Q & A Series for Military Appreciation Month: Mike Abrashoff, Former Commander, USS Benfold

Posted by Alexis Washington

This May, Eagles Talent Speakers Bureau takes pride in honoring the brave men and women who dedicate their lives to fighting for our country. 

Individuals like….Mike Abrashoff!

Mike Abrashoff is a formeimages (1)r Commander of the USS Benfold and author of the best selling book It’s Your Ship. As a Leadership Speaker, Mike Abrashoff challenges and inspires audiences to rethink their beliefs about leadership and organizational culture. His powerful talks are tailored to suit: improve engagement, execution, leadership skills, teamwork, innovation and more.

Q: How has serving in the Navy impacted your leadership skills?

A: Most people don’t understand that the military faces the same pressures that the corporate world faces. We don’t get to choose our missions. We don’t get to choose the people we work with. And…we don’t have unlimited resources to get the mission accomplished. In fact, we are in an era of declining resources. Amidst all of this, we still have performance metrics that we have to hit…just like the corporate world does.
The military is a living leadership laboratory and nearly everyone is put into leadership situations at an unusually young age. Since there is no such thing as a perfect leader, leadership development is a lifelong endeavor. The best leaders are those who are self-aware and understand how they show up at work. I really never had that true self-awareness until I had been in the Navy for 16 years when I saw a leader get jeered as he left a ship for the final time. For the first time, I stood back and asked myself how many times my direct reports cheered when I left a previous position. Thus, I set out on a journey to view myself through the eyes of my crew. Today, the corporate world calls these 360’s. My goal wasn’t to be liked but rather respected and trusted. From that day forward, before I made any decision, I would always put myself in the shoes of those I was trying to influence and ask myself how they would see the task and what do I have to do to communicate to them to get their engagement, their support and their buy in. I eventually came to realize that 50 or 60 % of my job was figuring out how to effectively communicate and get people going in the right direction.
The other major thing that I learned in the Navy is to sit back and observe other leaders and gauge their impact as leaders and how I can learn from them. Some leaders are ego driven. Some lead with humility. I learned in the Navy that the best style for me is something I call “excellence without arrogance.”

Q: How important is teamwork in a corporate environment?

A: I think it all depends on the position. Organizations need leaders and also individual contributors. I have a family member who has a PhD and strove to become the department chair because it paid more money. She soon found out that she was miserable in a leadership position. Her team wasn’t happy either. What I have learned over the years that a team reflects the personality of the leader. If a leader is upbeat and optimistic, the team will be too. If the leader is downbeat and pessimistic, the team will be as well. She soon realized she was happiest and most productive being an individual contributor. After much soul searching, she decided to give up the extra money to do what gave her the most satisfaction. She is in a research role and making great contributions to the organization without having to be on a team.
However, there are many positions in organizations that do require great teamwork and that is tough to achieve. Those that get it right have loyal and dedicated customers. They gain evangelists who are out there extolling why it is so great to work with that company. It helps you to drive business excellence, which keeps you safe in tough economic times. Teamwork puts you in the best competitive space against your adversaries. Those who get it right have a better shot at controlling their own economic destiny.

Q: What are some tools that every leader needs to posses in order to take command?

A: As I mentioned, I think great leaders have tremendous self-awareness. That is one of the things I am helping companies do with my talent development group, GLS WORLDWIDE. Great leaders need to understand their strengths but also their blind spots and how they are showing up at work.
You blend that self-awareness, technical ability and leadership ability and that is the ticket to success. In my work, I use the research of Dr. Robert Hartmann who discovered, through extensive research, that there are three thinking styles: People, systems (or big picture) or task oriented. A great leader needs to know where he or she is coming from in order to lead better. The mistake most organizations make, including the military, is to put task oriented people in positions of leadership without the self-awareness that they may be lacking the people skills necessary to lead.

Q: What advice can you give to leaders looking to make a change in their attitudes? How can this change lead to the effectiveness of their team overall?

A: You can learn a lot about leadership from just about anywhere. When watching children’s soccer, you always see the kids rushing to where the ball is…not to where it’s going. Great leaders are those who have the foresight to know where the ball is going and then build the team that is going to get them there. I call it seeing the handwriting on the wall before others even see the wall. People are very complex machines. We live in a very dynamic world. Those who are able to envision and articulate where it is you need to go will be the ones who continue to control their own destiny.
These are extraordinarily challenging times. No matter how technologically complex your business is, it all comes down to people. That is the challenge of our times – attracting, training and equipping the work force of tomorrow. That’s how you gain competitive advantage and how you control your own destiny.

Posted by Alexis Washington
Alexis Washington writes about expert keynote speakers and Motivational Speakers, as well as tips and tricks for corporate meeting planners. If you need a guest professional speaker or corporate entertainer for your next convention or conference, you can visit

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