The Academy Insider Your Guide to The United States Naval Academy

#022 - Leadership with Captain D. Michael Abrashoff '82

December 23, 2019 GRANT VERMEER / CAPT D. MICHAEL ABRASHOFF '82 Season 1 Episode 22
The Academy Insider Your Guide to The United States Naval Academy
#022 - Leadership with Captain D. Michael Abrashoff '82
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, I'm joined by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff who is a class of 1982 graduate from the United States Naval Academy.  Captain Abrashoff was a Political Science major at the academy and a member of the 29th Company.

In this episode, we discuss leadership through the lens of his time at the academy, his time in the fleet and his subsequent career as a New York Times best selling author, keynote speaker, and leadership consultant.

Mike Abrashoff is at the center of one of the most remarkable modern-day stories of organizational transformation.  

At 36, he was selected to be Commander of USS Benfold and was the most junior commanding officer in the Pacific fleet.   The challenges of this underachieving destroyer were staggering, with low morale and the highest turnover rate in the Navy.  Few thought the ship could improve. Yet 12 months later it was ranked #1 in performance -- using the same crew.  How did Mike do it?  By replacing command and control leadership with commitment and cohesion.

The lesson was clear:  Leadership matters and culture is everything. 

Since leaving the Navy, Captain Abrashoff has worked with over 1200 organizations instilling leadership initiatives at every level – achieving phenomenal change in unexpected places.  Leaders especially identify with Mike being accountable for results in an environment where he couldn’t make the rules.  He focused on the one thing he could influence: his crew’s attitude, because culture is the ultimate competitive weapon for any organization.  That’s why Wall Street Journal, Fast Company and others have cited his story.  It’s also why he is so popular with such a wide range of audiences. 

I read Captain Abrashoff's book It's Your Ship while I was at the academy before being a summer detailer and it transformed my view on leadership.  I feel so very privileged to sit down and talk with one of the leaders and authors I admire so much.

He is bright, insightful and entertaining.  He shares great stories from his time at the academy and the fleet to illustrate the lessons he shares with us.

I encourage everyone to order and read his book It's Your Ship and his ebook What I Learned at the Naval Academy.

It's Your Ship - If you want to order a copy go to the Academy Insider Amazon store at https://www.amazon.com/

Captain Abrashoff recommends John Maxwell's The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:  Follow Them and People Will Follow You.

To learn more about Captain Abrashoff please find him at the Ageis Performance Group at https://www.apgleadership.com/

Be sure to review and subscribe to The Academy Insider with Grant Vermeer podcast on Apple Podcasts or where you listen to podcasts.

Follow the Academy Insider on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Speaker 1:

This is your host Grant Vermeer Naval Academy class of 2017 and I'm your Academy Insider. It's my goal to be your guide through the Naval Academy experience by sharing my stories and providing you insight information into the life of a midshipman.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible]

Speaker 3:

Academy insider is in no way officially affiliated with the United States Naval Academy. All of the content on Academy insider is my own and does not reflect the views of the United States Naval Academy, the United States Navy, nor the department of defense. So right before my time as a detailer at the Naval Academy and my dad sent me a book called, it's your ship, and he's like, Hey dude, you have to read this book. It provides a ton of great insight. It's really refreshing, really different than a lot of different leadership books, and I think you'll get a lot out of it, and you definitely need to read it before you start your time being a detailer. So as a result, I picked up a copy of eights, your ship and loved every second of it. And today guys on Academy insider, we're joined by Mike or Schaaf who is a Naval Academy graduate, former CEO of the USS Benfold and the author of it's your ship. He tells us all about his time at the Naval Academy. His time as a surface warfare officer has transitioned to the private sector and writing the book and then shares a lot of great leadership insight, an excerpt from his book. I think you guys are really going to enjoy this episode, so make sure to tune in. You guys are going to get a lot out of it and I really hope you enjoy it. Thanks. Alright. Hey, thank you sir, so much for coming on the Academy insider podcast. Really appreciate having you

Speaker 4:

my pleasure grant. Looking forward to it.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. Uh, before we get going in today's episode, if you don't mind providing our audience a little bit of background about yourself, where you're from, how you came to the Naval Academy, but then also a little background about your midshipman self, what company you're in, what your major was, and just a little bit about you as a midshipman.

