Crowning Connections: Leadership Matters & Culture is Everything!

Michael Abrashoff: Naval Commander, NY Times Best Selling Author, Leadership & Teamwork Expert, and Keynote Speaker

Rob Clemons of Monarch Roofing had the great opportunity to interview Captain Abrashoff for the podcast Crowning Connections. Rob had the chance to hear Captain Abrashoff in person and has used his books in developing the leadership at Monarch Roofing. This podcast has golden nuggets of wisdom. Listen in!

Podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1829238/10473694

YouTube: https://youtu.be/RQbte6zktIs

Rob Clemons
Welcome to Crowning Connections with Rob Clemons. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about leadership and business. We’re very blessed to have Captain Michael Abrashoff. Did I pronounce your name right, Sir?

Michael Abrashoff
You did perfect.

Rob Clemons
Terrific, terrific. So I had a chance to hear you at a GAF Wealth Builder event a few years ago. You had a chance to talk about some of your experiences as a leader of your chips and through your business career; your your structure of just building teams. So welcome to the show. We’re glad to have you.

Michael Abrashoff
Happy to be here.

Rob Clemons
Terrific. So I want to start off from the top, could you give us a little bit of a background about yourself for some of the people who have not heard from you yet. And I want to preface this with: you’ve been a New York Times Best Seller, you’re leadership and teamwork expert, Keynote Speaker around the nation. You’ve done great things! Just give us a little bit of a background on how you get to this point.

Michael Abrashoff
Well, I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. And I grew up in a house of 10 people, seven women and three men. We had one bathroom in our home growing up. And when I get out of the Navy and was able to buy my first home, it has four bathrooms in it. And I visit everyone, every day just because I can. And with the royalties of “It’s your ship,” after my father passed away about 18 years ago, I bought my mother a new house. I’m thinking he’s 81 years old. She’ll be in it five or six years, I can sell it, you know, and move on. She turns 100 next month! So I’ve been paying on that house now for 19 years. And now she wants to kitchen remodeled. So I come from a very, you know, we weren’t poor, but I was one of seven kids. And there was not a lot of money. So that’s why I went to the Naval Academy was my only path to an education. And then came up through the ranks and got command of a destroyer. They when I took command, it wasn’t the worst ship in the Pacific Fleet. But it was probably in the bottom three or four. And without changing a crew member, all I did was focus on our culture, and engaging our team members better. And in 15 months, we got the trophy for being the best ship in the Pacific Fleet. And in years three and four after that USS Benfold won the award for best ship in the entire US Navy. So it goes to show you, no matter what line of work we’re in, we’re in the people business.

Rob Clemons
I find that so inspiring. And I believe that a lot of companies across this country, companies that I’ve dealt with before, they tell us certain things like, you know, my people are doing this or this person didn’t do this today. And I feel like a lot of times it comes down to leadership, communication, maybe even the structure the way things are done. So the way that you described your building techniques, and your team building techniques, in your books really spoke to me personally. And I want to get back to that. But before we get to it, I’d love to talk about your perseverance. Because when you were in Texas talking to us, you talked about even getting the book to the point where it had gotten so nationally spread as it did. Could you tell that story a little bit?

