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November 6, 1999

Drilling Down

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Mike Abrashoff, author of It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, is the epitome of someone who was ready for his golden opportunity when it came and who achieved success by practicing the Golden Rule. Before Mike took his first command, which was of the USS Benfold, he had already been successful. He had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He had excelled as an officer, attaining the rank of captain after 16 years, and had worked as military assistant to Dr. William J. Perry when he was Secretary of Defense. But when Mike took command of the Benfold, he saw it as a rare opportunity to do something different, to use a Golden Rule approach to leadership. Mike says,
The first sixteen years of my career, I went for the gold braid. I had success, but it wasn’t unusual success. The last two I went for the golden rule. I took command of the ship and took command of my life. Before, I was working according to what I thought were the organization’s expectations. But while working for Secretary of Defense Perry, I saw a departure from that kind of thinking. When I saw my predecessor leaving the ship, I thought about what my departure would be like.
The navy is like a tree full of monkeys. If you’re at the top of the tree, all you see when you look down is a bunch of smiling faces looking up to you. When you’re at the bottom of the tree and you look up, you have a different kind of view!

Mike decided to put himself in his sailors’ shoes. He interviewed every sailor on his ship individually to find out what they valued, and then he made changes to add value to his sailors. For example, he sent the ship’s cooks to culinary school and offered college courses aboard ship. He asked his officers to treat the new arrivals as they would want people to treat their children. And he empowered everyone—officer and enlisted person alike—to make decisions and work to make their ship the best in the Navy, trusting them and encouraging them with the words: “It’s your ship.”

“Good began to happen when I began going for the golden rule,” says Mike. “I put people instead of promotion first. And as a result, I was paid a thousand times over.” That’s what I call making the most of a golden opportunity!

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