Speaker 4:

Sure. I'm from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And I played football and I was offered a scholarships to temple Duke, William and Mary West Virginia and all three service academies. And I had never been to Annapolis and they said, come down. And I visited it and I loved it. Uh, I love the water. I live on the water now in Miami beach and so I've always been drawn to the water and, um, and that's why I went to the Naval Academy. People think it was because of academics. It was because, um, I went there to play football and, and I loved the water. And so, um, I was majored in political science. Okay. And I was in a, uh, 29th company and, um, I w I'm proud to say that I graduated in the top 80% of my class. So, uh, I was fortunate to graduate, but, um, uh, that's my story. And on servant selection, I became a surface warfare officer and, um, I was fortunate to get assigned to, uh, so you get your service selection by class rank. And so those at the upper tier always picked the newest ships, but they're competing against other top tier officers. I was assigned an old frigate, uh, that was like 30 years old and I was competing against officers who couldn't make it on other ships. So it was easy to stand out. And I had a, a commanding officer, uh, who used to yell at us until veins popped in his neck and forehead and the other officers couldn't stand the pressure. But, you know, I let things roll off me if I screw up. Um, you know, I'll take it a board. But I was the only one who ever volunteered for special evolutions, like refueling, anchoring, uh, towing, uh, because I could take the pressure from the commanding officer. And so I got pretty good at being a ship driver. And as an incident I won the, uh, CINCPAC fleet, um, ship handler of the year award that I was the only incident that year two to win that award. It was because I got ship handling time. Whereas the other officers who went to the cruisers were fighting against 30 other officers for bridge time. I had it all to myself. And so it ended up being, um, a good thing that I went to, uh, a second tier ship because you were able to stand out and get more opportunity.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely. And did, would you say that top experience, uh, the USS Albert David, did that kind of show you a little bit at an early time in the Navy how you wanted to command or did it even potentially cause you to think about maybe getting out? Was it a negative experience enough to do that? Or was it just something that, you know, your CEO screamed a lot but you just got used to it and then it was whatever after a couple months.

Speaker 4:

To be honest, I thought about getting out every day. I saw my commanding officers and I thought, I think I can do better than this. And so the thought of commanding a ship is what drove me my entire career and wanting to prove that I could do it differently without the yelling in the screaming and the berating of people. And so you can learn from bad leaders just as much as you can from great leaders. And so every commanding officer I would pick traits that I don't want to emulate and pick the traits that, that appealed to me, that I would like to incorporate into my own leadership style.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely.

Speaker 4:

From that commanding officer, there were no traits that I wanted to emulate, only ones that I wanted to avoid. And

Speaker 3:

so you joke about graduating the top 80% of your class with SLO. What you wanted to do though, is that always what you were like thinking about service selecting or was that, um, I guess something that just happened, uh, your first year?

Speaker 4:

Well, um, I'm six, four and bunks on submarines are only six feet long. I would have to climb into the fetal position when went out on familiarization cruises on subs and I have bad eyes so I couldn't fly. So the only option for me was to be a swell. And if I had it to do over again, that's what I would choose today.

Speaker 5:

Absolutely. Um, and how, how was your Naval Academy experience? Uh, what did you feel like, um, or I guess, how would you describe your four years in Annapolis and how did it make an impact on your time as a officer in the Navy but also currently now, today?

Speaker 4:

To be honest, um, it is as you know, it is tough being an athlete and completing all the military requirements at the Naval Academy and I found it extraordinarily tough to do both. And so what I remember most, well the personal thing that I remember most is the lack of sleep at the Naval Academy and uh, I could never get enough sleep and I was always tired in class and that practice. And so, uh, that's the thing that I remember most is how sleep deprived I was.

Speaker 5:

And sir, I can guarantee that is still absolutely the case. Uh, Oh man, click, go into class. It's such a struggle. I don't think I probably sat down in my chair and only about 15 to 20% of my classes because there was, there was just no chance

Speaker 4:

is this my roommates road crew and he worked out even more and he used class as a place to sleep asleep. Just hot hide in the reefer jacket. Just that exactly. Sliding back.

