Mike Abrashoff

Mike Abrashoff

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Former Commander, USS Benfold and Author, It’s Your Ship

Mike Abrashoff was the most-junior officer in the Pacific Fleet when he took command of the near-worst performing ship. Twelve months later, the USS Benfold was the best ship in the entire Navy – using the same crew. The story of that stunning transformation has lessons for every organization: leadership matters – and culture is everything. Mike’s written four books – his first, It’s Your Ship, has sold over 1.4 million copies. His Leadership Roadmap offers clear, battle-tested, and actionable steps. Mike shows people at every level of the organization how to engage and take incremental steps toward change that can make a dramatic difference at work. Mike is clear, “I didn’t turn the ship around – my crew did that. What I did was to create an environment where they felt safe, empowered and supported. When you do that, anything is possible.

In many ways, what Mike was able to do with the USS Benfold was an extreme example of the same problems facing many organizations today.

That’s why dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and Fast Company have cited Mike’s story as an inspiring lesson for business. Leaders especially identify with Mike’s being accountable for the results in an environment where he couldn’t make the rules.

When my crew came to me with a problem, I’d say ‘It’s your ship – how would you fix it?’” Mike focused on the one thing he could influence: his crew’s attitude, because culture is the ultimate competitive weapon for any organization.

Mike’s established a set of management principles that he calls The Leadership Roadmap. At the core of his leadership approach on Benfold was a process of replacing command and control with commitment and cohesion, and engaging the hearts, minds, and loyalties of workers with conviction and humility. “The most important thing that a captain can do is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew. The idea is to empower every individual to share the responsibility of achieving excellence.”

By every measure, these principles achieved breakthrough results: turnover decreased to an unprecedented 1%; the rate of promotions tripled; and the crew slashed operating expenses by 25%. Regarded as the finest ship in the Pacific Fleet, Benfold won the prestigious Spokane Trophy for having the highest degree of combat readiness. This remarkable turnaround was accomplished by the very same crew that had performed so poorly just months before.

Mike is author of four books. His first, It’s Your Ship, has a timeless message: don’t use outside forces that stand in your way as excuses – control the things you can influence and amazing results will happen. His next books, It’s Our Ship and Get Your Ship Together, showed how these principles have been put into action by business leaders in their own organizations. Mike’s latest book, Ship Happens (co-authored with Stacey Cunningham), serves as a guide for leaders, detailing his strategies for transforming USS Benfold into the top-performing ship.

A popular keynote speaker for audiences looking to ramp up organizational performance, Mike has spoken to every industry and kind of audience – from board retreats to front line personnel; from sales groups to universities; from Fortune 500s to startups. He inspires audiences to rethink their beliefs about leadership and organizational culture and tailors the message to focus on engagement, execution, change, safety, diversity, leadership, teamwork, innovation, accountability and more. Prior to commanding USS Benfold, Mike served as the Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. He also helped draft the air defense plan for naval forces in the Persian Gulf in 1990, coinciding with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait; and served as the executive officer of the Cruiser Shiloh, where he deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of United Nations sanctions against Iraq.

Mike Abrashoff is the founder of Aegis Performance Group, a consulting firm which works with and supports leaders as they address leadership, talent and performance challenges within their organizations. Mike and his team prompt leaders at all levels to re-imagine their leadership thinking and create new ways to elevate individual, team and organizational performance.

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Speaking topics

It's Your Ship - Achieving Breakthrough Performance

When Mike Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold, morale was low, turnover was high and the ship’s performance ranked near the bottom of the Pacific Fleet. Just twelve months later Benfold was ranked #1 – using the very same crew. The lesson was clear – leadership matters and culture is everything. This inspiring talk is for every individual and organization looking for practical and usable ways to take organizational performance to new heights. In Mike’s case, he realized that before the ship’s performance could change, he had to change his leadership style. Mike worked to create a culture of trust and empower his crew to take charge and use ingenuity and initiative to improve every aspect of the way things were done. Top down leadership is dead, so when the crew would present a problem, Mike became famous for responding “What would YOU do? It’s YOUR ship!” Mike’s presentation leaves audiences with the tools and inspiration to accomplish big goals.

The Virtual Leader’s Roadmap

Mike Abrashoff had to change his leadership mindset when he took over the near-worst performing ship in the Navy. The situation was dire. If performance did not improve, sailors could have gotten injured…or worse. In response, Mike quickly adopted a new set of principles to guide a new way of leading. His focus was on building trust and authentic ways of engaging. It was about listening to and empowering his crew who then went on to make the USS Benfold the best ship in the entire U.S. Navy. These very same principles are the foundation of success for organizations that embrace working virtually. In the short term, many organizations have found virtual work arrangements actually increase effectiveness of employees. That effectiveness may not be sustainable if leaders and organizations don’t master a new skill-set of how to lead people they can’t see. It’s about measuring results – not activity; and about finding ways to let people know their efforts are appreciated. Those who succeed in leading in the virtual environment will create a decisive competitive advantage.

