Mike Abrashoff Profile

  • Former Commander, USS Benfold and Author, It’s Your Ship
  • If you want to know about change management and inspiring leadership, who better to ask than Mike Abrashoff, the naval commander who took on the worst performing ship in the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and in a single year transformed it into the best ship in the whole Navy without changing the crew. His inspiring story of how he learned to see his command through the eyes of his crew and to create an environment where they felt safe, empowered and supported has many lessons for anyone who aspires to leadership, and incidentally inspired a book, It’s Your Ship, sales of which are now approaching one million copies.

    As the most junior commanding officer in the Pacific Fleet at the age of just 36, Mike Abrashoff was handed command of USS Benfold, a ship that was suffering low morale, high crew turnover and appalling performance reviews. Abrashoff approached these problems with his Leadership Roadmap, a philosophy based on empowering each individual crewmember in the achievement of excellence; he became famous for his mantra to his crew: “It’s your ship.”

    Abrashoff’s New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling book and two subsequent follow-up volumes explain how his principles achieved 99% crew retention, a tripling in promotions and a 25% reduction in operating expenses. Just a year after taking command, and with the same crew, USS Benfold won the prestigious Spokane Trophy for the most combat-ready crew in the fleet.

    An expert military strategist who has served as Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense William J.Perry and also served in the Persian Gulf during the implementation of United Nations sanctions against Iraq, Mike Abrashoff is the founder of GLS Worldwide, a firm which helps leaders to re-imagine their strategies for optimal performance.

    • View Extended/Alternate Bio

      Mike Abrashoff was the most-junior officer in the Pacific Fleet when he took command of the near-worst performing ship. Twelve months later, the USS Benfold was the best ship in the entire Navy – using the same crew. The story of that stunning transformation has lessons for every organization: leadership matters – and culture is everything. Mike’s written three books – his first, It’s Your Ship, has sold over 1 million copies. His Leadership Roadmap offers clear, battle-tested, and actionable steps. Mike shows people at every level of the organization how to engage and take incremental steps toward change that can make a dramatic difference at work. Mike is clear, “I didn’t turn the ship around – my crew did that.  What I did was to create an environment where they felt safe, empowered and supported. When you do that, anything is possible.”

      In many ways, what Mike was able to do with the USS Benfold was an extreme example of the same problems facing many organizations today. That’s why dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and Fast Company have cited Mike’s story as an inspiring lesson for business. Leaders especially identify with Mike’s being accountable for the results in an environment where he couldn’t make the rules.

      “When my crew came to me with a problem, I’d say ‘It’s your ship – how would you fix it?’.” Mike focused on the one thing he could influence: his crew’s attitude, because culture is the ultimate competitive weapon for any organization.

      Mike’s established a set of management principles that he calls The Leadership Roadmap. At the core of his leadership approach on Benfold was a process of replacing command and control with commitment and cohesion, and engaging the hearts, minds, and loyalties of workers with conviction and humility. “The most important thing that a captain can do is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew. The idea is to empower every individual to share the responsibility of achieving excellence.”

      By every measure, these principles achieved breakthrough results: turnover decreased to an unprecedented 1%; the rate of promotions tripled; and the crew slashed operating expenses by 25%. Regarded as the finest ship in the Pacific Fleet, Benfold won the prestigious Spokane Trophy for having the highest degree of combat readiness. This remarkable turnaround was accomplished by the very same crew that had performed so poorly just months before.

      Mike is author of three books. His first, It’s Your Ship, has a timeless message: don’t use outside forces that stand in your way as excuses – control the things you can influence and amazing results will happen. His next books, It’s Our Ship and Get Your Ship Together, showed how these principles have been put into action by business leaders in their own organizations.

      A popular keynote speaker for audiences looking to ramp up organizational performance, Mike has spoken to every industry and kind of audience – from board retreats to front line personnel; from sales groups to universities; from Fortune 500s to startups.  He inspires audiences to rethink their beliefs about leadership and organizational culture and tailors the message to focus on engagement, execution, change, safety, diversity, leadership, teamwork, innovation, accountability and more.