Michael Abrashoff
So I’ve got no background in sales. And I was in the Navy my whole career, and I didn’t, I’ve worked so hard to write the book. I never put any thought into, “okay, how do you sell the book?” And the publisher arranged for me to go on 10 AM radio stations for interviews. And I later found out each radio station had about three listeners. And I did a book signing in a bookstore in downtown Pittsburgh on a Wednesday night in January, four people show up including one of my five sisters and and she wanted a free book. And I’m here thinking, you know, if I do things the way they’ve always done it, I’m not going to be successful. So I was going to be in Cincinnati in two weeks speaking at the convention center. 500 people were going to be there. I called the manager of the local Barnes and Noble. I said, “How many books do you sell on a great day?” And she said on a great day I sell 200 books. I said I got a deal for you. Come to the Convention Center in two weeks. Bring 200 copies of “It’s your Ship,” set up a card table you sell the books outside them. We both win. And she said “No.” And I said, “Why not?” She said, “We’ve never done it that way.” Well, when I hear that’s a key word for me to start digging deeper. I went back and forth with her for 20 minutes. Finally she relented. Showed up, sold all 200 copies. Took orders for an additional 100. That’s how I made the New York Times Bestseller List was that week. And the next day CEO of Barnes and Noble is looking at his Daily Sales Report. Notice Cincinnati more than doubled their daily output. Called her up, asked her how she did it. He explained it to him. He hung up the phone called me and said, “Mike, I’m having my annual store manager’s meeting and Phoenix next week, will you come present?” And I said, “Sure.” At my own expense, I flew to Phoenix, I bought every Barnes and Noble store manager a copy of “It’s your Ship.” And they liked it so much they went back to their stores and told their sales associates, if somebody buys a business book, recommend “It’s your Ship” to them. In the 19 years “It’s your Ship” has now sold over 1.3 million copies. And yup, it’s continued to sell. And and I need it because there’s royalties support my mother now.

Rob Clemons
Yeah, no, that’s amazing. And I gotta tell you, we bought your books, we also bought one of your follow ups, which just more terrific information. Did you have a favorite book that you wrote? I mean, was there one that just stood out to you? Well, it’s your

Michael Abrashoff
ship. My first one is my favorite. And it’s kind of like the original law and order. You know, that’s the best, that’s the flagship. And then the other ones are good, and I recommend them, but you read it to your ship first.

Rob Clemons
Well, perfect. Well, everybody who’s listening to the show, we got to support his mom. So buy coffee. But more importantly, seriously, I believe there’s a lot of tips that you can apply to a business. Tell me what you think is the biggest failure that you’ve heard from businesses that you’ve dealt with over the years in your speaking.

Michael Abrashoff
So in the Navy, whenever you hear an admiral say, people are our number one asset, that Admiral probably treats his people, the worst of anybody. And I’ve never said to my crew, you’re my number one asset, you show them that they’re that they’re your number one asset in companies around the country today are just now realizing that it’s a struggle for workers, there are 11 million open jobs in this country, and only 4.5 million people on unemployment. So even if we put everybody in unemployment to work, we’d still be short, 7000 workers, 7 million workers. And now those workers have the power 10 years ago, after the great financial crisis, I spoke to a company that, that use not low end labor, but it was a labor intensive work, paid minimum wage, and they treated their people poorly. And they had like, 200% annual turnover. And they couldn’t do that. Because they had 10 people standing in line waiting to get that job. It’s not that way anymore. And so now companies are waking up to the fact that if they don’t engage their people, and, and treat them with respect, and make them feel like they’re part of the team, or they’re gonna leave, and, you know, I, I laugh at all these companies, oh, we we bought a foosball table for the lunchroom, that that to me, doesn’t cut it. It’s how will you engage them and I interviewed every sailor on the ship. And I said to them, I don’t care what your age is, I don’t care what your rank is, I don’t care how long you’ve been here, you can come to work every day and challenge every aspect of our operation. And if you have an idea how to improve something 1%, I want to hear from you. And I can’t change the rest of the Navy. But if we’re 1% better today than we were yesterday, and 1% better tomorrow than we are today. I’m going to the World Series. And who better than the people on the frontline actually doing the work, know how it could be done better and cheaper, faster, safer murder. And so it was just about engaging them and, and they took greater pride in themselves. And they started working together better as a team. And that’s how we became the leader. And

Rob Clemons
you know, one thing that I took away from your speech, and I believe it so much and your books of this, that even when you’re at the top of an organization, you should still be able to talk to the people throughout and understand what the real day to day challenges are. And also give them a voice so that they can help you understand those so you can make the improvements. Correct?

Michael Abrashoff
Correct. And since I left the Navy dealing with businesses, I see senior leadership that never gets out and about in every Wednesday noon, I would have lunch on domestics with my crew. I would pick a table, sit down and talk to the five or six sailors sitting there and it doesn’t take much and everybody has to eat instead of eating in the executive dining room. You know, go down and eat with your people and you’ll be amazed at what they tell you, and with that, what they tell you, I can gain intelligence on how to message better communicate better, and come up with a better game plan as to how we can improve.