No Limits – Don’t Let Goals Become Limitations

Sometimes in our professional lives we might think we are in a battle to beat an adversary or a competitor when in actuality we are really in competition with ourselves but just haven’t figured it out yet. When battling the competition, you want to come out on top, if only by one more sale or maybe a few percentage points. Other times, someone at a higher level gives you a goal based on some median expectation set for others. When Mike Abrashoff took command of a well below-average ship in the U.S. Navy, his goal was to get to average. He initially set average goals and expectations for himself and his crew until one day it dawned on him: his ship could be much better than just average. It was Mike’s eureka moment: realizing they weren’t in competition with anyone but themselves. To be their best they had to stop putting limits on what they believed was possible. That realization changed Mike Abrashoff’s approach to leadership and led the same crew to accomplish one of the most remarkable turnarounds that was chronicled in the Harvard Business Review , Fast Company magazine and Mike’s New York Times’ and Wall Street Journal bestselling book, IT’S YOUR SHIP. This presentation will challenge audiences to think differently on how to set expectations while realizing the only limits that you have are self-imposed.

Go Deeper With Half-Day And Full-Day Programs

Dive deep into the Leadership Roadmap with a half-day or full-day program. The sessions are most often used as a follow-on to Mike’s keynote and provide attendees with powerful tools and strategies to apply in their work environment. Depending on the circumstances, these longer sessions are facilitated by a senior strategist from Mike’s firm, Aegis Performance Group, or Mike himself. These sessions create an exciting interactive atmosphere where participants examine the key components of high performing leaders, teams and organizations. Inquire for more details and program descriptions.

Video clips

Speaker Reel

Creating A Culture Of Yes

It’s Your Ship

Build Trust To Get Honest Feedback

Speaker testimonials

We got fantastic feedback from everyone. I really appreciate the genuine sincerity you exude. Especially when you jumped into the mindsets of our people, suggesting for us to all stand and clap for Jeff Kish. That was a WOW moment that just highlighted how much of a good guy you are to so many people. Your real-time leadership shined through at that very moment. It’s one of the reasons you have been so successful in helping others throughout your life. It must give you a good feeling knowing that you can continue helping others to help themselves since you left the Benfold. And, I’m sure you had those personal attributes long before you assumed command of that ship.

Chief Operating Officer, Bartlett Tree Experts

Our team enjoyed greatly what you had to say, and the way in which you told the stories. As you know, we are undergoing our own performance and culture transformation – it is an exciting time. And it is encouraging to hear the analogy from the experience that you and your crew shared.

Head of Global Commercial Banking, Bank of America

Mike Abrashoff’s address to our group in Denver was spot-on. It was quite evident that he had worked to include information regarding our company, our markets and in particular, our Project Managers Forum objectives and attendee backgrounds into the content of his presentation. Several people commented to me that they found his story inspiring and relevant. As I mentioned earlier, this was the third time I heard Mike tell his story. It seems that each time I pull something more from the information he shares.

Facilities Manager, URS

In a time where people are leaving their jobs more than ever, how can leaders make a difference for those who choose to stay? When Mike Abrashoff spoke during Academy’s Leadership Summit, he shared insight from his time as a naval captain. His message about using your leadership to influence your team to work together and take ownership of the path you all share really resonated with me. We go farther when we go together.

CEO, Academy Mortgage Corporation

Your talk was spot on. Your message resonated with the audience and their comments were lighting up the app!! Thank you for focusing in on the retention theme as it is top of mind for all the leaders in the room. Now I know why Fidelity has invited you to speak so many times!

Events Manager, Fidelity Investments

Thanks a million for your story today. Your stories are a wonderful inspiration for this team. Thanks for being on this ship for a short moment. Big impact for the people.

CEO, Business Models Inc.

Commander Abrashoff was our closing speaker. Despite the fact that it was late in the afternoon on the closing day of a 3-day conference, Abrashoff engaged and inspired the participants. As I coordinate these events, I tend to watch the crowd more than any individual speaker. Doing this tells me how the program is going based on how many faces are looking down at their phones or talking to the person next to them. The entire time Abrashoff spoke he had command of the entire room. Not a single set of eyes was anywhere but on him.

United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America

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