      Prior to commanding USS Benfold, Mike served as the Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. He also helped draft the air defense plan for naval forces in the Persian Gulf in 1990, coinciding with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait; and served as the executive officer of the Cruiser Shiloh, where he deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of United Nations sanctions against Iraq.

      Mike Abrashoff is the founder of Aegis Performance Group, a consulting firm which works with and supports leaders as they address leadership, talent and performance challenges within their organizations. Mike and his team prompt leaders at all levels to re-imagine their leadership thinking and create new ways to elevate individual, team and organizational performance.

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    Mike Abrashoff's Speech Descriptions

    When you listen to Mike Abrashoff speak, you are listening to a man who has developed leadership techniques that enabled him to take a fighting warship from the lowest to the highest ranking in the U.S. Navy within a single year. He explains how he rejected the traditional command and control model and made his crew responsible for their own excellence; his typical response to a problem being, “What would you do? It’s your ship!”

    Bringing his experience on the USS Benfold to the civilian world, Abrashoff demonstrates how the power of any organization lies in its people, and provides his audience with a toolkit which shows just how they can utilize that power.

    After giving his keynote speech Mike Abrashoff can lead you on from the Leadership Roadmap to show you exactly how it can be implemented, with Take Action breakout sessions. Led by senior strategists from his own GLS Worldwide firm, a fast-paced workshop customized to your organization’s cultural and leadership issues will nail down the learning which Abrashoff has already shared in the most practical and stimulating fashion.


    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 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.


    Mike Abrashoff had to change his leadership mindset when he took over the near-worst performing ship in the Navy. The situation was dire. If performance did not improve, sailors could have gotten injured…or worse. In response, Mike quickly adopted a new set of principles to guide a new way of leading. His focus was on building trust and authentic ways of engaging. It was about listening to and empowering his crew who then went on to make the USS Benfold the best ship in the entire U.S. Navy. These very same principles are the foundation of success for organizations that embrace working virtually. In the short term, many organizations have found virtual work arrangements actually increase effectiveness of employees. That effectiveness may not be sustainable if leaders and organizations don’t master a new skill-set of how to lead people they can’t see. It’s about measuring results – not activity; and about finding ways to let people know their efforts are appreciated. Those who succeed in leading in the virtual environment will create a decisive competitive advantage.


    Sometimes in our professional lives we might think we are in a battle to beat an adversary or a competitor when in actuality we are really 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. Other times, someone at a higher level gives you a goal based on some median expectation set for others. 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 dawned on him: his ship could be much better than just average. It was Mike’s eureka moment: 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 Mike’s New York Times’ and Wall Street Journal bestselling book, IT’S YOUR SHIP. This presentation will challenge audiences to think differently on how to set expectations while realizing the only limits that you have are self-imposed.


    Dive deep into the Leadership Roadmap with a half-day or full-day program. The sessions are most often used as a follow-on to Mike’s keynote and provide attendees with powerful tools and strategies to apply in their work environment. Depending on the circumstances, these longer sessions are facilitated by a senior strategist from Mike’s firm, Aegis Performance Group, or Mike himself. These sessions create an exciting interactive atmosphere where participants examine the key components of high performing leaders, teams and organizations. Inquire for more details and program descriptions.