Rob Clemons
Absolutely. Now, my father was Air Force, you also spent some time in the army back in Vietnam. Now, when he was in, one of the things that they were doing was Myers Briggs test to get to understand the people. Is that something that you utilize? Do you use any kind of personality profiles?

Michael Abrashoff
In the Navy we did not use that. But I left 20 years ago, and I started a consulting group and my partner Stacy Cunningham. It’s not it’s it’s like Myers Briggs on steroids, what we’re able to determine from with people. So everybody has a different thinking style. And, and some mad scientist has come up with a way to determine what your thinking style is, in so Myers Briggs, picture who you are, as an iceberg. And how you show up at work is typically what’s above the waterline. But most of the iceberg is beneath the waterline. So what we use is a battery of three assessments. One of them is the disk that that gets your behaviors. But we also have an assessment that can tell what motivates you. Because everybody is motivated by different things. And some people aren’t motivated by money. Some people are altruistic. Some people are theoretical, my partner is theoretical, I’m more political. And so if you don’t know, what motivates them in their thinking style, you may be applying the wrong solution and how and how to deal with it. So that’s what my consulting group does with businesses is help them map all the different players and and we profile who’s successful in a particular role. And then when you’re looking to replace that person, or, or bring more people on like that person, it reduces your risk when hiring people. So that’s one of the things we do on the side.

Rob Clemons
I love that. We’ve been doing DISC Assessments at my company for years. I’ve become pretty good at understanding who’s who and almost identifying without seeing the test. But we’ve always known there’s some flaws to the test. Not major, but they’re things that just slightly skew who a person is. Some people are more talkative, some people are less talkative. A lot of misunderstandings of who person is based on just because they said, well, they’re a driver or their influencer. So you’ve found a way to connect the dots.

Michael Abrashoff
The DISC is just the stuff above the waterline. Yeah, what we’ve connected is what what’s below the waterline?

Rob Clemons
Wow, that’s, that’s amazing. And I’d love to hear more about that in a little bit. I’m looking for a tip for businesses. Let’s say that they’ve gotten out there. And they’ve got the right mentality. But then you have one of those days where it just feels like everything is is not going right. What do you recommend for a leader that’s trying to keep people positive when it feels like everything has not gone right? For some reason.

Michael Abrashoff
So I grew up in the Navy at “My way, or the highway” type of leader. And prior to getting command of the ship, I had the great fortune of a lifetime, to be chosen for the number two Assistant to the Secretary of Defense. His name was William Perry. And my last day working for him, prior to getting command to the ship, he brought me into his office set me down. And this is the Secretary of Defense. And he said, “Mike, no matter how hard you try, your ship is never going to be perfect.” He said, “You’re gonna have disappointment every day.” He said, “Whenever you’re disappointed in an outcome, I want you to remember one thing.” He said, “Assume your crew wanted to do a great job. And if you don’t get the results you’re looking for, don’t blame them first. But instead, look inward and ask yourself what you could have done differently or better to have generated a better outcome. Did you clearly communicate the goals too? Did you give them the training necessary to be successful? Did you give them the time and the resources to do a great job? But most importantly, did the process support them delivering the results you’re looking for?” So in those days, when things didn’t work out, instead of blaming people, I would step back and go, “What did I do wrong? And what could I have done better to have given them the tools so that they could deliver the expectation?”

Rob Clemons
Amazing tips for leaders I one thing that I use sometimes when I’m talking to my team is I use the analogy of “Nobody wants to drop the game winning touchdown pass,” right. But if they didn’t do it, there was something in the preparation, the way the ball was thrown, the game plan,d that probably led to that, and it’s not that anybody wants to fail. Let me ask you it on the “Captain Abrashoff.” Here you are, you’re a great inspiration for people across the country, you’ve been an inspiration for the people that worked underneath you, who inspires you?

