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Speaking to the World

Mike  Abrashoff

Mike Abrashoff

Former Commander, USS Benfold & Author, It's Your Ship


One of the critical issues facing organizations today is safety….not just safety in the workplace but safety in all facets of our personal lives. After all, if people get injured at home, it affects their on-the-job performance, as well as medical costs. Read More >

No matter how hard we may try, you can’t order safety. It’s a culture we have to create and each person has to feel it personally. A US Navy destroyer is an inherently dangerous place and no Captain, no matter how good he or she thinks they are, can order safety. In the year prior to taking command of USS Benfold, 31 sailors out of a workforce of 310 were involved in some type of injury producing mishap. The first afternoon after I took command of the ship, one of my sailors was involved in a DUI off base after going to a bar after work. The very night I took command of the ship, one of my sailors was severely beaten in a mugging because he walked out the wrong gate of the base after sunset in one of the worst parts of town. It was a newly reporting sailor who didn’t know that you don’t go to that part of town after sunset. That fact wasn’t included in our welcome aboard program for newly reporting personnel.

Are all of these connected? Absolutely!!! It speaks to the culture that we try to create. You can never have a great organization if your top priority is not the safety of your people. The one thing that drove me throughout my entire tenure was that I never wanted to write the parents of any of my sailors and tell them that their son or daughter wasn’t coming home because of something we did or something we failed to do. When I looked at safety on the ship, I assumed my sailors wanted to be safe and so everything I looked at was whether our processes facilitated a safe culture.

We implemented a program whereby every week, I would focus on one of the 24 divisions. I would inspect their work spaces for safety and other hazards. I would observe sailors doing their maintenance and quizzing them on the safety precautions. I reviewed their safety training program and participated in seminars with them. During these events they could ask questions about anything they weren’t sure about. I wanted them to understand that the concept of safety was portable to their families and personal lives, as well. We trained on the dangers of drinking and driving and if they were drinking, they could call a local cab company to give them a free ride home which was then paid for out of our morale fund (and not taxpayers money). By the way, we also tried to create a culture of respect whereby sailors didn’t have to go home after work and blow off steam and drink to excess.

Any sailor could stop any process if they thought safety was being impaired. Any sailor had a direct line to me if they thought their chain of command wasn’t sufficiently concerned or didn’t see what they were seeing. Every sailor knew that I felt their safety was a top priority of mine and not just lip service.

The result? My last year in command, there were two minor incidents; down from 31 incidents two years prior. Was I satisfied? No!!! Two is two too many. But we never missed an opportunity to try and drive that culture of excellence and safety. They go hand in hand. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Demo Video

Achieving Breakthrough Performance

It's Our Ship: Mentors & Role Models Matter

It's Your Ship: Becoming The Best Ship in the U.S. Navy

No Limits Breakthrough Performance: Don't Impose Limits on Yourself

No Limits Breakthrough Performance: Talent Retention

Speech Topics

It’s Your Ship – Achieving Breakthrough Performance

When Mike Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold, morale was low, turnover was high and the ship’s performance ranked near the bottom of the Pacific Fleet. Just twelve months later the Benfold was ranked #1 – using the very same crew. The lesson was clear – leadership matters and culture is everything. This inspiring talk is for every individual and organization looking for practical and usable ways to take organizational performance to new heights. In Mike’s case, he realized that before the ship’s performance could change, he had to change his leadership style. Mike worked to create a culture of trust and empower his crew to take charge and use ingenuity and initiative to improve every aspect of the way things were done. Top down leadership is dead, so when the crew would present a problem, Mike became famous for responding “What would YOU do? It’s YOUR ship!” Mike’s presentation leaves audiences with the tools and inspiration to accomplish big goals.

It’s Our Ship – Putting the Leadership Roadmap to Work

For organizations that want to get serious about improving performance, this presentation delivers examples of the Mike’s Leadership Roadmap in action. Mike reveals how the principles that led the transformation of the USS Benfold have been put into action at companies and organizations looking to harness the power of their most important asset – their people. He shows real leaders achieving dramatic results as they work to address their most pressing people challenges: collaboration, commitment, cohesion, accountability, engagement, rapid and continual innovation, safety and diversity in the workforce. In example after example, the lessons from the Benfold clearly translate across all kinds of organizations – corporations, small business, non-profits and government. Mike shows audiences, by example, how to use their new leadership toolkit. “It's Our Ship” goes deep into the how-tos of creating a culture where everyone takes ownership and responsibility for taking performance to the next level.

No Limits: What You Believe is What You Achieve

Sometimes in our professional lives we believe we are in a battle to beat an adversary or a competitor when in actuality, we are in competition with ourselves but just haven’t figured it out yet. When battling the competition, you want to come out on top, if only by one more sale or maybe a few percentage points. Sometimes, someone at a higher level gives you a goal based on some median expectation set for others. Read More >


When Mike Abrashoff took command of a well below-average ship in the U.S. Navy, his goal was to get to average. He initially set average goals and expectations for himself and his crew until one day it struck him: his ship could be better than average. Mike’s eureka moment was realizing they weren’t in competition with anyone but themselves to be their best. They had to stop putting limits on what they believed was possible. That realization changed Mike Abrashoff’s approach to leadership and led the same crew to accomplish one of the most remarkable turnarounds that was chronicled in the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company magazine and his New York Times’ and Wall Street Journal bestselling book, IT’S YOUR SHIP.

Many of Mike’s former crew members have gone on to accomplish great things in their careers. They write to tell him their stories. One of Mike’s sailors just ran for city council of one of the largest cities in the U.S. and he wrote Mike to say, “you gave us the inspiration and confidence to know that there are no limits.” This presentation will challenge you to think differently on how to set expectations while realizing the only limits that you have are self-imposed. Read Less ^

Take Action Breakout Session

Meant to deepen the learning from Mike Abrashoff’s keynote talk, Take Action sessions provide attendees with additional powerful tools and strategies to apply in their work environment. Facilitated by a senior strategist from Abrashoff’s firm, GLS Worldwide, and taking place immediately following the keynote, Take Action sessions create an exciting atmosphere that examines the key components of high performing leaders, teams and organizations. Participants will experience innovative, fast-paced individual and group exercises tailored to the leadership and cultural issues most relevant to the organization. They’ll learn practical application of principles outlined in the keynote and build a roadmap to achieve the personal and organizational goals they’ve outlined. Take Action sessions are customizable to meet time and resource-sensitive needs and require a minimum of 2 hours. Read More >

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