    What People are Saying about Seeing Mike Speak

    Rating Entries

    “Mike Abrashoff was terrific. His message resonated with our members. He was also so easy to work with. The best way to describe his presentation is the book signing. It is the first time that we have sold out the books of the keynoter!”
    Massachusetts Municipal Association

    “Excellent presentation AND presenter. Captain Abrashoff was very believable…REAL! Captain Abrashoff′s ideas of leadership could be used within any organization. This was an excellent motivational talk!!”
    Scott & White

    “The ′day after′ is over and the impact is reverberating throughout the organization. The feedback was clear – your presentation ranked #1 for most valuable – just above our CEO! I truly appreciate the effort you obviously made to incorporate our issues and to position the call to action for them as leaders of teams.”
    Nokia Siemens Networks

    “Mike Abrashoff was an outstanding speaker and really connected with the audience. Not only was he wonderful to listen to, but his messages resonated.”
    The Episcopal Church

    “Mike Abrashoff′s remarkable story regarding the transformation of USS Benfold was extremely well received and appreciated by our event participants, who found great inspiration and practicality in his remarks. These are challenging times for many and his perspective on leadership and leading during difficult times is timely as well as thought provoking.”
    California Bankers Association

    “Mike Abrashoff’s address to our group in Denver was spot-on. It was quite evident that he had worked to include information regarding our company, our markets and in particular, our Project Managers Forum objectives and attendee backgrounds into the content of his presentation. Several people commented to me that they found his story inspiring and relevant. As I mentioned earlier, this was the third time I heard Mike tell his story. It seems that each time I pull something more from the information he shares.”
    Facilities Manager, URS

    “You gave a memorable and enjoyable keynote speech that was enjoyed by all. Thank you for making our owners understand that they are the captains of their own destiny and that they need to take all action needed to succeed. You did a great job setting the tone for the rest of the convention.”
    Kevin G. Sinclair, CEO, Wireless Zone

    “We have never had such positive feedback so you very much exceeded our expectations. You were quoted numerous times throughout the remainder of the conference which says people took your message to heart and will put it to work in their everyday jobs – exactly what we aimed for!”
    Director of Staffing, Employee Relations & Development, Denbury Resources

    “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive! I personally have never listened to a better speaker. Your message was tailor made for my team and I look forward to discussing future opportunities with you. Thank you so very much Mike.”
    VP, TransCanada Energy Operations

    “I wanted to let you know what an amazing speaker and presentation Mr. Abrashoff gave! It was a pleasure listening to him.”
    Program Analyst, SAO East

    “Your insightful leadership guided us through a thorough, engaging and thoughtful examination of our current “state of the union” as well as our visions and expectations for the future. We have been inspired by your call for collaboration and are excited to bring your teachings forward with us into the future.”
    Laurence Gumina, CEO, Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services

    “Any audience that cares about leadership, culture, change management, performance and teamwork would benefit immensely from your presentation. Our group enjoyed not only your message, but also your presentation style. Needless to say, you received very high ratings in our post-conference survey.”
    Steve Perlowski, Vice President, Industry Affairs & Member Relations, National Association of Chain Drug Stores

    “He was fabulous! A big hit and hit the nail on the head with our meeting theme- was the perfect end to the week.”
    VP of IT, Underwriters Lab

    “THANK YOU for visiting City of Hope! Our team of leaders was inspired by your sessions and many have emailed me or stopped me on campus to share how they can apply relevant learnings. We have ordered another 100 books and many will be taking the time to read the book in larger teams. We are creating an internal blog where leaders can share with others how they are creating organizational transformation through grass roots managerial efforts. Thank you again for helping us drive organizational change and evolving our efforts to build a more accountable culture!”
    Chief Human Resources Officer, City of Hope, Duarte, CA

    “[Mike Abrashoff] was fantastic! He was extremely generous with his time, and he was absolutely the right person for what we wanted to accomplish.” – BP Exploration, Inc. “Conference ended today with a bang. You were by far the best presenter!” – Josh Linkner, CEO / Managing Partner, Detroit Venture Partners, LLC “Thank you for following up – we really enjoyed Mike’s presentation and the audience feedback was outstanding! He really kick started our day with a bang and we were pleased to have him as part of our agenda.”
    HR Specialist, Intel

    “It went fantastic. Full house and everyone raved. He is one of the best speakers on leadership and management I have seen in a very long time.”
    Senior Manager, Event Services, Ingram Micro

    “Everything went great! Mike was probably the best speaker we have ever had at one of our events!”
    Geoff Graves, Fugate Enterprises

    “Thank you for making sure that your speech ‘connected’. The way you were able to make your points align with the roles of the sales reps/ field trainers was spot-on. I suspect this will not be the end of your relationship with Teva.”
    CNS Training Specialist, Teva

    “Your presentation in New Orleans was outstanding. Not only was it the highest rated of the week (4.95 out 5), it was timely, inspirational and informative. Your accomplishments represent the pinnacle of achievement through the belief in and entrustment of people.”
    Sales Trainer, Nexstar, Inc.