Michael Abrashoff
So William Perry inspired me. But to be honest, due to my you know, lower middle class upbringing, the people that inspire me are the people on the front line, actually doing the work. And so I have more in common with the people doing the work than I do with the decision maker. And so that’s where I get my strengths from. And, you know, whenever I’m captain of the ship, and the captains quarters on the ship are pretty nice. It’s like a one bedroom apartment. You know, I had sailors on an early bird class destroyer, there’s one compartment where 106 sailors live in the same berthing compartment, on bunks that are three high, and you get that much room under your bunk to put all your clothes and everything. And it’s like whenever I’m having a bad day, I’m here thinking, you know, these kids live with 105 of their closest friends. I don’t have it that bad. So that’s who I always got my inspiration from? Is those people not? Not the, you know, the admirals never inspired.

Rob Clemons
That’s amazing, amazing tips. I wanted to ask you this. So you mentioned a little bit ago, it’s harder to find people than ever. In 2022, what do you think is the thing that people are generally looking for in a company.

Michael Abrashoff
So they don’t the so they want to have a measure of control over their own destiny. And I do think workers want flexibility in their work hours. And they also want to, so with the explosion of social media, everybody now knows what’s going on in every other company, I can pick up a business magazine, and find out how the the the first year, investment bankers at Goldman Sachs are complaining about working 100 hours a week, I mean, I can, I can do that. It’s available for just about every company out there today. Everybody knows what’s going on with their friends and what’s going on and other organizations. And to me, it’s about being treated with respect, and being empowered to think for yourself, and to do the job as you see fit. And I was talking to a company just two months ago. And on the on the pre event call the CEO says, I don’t get it, like team of 400 people say they don’t feel empowered. And sure enough, in the q&a session, one of the workers said, you had an easy you were the captain of the ship. You know, we don’t feel empowered here. And it hit me. You know, my ship was had 310 people on it. Yeah, I was the captain. But I’m in an organization of 320,000 people. And I didn’t ask to be empowered, I took it. I took the empowerment, I knew what needed to be done. And I did it, I kept my chain of command and formed. But I didn’t wait around for somebody to tell me Oh, you’re empowered to do this. So anyway, I come to find out that their motto now is just take it so that they now feel empowered, the CEO says, You guys are empowered, is keep me informed. And to me, that’s what empowerment is. And so I think what workers are looking for is that sense of empowerment, that they don’t have to ask for permission to do everything. You train them, you lay out their requirements. I’m here to help you. Keep me informed along the way, don’t cross my line in the sand. My line in the sand was if what you’re doing could kill somebody injure somebody waste taxpayer money, or do damage to the ship. Don’t go there without me. But if what you’re doing run short of that line in the sand, man, have at it, and I’ll support you 100% And you you may be perfect, but I’m not perfect. And you chances are you’re not going to be perfect. We’ll learn afterwards. Figure out what we could do even better next time you see this. And so that’s what workers are looking for is not to be micromanage, but to have control over their own destiny. And those companies that recognize that and give their people the freedom while, you know, holding them accountable for the result. Those are the ones that will have the best workers in my opinion.

Rob Clemons
Yes, sir. Would from talking to my father, my father said and again, United States Air Force, he mentioned to me that the military spends a lot of time understanding what the new generations are looking for talking about the Generation Z as they’re coming through and becoming the new workforce. Do you think the military is doing a great job staying ahead and understanding what these people are looking for?

Michael Abrashoff
I’m not qualified to answer that because I don’t keep in that close in contact anymore. But what I do know is the Navy is now offering a $25,000 enlistment bonus just to get you to sign up. And so that’s costing a shareholders money, because the Davie is not attracting enough people. And so to me, instead of offering a bonus, you know, figure out what, what motivates them, and then figure out a way to connect with it. And everybody in a leadership position. This is what I say today to my, the companies, I speak to guess what you’re on the recruiting and retention committee. If you’re a frontline manager, you’re on the recruiting committee. And that’s now part of your job. And everybody in the Navy in the military, the Air Force in business needs to realize how critical retention and recruiting is. And I was speaking to the sand and gravel Association. You know, there are 81,000 associations in this country, they all have annual meetings, I’m speaking to the sand and gravel Association. And they’re having trouble finding truck drivers to drive the trucks out of the gravel pits. And I said, Well, how do you advertise, they said, to be honest, word of mouth. Because if one guy enjoys his job, and if we treat him, right, he’s going to bring his cousin, he’s going to bring his brother in law. And that’s how we are finding our employees. And in so your professional reputation, your business reputation will go a long way, not only bringing you customers, but also bringing you word of mouth employees that say that’s the company I want to work for.

