on the set in dealing not only with the highly paid actors, but also with the people behind the scenes, the grips, the caterers, the a/v guys and the like. It seems they have so much respect for him that they have become a disciplined and cohesive unit that meets or beats the demanding deadlines because they work well together and get it done in one take.

I told him that my impression of a television director is one of a dictator that barks orders to everyone. He told me that there are many out there like that but that the ones who are most in demand these days are the ones who can execute on budget while delivering an excellent product. I asked him his secret and he replied: “on our set, you don’t have to do it my way as long as your way is just as good if not better. What I make sure I do is to create a climate whereby people feel free to tell me their ideas and a climate where I will give them a respectful hearing.”

Continue reading Leadership Lessons: Why “My Way or the Highway” Leadership is History

Why Coaching Is the best Way to Spend your Time

by Mike Abrashoff

Coaching is one of the most difficult challenges facing leaders today. For starters, it places many outside of their comfort zones because they view it as “an additional requirement for which I have no expertise”. They might also view it as an added requirement at a time when they are already overburdened and resent an additional requirement being placed on them. What most do not grasp is that by effectively developing your subordinates, they can lift burdens off your shoulders. By doing your ten dollar an hour work, you have the bandwidth to do a $500 or $10,000-an-hour job.

When I was selected to be the US Secretary of Defense’s number two assistant, I was thrown into a pressure packed office and nobody had the time to coach me. I was disheartened and frustrated and almost quit until I started to train myself to “think like my boss.” My boss was the Senior Military Assistant and a two-star Army General. It was the same job Colin Powell had when he was a two-star. I observed the General every day and tried to anticipate his decisions to prove that I could think like a two-star. When I made the same decision the General made, I realized I could think like a two-star. When the General made a different decision than I would have made, I would sit back and try to see where my training needed to be improved so that next time, I would make the correct decision. When I couldn’t figure it out, I would find a quiet moment and say to the General “I’m trying to understand how you made that decision. Could you please share with me your thoughts so that I can be better prepared the next time?” Over time, my decision-making ability improved. At the same time, the General started to trust me more. He started to shed some of his responsibilities to me which eased his stressful job. I went from being an individual contributor to being responsible for the trip planning teams, the security detail and the communications group.

What made this coaching model successful is that we both had something to gain. I learned how to think like my boss and he had burdens lifted off his shoulders. It would not have been successful if I did not feel comfortable enough to challenge him at an appropriate time and say, “I don’t understand. Can you please explain to me your thinking on this?”

I took this model with me to USS Benfold. I put the onus on my officers to start thinking like their bosses. I also made sure we were approachable so they could ask us if there was something they didn’t understand. It wasn’t an additional burden or program but it became ingrained in our culture and how we operated. Along the way, I tried to groom these young men and women to be able to command their own ships some day and to this day…have the highest percentage of junior officers from one ship to command their own ship.