    “Mike – Your scores were almost flawless (save for one single 1-point deduction from an audience member), and the highest I’ve ever seen in my tenure at Evanta. Audience feedback included: ‘Wonderful Presentation – Very appropriate for senior IT Leaders;’ ‘Excellent! Very Motivating;’ ‘One of the most inspirational speeches I have ever heard. Outstanding selection;’ ‘Very inspiring and thought provoking speech;’ ‘Michael was incredible! Dead on target;’ ‘Awesome! Loved Michael’s talk and can’t wait to read his book.’ As far as constructive feedback goes, there wasn’t any – only glowing reviews were left on the evaluation sheets. Again, thank you so much for speaking! We were lucky to have you on board for the Houston CIO Executive summit.”
    Content Director, Evanta

    “I felt he nailed the message we were asking him to present, a true home run for our evening. Mike truly has a commanding presence, yet he was perceived as talking with our leaders, not at or down to them. Our team was so dialed into his message with rapt attention that at one point I heard a piece of silverware dropped in the kitchen it was so quiet. Besides the power of Mike’s message and leadership philosophy, we also wanted Mike because we felt he had the flexibility to be on the big stage, or in the more relaxed environment we had at The House of Blues. After his presentation, I appreciated that Mike took time for questions, then stuck around to personalize books and speak with our team. We only took two small boxes of his books back to the hotel as almost everyone wanted theirs immediately and wanted it personalized. I truly could not have been more pleased or impressed.”
    Head of Strategy & Growth, Dealer Channel, Syngenta

    “Mike was a great fit for our program and we are getting overwhelmingly positive ratings on our post-summit survey. Thank you!”
    Executive Director, Meetings & Events, Marshberry

    “I have received a ton of anecdotal feedback, people bringing up how much they liked you and your speech and message. One thing that came across was that you were very “real” and very down to earth – that is important to our audience. I think your ability to interweave the hospital and healthcare environment into your speech went a long way toward connecting with the audience.”
    Managing Director, Lincoln Healthcare

    “Everyone loved Mike. He got a standing ovation. First time I’ve seen a keynote receive one in my history with ADESA.”
    Automotive Dealer Exchange Services of America

    “I just wanted to send a note and thank you for the very inspiring and humbling presentation you shared with us yesterday. I was in the audience in Oregon, so not there in person, but of all of the professional speakers I have seen, you by far were the most inspirational. Your experience and story are well worth sharing, and I plan to pick up your book this weekend. All the best to you.”
    Finance & IT Staffing Manager, Intel

    “Everyone loved Mike. He was a huge hit and his message certainly resonated with our team.”
    Lesley Andersen, OMERS Private Equity, Inc.

    “Mike did an amazing job and much appreciated. Thank you!”
    Victoria MacDonald, VP, Human Resources, Marketwired

    “We have asked Mike Abrashoff to speak to our team twice now and he is in high demand for a third appearance. His message and coaching around leadership is perfect for every level of management in our organization ranging from the General Managers of our stores right up to our CEO. Mike provides practical advice sprinkled with some entertaining stories from his days as Captain of the USS Benfold. Our time spent with Mike has been invaluable and we look forward to working with him again.”
    Sam Chamberlain, Chief Operating Officer, FIVE GUYS

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    Books by Mike Abrashoff:

    It′s Our Ship: The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership
    The story of Captain Abrashoff and his command of USS Benfold has become legendary inside and outside the Navy. By governing his ship with his unique management techniques, Abrashoff turned the Benfold into a model of naval efficiency, with amazing cost savings, the highest gunnery score in the Pacific Fleet, and a highly motivated and top performing crew.