Speaker 5:

Uh, absolutely. Yeah. So this as we're recording this episode right now, this past Saturday, Navy beat air force in the football game in a truly an all time classic, probably with air force week and army weeks and all that stuff that usually provide a little bit of chaos, a little bit of fun within the brigade of midshipmen. I was just going to turn over the question to you. Uh, do you have any best stories from the Academy, whether they be entertaining monumental? I only ask because usually a lot of the great stories come out of the air force and the army weeks.

Speaker 4:

So at the academies we have exchange students and we also have exchange officers. And we had an army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Palmer who taught chemistry and he was a great teacher. He was a great instructor, but he drove an old Volvo and for army week, several enterprising midshipman went to his wife and said at the pep rally, we want to destroy his Volvo. So she was in on it cause she wanted to retire. Well, if he was totally unaware of this in outcomes, his Volvo and the brigade of midshipmen and proceeded to destroy it right in front of him with sledgehammers and everything else, it was a total total wreck. But that's the type of[inaudible] that goes on during service weeks. Uh, absolutely.

Speaker 5:

Great. And so you mentioned that you're part of the Navy football

Speaker 3:

brotherhood and member of the 29th company all this time now, do you still have the ability to keep in touch with your teammates, your classmates, uh, and even your roommates now to this? To this day?

Speaker 4:

So by and large the people I keep in contact with my roommates and over the years I had five of them and live in South beach now and every year the five of them plus their spouses come spend a long weekend here. Next year we're going to um, the, our army, the Navy Notre Dame game in Dublin, Ireland. And every year we kind of do like a photo album of our visit here. But if you asked me the, a lifelong bonds that have been forged, it's with my five roommates and when we get together it, we show the spouses that we have not matured maybe seven years. We revert back to being 18 year olds. And they're, they're totally amused by, but they don't understand it, but only somebody from the Naval Academy understands.

Speaker 3:

That's hilarious. I love that because now already there've been two weddings for people from my company, so just like you served, my best friends still to this day are from my company specifically and my roommates, two guys, Jeremiah Hardy and Christian Blanchard. I just love him to death and I've seen him twice basically since graduation. And they're both been at weddings. And I can assure you as well that when we get back together, there has been no, no growth and maturity. Just graduated class of 2018. Oh really? Fantastic. Oh, awesome.

Speaker 4:

He's on the U S Decatur USS Decatur. And uh, for spring break he said, uncle Mike, can I come down to South beach for spring break? And I said, sure. He said, well, can I bring seven classmates? So brought seven of his classmates, uh, company mates and two of them were his roommates that he spent all four years with. I mean, that's a bond that nobody in my company ever did stay with the same roommates the whole time, but they are thick as thieves. And so, um, they came down to South beach and uh, and I know a lot of people down here and one of the premier hotels, there's a bowling alley in the basement and um, there are four lanes and I reserved them two lanes at midnight and they go over at midnight bottle service already paid for by uncle sugar. And Juan Miller, the pro bowl linebacker from the younger Broncos was there with a squad of people. They didn't have a lane. So by mid Shipman gave on Miller one of the two lanes until they bold next a Von Miller the whole night. Anyway, they're Instagramming their whole 10 days down here. And uh, a month later I'm out in Phoenix, a Fern association event and this association sponsored, um, 10 universities around the country to do projects and three of them were the service academies and they take me to the Naval Academy booth and there was second class midship in there and they, she said, your uncle Mike, he said the whole brigade knows about you and I'm great with these eight had and the whole brigade wants to come to your house for spring break next year. But that was my contribution.

Speaker 5:

Oh, that's awesome. Did they come, did you host all a thousand midshipman down in South beach this year?

Speaker 4:

So it's funny when you know, the eight we're here, there would be mids in Fort Lauderdale on spring break and they would see the Instagram posts. And so everyday the eight would grow by like five or six. One day we had 20 new shifts in the swimming pool out here playing basketball. I mean it was famous for the spring breakers in South Florida. Uh, uh, that's fantastic. I know that for me when I was in, I'd always go home to Altoona and put on 10 pounds or meeting. There was nothing to do.

Speaker 5:

Uh, man. Uh, so, so those, those are all great stories. I do want to transition here shortly. Um, so you've, you have written a ton of extremely popular, really acclaimed books, including it's your ship, it's our ship and get your ship together. But I want to start off by asking you about, uh, your ebook. Um, and it's kind of a published article entitled what you, what I learned at the Naval Academy, what you learned at the Naval Academy. Um, if you don't mind just talking a little bit about that, cause it sounds like from the book that maybe you didn't necessarily have, as you were saying, they super fun spring break experiences or just generally a super fun time overall. But what did you learn at the Naval Academy and what were some of the key takeaways you have from your time in Annapolis?

