Leadership insights from a navy captain

Great leaders give off heat, an energy that frees others of their inhibitions and encourages people to start controlling their own desires, according to Captain Michael Abrashoff in his book It’s Our Ship: The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership. This is the second leadership book by the man who used to be the “skipper of the best ship in the US Navy”, containing lessons that can usefully be added to those from the first book. These include:

  • Starting well: how to attract the right kind of people, bring them aboard in a welcoming manner, and keep them happy and eager to come to work each day.
  • Defining excellence: how to show your crew members what excellence is about, then share responsibility for decision making, and build confidence through training.
  • Listening to truth-tellers: how to deliver bad news, challenge questionable decisions, and encourage your own crew to be candid even when it hurts.
  • Prioritise collaboration: how to discourage mindless rivalry, be generous with your praise, and drive our bickering, sabotage and disunity.
  • Create trust: how to keep your promises, treat your people with respect and delegate authority in order to cultivate a climate of trust.
  • Be clear about the mission: how to use previous achievements to inspire staff, state your ethical guidelines clearly, stress your core values, and avoid diversions.
  • Hedge your bets: how to avoid recklessness while navigating through acceptable risks with big potential payoffs.
  • Lead by doing the right thing: how to use your own failures as lessons for others and turn the constant scrutiny of others into teachable moments.

There is plenty of good advice in the book, and the writing style is clear and interesting. Most readers who have some experience of leadership will find that the book reinforces their current knowledge rather than providing anything particularly startling or novel, although each issue is presented from the unique perspective of a navy captain.