    In IT′S YOUR SHIP, he first demonstrated how to bring his successful management techniques from the ship to the boardroom. Now, in his newest book IT′S OUR SHIP, in the same rugged, can-do voice, Abrashoff will focus on the leadership, motivational, and management insights and tips that he has learned from his last six years of addressing business and corporate audiences.

    Abrashoff′s timely advice will be eminently prescriptive, and will feature anecdotes and insights from leaders of businesses large and small and from public and non-profit sectors.

    Get Your Ship Together: How Great Leaders Inspire Ownership from the Keel

    Former U.S. Navy Commander Michael Abrashoff attracted worldwide media attention for his success in turning around a struggling ship, the USS Benfold—the subject of his acclaimed bestseller, It’s Your Ship. Since then, he’s been a fixture on the business lecture circuit, spreading an empowering message that any organization can be turned around with compassionate but firm leadership. He is now nearly as popular a speaker as Rudy Giuliani, Jack Welch, or Jim Collins.

    Abrashoff never claimed to have all the answers. He also knew that there were plenty of other creative leaders in the navy, army, air force, marine corps, and even the coast guard who could teach businesspeople how to motivate, inspire, and get great results under pressure. So he asked around, found some fascinating people in every branch of the U.S. military and the business world, and interviewed them about leadership and teambuilding. The result is Get Your Ship Together—a book that will be just as valuable as It’s Your Ship.

    For example, Abrashoff introduces us to a working-class enlisted man who rose rapidly in the navy for his creative leadership under fire; an army platoon leader who fought in Afghanistan; the first woman to fly an Apache helicopter in combat; a former commander of the air force’s elite Blue Angels; and many other unsung heroes. Abrashoff distills their stories into fresh lessons that can be applied in the business world, such as:

    • Make a contract with your people and honor it
    • Develop your subordinates better so you can buy back a little quality of life
    • Conduct the battle on your terms, not those of your adversary

    It′s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

    The story of Captain D. Michael Abrashoff and his command of USS Benfold has become legendary inside and outside the Navy. Now Abrashoff offers this fascinating tale of top-down change for anyone trying to navigate today′s uncertain business seas.

    When Captain Abrashoff took over as commander of USS Benfold, a ship armed with every cutting-edge system available, it was like a business that had all the latest technology but only some of the productivity. Knowing that responsibility for improving performance rested with him, he realized he had to improve his own leadership skills before he could improve his ship. Within months he created a crew of confident and inspired problem-solvers eager to take the initiative and take responsibility for their actions. The slogan on board became “It′s your ship,” and Benfold was soon recognized far and wide as a model of naval efficiency.

    How did Abrashoff do it? Against the backdrop of today′s United States Navy-Benfold was a key player in our Persian Gulf fleet-Abrashoff shares his secrets of successful management including:

    • See the ship through the eyes of the crew: By soliciting a sailor′s suggestions, Abrashoff drastically reduced tedious chores that provided little additional value.
    • Communicate, communicate, communicate: The more Abrashoff communicated the plan, the better the crew′s performance. His crew would eventually call him “Megaphone Mike,” since they heard from him so often.
    • Create discipline by focusing on purpose: Discipline skyrocketed when Abrashoff′s crew believed that what they were doing was important.
    • Listen aggressively: After learning that many sailors wanted to use the GI Bill, Abrashoff brought a test official aboard the ship-and held the SATs forty miles off the Iraqi coast.

    From achieving amazing cost savings to winning the highest gunnery score in the Pacific Fleet, Captain Abrashoff′s extraordinary campaign sent shock waves through the U.S. Navy. It can help you change the course of your ship, no matter where your business battles are fought.

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