It doesn’t matter if you’re a Naval Commander in charge of one of the most technically advanced warships that’s ever been built or an entrepreneur with the task of making sure that your company, your customers and your employees are meeting the requirements required of a successful enterprise. Leadership starts with a personal “commitment to excellence.”
When I was given command of the USS Benfold, it ranked near the bottom in performance for ships in the Pacific Fleet. If the Benfold had been a business, consultants would have been called in months ago to try to salvage it. When I left the Benfold two years later, it was recognized as one of the top performing ships in the fleet. The leadership lessons I learned during those two years are no different than those required to run a successful business. In this and upcoming articles, I’ll share with you some of ideas and techniques I developed that can help you become recognized as the best performing company in your market area.
The first step in your leadership journey is not exactly a step. It’s a commitment.
When I was preparing to take command of Benfold, I thought I was ready. I was the typical command and control leader. I was good at managing people. My results were good, but outstanding results were always beyond my reach, and I lost a lot of good people along the way.
Taking command of Benfold, I knew I could be a better leader. Up until that time, I had created “order takers,” not “owners.” Owners are crucial to the success of an organization. They are passionate and engaged in their work. This is a critical point. Outstanding performance is achieved by people who feel they have some ownership in the enterprise. They are not simply doers. They are owners.
I had experience and preparation aboard other ships. Perhaps like you, I wasn’t totally new to managing and leading. But, I didn’t realize the commitment to change I needed to make until I watched the change of command ceremony as I prepared to board. The crew was cheering the departure of their commander, not because they were sad to see him go, but because they were glad to see him go. A sad commentary on his leadership. In that moment, I realized I needed to commit myself to being the kind of leader who would send the right Signals to empower and engage people to achieve extraordinary results, and do everything necessary to make sure my team stayed on top.
Set Our Course
I know my people were skeptical when I took command of Benfold. Many of my crew were unsure about the type of a leader that was taking over. I had a lot of ideas and wanted to change how things were done. Let’s face it, they were not sure if what they heard from me would be consistent with my actions. I had to move steadily, but with patience, to earn their trust and respect. It started becoming real when my actions really indicated to the crew that I was not doing things to line up my next promotion or to advance my career, but truly to make Benfold the best damn ship in the Navy.
Staying on top
When you become number one, complacency can set in and the urgency to change dissipates. It takes a leader to prevent this from happening.
My initial thoughts were that turning the ship around would be my most difficult assignment. I learned later that staying on top was an even bigger challenge. I was fortunate that the motivation to change was already present on Benfold. I just had to tap into it.
With competition always increasing, your challenge is to take your organization’s brand loyalty and translate it into long-term customer loyalty.
“Engage your people who will engage your customers.”
Over time, I came to understand that people make the biggest difference in the customer experience. And the customer experience drives loyalty.
Transformation doesn’t occur overnight
People often ask how they can create the same results we did on Benfold. Honestly, I did not have a great answer until a few years back when I formed the Aegis Performance Group. As I traveled the world sharing my story, I realized I was sharing WHAT I did, but not HOW we achieved our results. So we developed “The LeaderSHIP Roadmap” to help people apply my experiences to their own teams and organizations.
Ready to get started?
I learned through my experience on USS Benfold that change is hard and takes time. But, just imagine your team’s performance if you were to set a course for change. It’s not as hard as you think. It will take making a commitment to leadership and sending the right signals like I did. And, believe me, if I could do it, so can you! It’s not as hard or as difficult as you might think. All you need to do to get started is to set aside just 10 minutes a week to focus on elevating your leadership style and relationships with your employees and customers. You’ll be surprised at the impact of this exercise.
Here’s a way for you to Take Action after reading this article. This comes from one of our resources at the Aegis Performance Group called Signals. Every week I send leaders participating in this program something to say, do and implement that drives their performance. Here’s one for you to try as you begin this next phase of your leadership journey.
Make it Count – from Signals with Mike Abrashoff
How we see ourselves may differ from how we are perceived by others. Understanding your own leadership style is an important first step. Think about your leadership style.
Are you happy with the results you are getting? What legacy will you leave?
The ultimate measure of my success was measured against what Benfold did after I left. Had I prepared people to succeed on their own? Had I instilled a culture of excellence where people worked together toward a common purpose and goal?
Take a few minutes to review your leadership journey thus far, and make a list of what you think is important to the following groups:
• What is important to my customers
• What is important to my crew
• What is important to myself
With your list in hand, TAKE ACTION:
Observe, Listen and Interact with Your Team. At the end of each day, compare your list of what was important to what you actually saw. These experiences shaped my vision for what was needed to create an experience for my team and customers. On Benfold, I dressed informally because I wanted to put people at ease. I toured the ship in loafers and did not even put on a uniform.
Consistently Capture and Celebrate Wins
Take a genuine interest in your people. Look for new ways to show them you care about their success. Keep track of the ways that have the greatest impact. The time you invest on this first step of your leadership journey will greatly return on the back end as the team and management takes on more responsibility and become accountable for sucess.
Set High Standards and Build Confidence Others
Even if you are satisfied with your current results, continue to look for places where you can raise the bar even more. Look at how you interact with your people. Are you building confidence in them that they can do the job? How do they feel after your interactions? People need to know that you believe in them.