Rob Clemons
Great, great tips. And what I’m hearing here is treat your employees right, and understand what they need. And that is something that all businesses can use.

Michael Abrashoff
Well, I’m not doing this to be nice. That’s not altruistic. We’re playing to win. And I was planning to be the leader in our industry, because what drove me wasn’t my next promotion. I never wanted to have to write the parents of any of my sailors, telling them that their sons or daughters weren’t coming home, because we didn’t give it our best. And so for me, that’s what motivated me to realize. I can’t order excellence sitting in the captain’s chair, I’ve got to create a culture by which they realize it’s in their own best interest to be the best. And so what I talk about this is all about driving business performance, and controlling your own destiny. It’s not about being liked. It’s about being respected and delivering performance.

Rob Clemons
I love that. You could tell us 100 stories, because I’ve read your book. And there’s a million great things. We don’t have enough time for that today. But could you quickly explain your Washington Post thing that you talk about? Where you know, when you make a decision? Can you kind of like talk about that a little?

Michael Abrashoff
So I used to tell my sailors, if what you were doing appeared on the front page page of the Washington Post tomorrow, would you be proud or embarrassed. And if you’re proud, I’m going to support you 100% of the time, don’t ask for permission. But if you’re going to be embarrassed, include me in the decision. So that I can help give you the guidance so that we don’t, so that we make the right decision and not do something that’s wrong, that’s going to embarrass us. That’s what I call the Washington Post post test. You know, would you be proud if your actions got publicized? And if you’re not, don’t do it?

Rob Clemons
I best one that every single business leader can know. And and if you don’t mind, we definitely want to use that one at my company here. It’s a powerful way to think. Well, thank you. Absolutely. So as we get to the back end of the show here, I’d like to ask you, with your travels and the things that you do around the country. You mentioned your consulting group. Can you tell us a little bit about how someone could take advantage of your services and if they wanted to have you come talk to the group? What’s the best way to reach you?

Michael Abrashoff
So it’s interesting is this traditional way of leadership development was, you know, to sit in the classroom for five days a week. Well, we had a customer that says you know, I can’t take my people off the front line for, for five days. We love every one of your lessons, but you need to figure out how to break it up, and where people can learn it on the go. And so my partner, she calls them micro lessons. So instead of having somebody been three or four hours on a lesson and 15 to 20 minutes, it’s a quick hit. And it’s on, it’s virtual in so one, the companies are now using this, or spread it out over 26 or 50 weeks or whatever. But just do 15 to 20 minutes a week. Because you can’t learn leadership in an hour session. You can’t learn it in a day long class. It’s got to be ingrained in how you do business. And so Stacey developed this virtual program, and our website is APG leadership.com. And you can it’s pretty inexpensive. You know, order it online and take it online. And, or your company can buy it for you that that’s how we do most of our sales. But we do have individuals who come to it and it goes through the program individually.

Rob Clemons
Terrific, terrific. Well, Captain ever show off. This has been amazing. I could honestly talk to you all day. Sometimes when I’m talking to people. I really just want to pick your brain because you have so much great information. So hopefully we can keep in touch.

Michael Abrashoff
It’s funny, I will recommend at home I get asked to shut up. So it’s great. People want to hear me talk on YouTube.

Rob Clemons
Awesome. Well, I will say I recommend anybody listening to Crowning Connections today: Go to ABLeadership.com. Check it out “It’s Your Ship,” “It’s Our Ship,” all of these books that you have. And Captain, thank you for being on the show. It means a lot to me.

You’ve got it Rob. Have a great day.

Yes, sir. This has been Rob Clemons with Crowning Connections. We’ll see y’all next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

 

Posted in Crowning Connections, Myrtle Beach and tagged .