Stacey C. Cunningham
USS Benfold is a ship that once ranked near the bottom of the Pacific fleet. It was a vessel
plagued by low morale, dysfunctional relationships, and a crew that had grown disillusioned with
their previous captain. As the PA system announced the departure of their now former leader,
instead of bidding him a fond farewell, the crew erupted into cheers of relief. It was at this
moment that Captain Mike Abrashoff knew that his crew needed him to lead differently.
Not an Ordinary Leader
Captain Abrashoff possessed an uncanny ability to perceive the hidden connections between
performance and leadership. Instead of dwelling on the past, he pondered a crucial question:
How could he prevent the same fate from befalling him in two years' time? The crew he
inherited was battle-hardened but harbored deep resentment towards their former captain.
Abrashoff understood that being liked wasn't the key to success; respect, trust, and
effectiveness were the cornerstones of great leadership. With this newfound realization, he
embarked on a mission to transform USS Benfold into “the best damn ship in the Navy”.
The Root Cause
To gain a deeper understanding of the ship's current state, Captain Abrashoff conducted exit
surveys. The feedback he received painted a vivid picture of the crew's grievances. Topping the
list were issues like a lack of respect, the inability to make a meaningful impact, being unheard,
and an absence of rewarding responsibilities.
Low pay was on the list, but to Captain Abrashoff’s surprise, it was #5 on the list. Instead of
fixating on what he couldn’t control, Abrashoff focused on those top four issues he could
influence: showing respect to his crew, connecting them to a greater purpose, listening
aggressively with the intent to understand the crew’s perspective, and building his crew up with
the training they needed to take on more rewarding responsibilities.
Equipped with a clear understanding of the crew's struggles and armed with a burning desire for
change, Captain Abrashoff realized that he needed to shift the ship's leadership paradigm. He
firmly believed that helping individuals unlock their full potential could lead to achievements far
beyond what traditional command and control structures could accomplish.
Ultimately, at the conclusion of Captain Abrashoff’s time as Commander of USS Benfold, he
gave the shortest change of command ceremony speech in Naval history. Captain Abrashoff said to his crew, “You know how I feel.” That was it, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. He left Benfold better than he found it and set Benfold on a path to even greater success.
Now, take a moment to reflect on our own life. Imagine yourself as the captain of your own
o What is the current state of affairs on your "ship"?
o Are you navigating rough waters or sailing smoothly toward your destination?
Now, close your eyes and envision the future you truly desire.
o Picture a crew that is not just content but inspired. A crew that thrives under your
leadership, where respect, trust, and effectiveness reign supreme.
o Visualize an environment where everyone's voice is heard, impact is felt, and rewards
and responsibilities flow abundantly.
o What are some steps you can begin taking today to achieve your desired future? Reach
out to us if you need help.
Like Captain Abrashoff, it is crucial for each of us to pause and assess our own circumstances.
By understanding where we currently stand and envisioning the future we want, we can steer
our ship towards greatness. So, what does your desired state of affairs look like, and how will
you make your vision a reality?