Speaker 4:

So our plebe summer, um, at night after dinner, uh, we would go over to my hand hall for lectures and, um, they would bring in a pow is from the Vietnam war. And they would, um, tell us their stories. And I remembered, you know, ma, we didn't have air conditioning back then in any of the academic rooms or in Bancroft hall. And so we'd just sit there and sweat, you know, it's 95 degrees, a hundred percent humid. He would sit there and sweat and our white works. But I would listen to the, um, pow and their tremendous, um, stories of courage and perseverance. And I would sit there and ask myself, I wonder if I ever get called upon why I have the right stuff to do what they did. So if you asked me, um, what was most informative in my career, it wasn't the academics, although that's important. It was, um, watching heroes present their stories and then ask yourself, do I have the right stuff? If I'm ever called upon until, um, it was, you know, it was guys like John McCain, um, Dick Stratton, Douglas brand. Heck no. I mean these are names that, you know, I still remember this day from that lecture series. Um, and during clean suburb.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely. And you also talk about specifically how misery loves company and how plebe summer forged some bonds for, for you that that lasts a lifetime. Can you explain a little bit about what you think, what you see the role of plebe summer being in the future development of a future Naval officer and their leadership journey?

Speaker 4:

Well, at the time I couldn't understand any of it or how it was going to make me a better person. Um, but what it does do is force you to stop thinking about yourself and instead focus on the team and your squad in your, in your shipmates. And so you forge a sense of camaraderie in the esprit de Corps that you pull for each other and that you support each other. And you know, your high school years may have been about you and your outstanding performance, but plead summer is more about the group and the team. Um, this so that you stop thinking about yourself, but for the success of, you know, your shipmates.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely. Kind of that entire idea of collaboration, communication and teamwork just to get through an extremely difficult time is extremely important. And you talk about someone who really helped your entire group and you specifically, and that was your friend Roy Bishop. Uh, and how he kind of taught you how to lead with strengths. And you mentioned that in your article. What exactly do you mean by that? And what did you take away from Roy's leadership during plebe summer that has been so monumental that you continue to talk about him to this day?

Speaker 4:

So, um, Roy went to naps. And for the parent of a future midshipman listening, you know, we take in approximately 1100 a midship in a year in each class and about 225 of those are reserved for people who go to naps and they're mostly athletes or you know, sailors from the fleet who need help with math and science to get them a foundation. But their year at naps is basically as plebe year at the Naval Academy. Um, and then out of the remaining 900,

Speaker 6:

um, uh,

Speaker 4:

inductees in each class, maybe a hundred or from foreign militaries and foreign navies. And so when you get down to, you know, direct people from high school, out of the 1100, there's only about 650 slots left for direct people coming from high school. So you're fighting for one of the 650 slots. And it's probably one of the most common

Speaker 6:

repetitive, um,

Speaker 4:

processes to get into any university in the country. So for parents, that's what you're up against. If you don't go to naps, you're fighting for one of 650 slots. But, um, my roommate was Roy Bishop and he had been the naps and they give us our sheets and they say, you know, you gotta make your bed. And I know Admiral McRaven has a great book out called make your bed. I never made my bed. I have five older sisters and they did all the work inside the house. And my job was to cut the grass, shovel the snow, paint the house in the summer. I would responsible for outside the house. So I never made my bed. And so then, not only have I never made my bed, uh, I don't, I've never made hospital corners. And so I'm sitting there, you know, struggling and Roy is looking at me like, you idiot. So he teaches me how to make my bed. And so, um, he, he could have kept that knowledge to himself and he could have, you know, been the number one in our squad, uh, because he had that experience that none of us had. But what Roy chose to do was to share that experience with the rest of us so that we can all get through it. And so, um, you know, Roy and I started a business together. Uh, we've been best friends ever since. And so these bonds that you form in plebe summer, uh, last year, entire life, um, and, and it's a great thing. It was probably one of the greatest things about the Academy is those bonds that you've forged.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. Uh, do you mind, sir, just talking a little bit about the business you guys started together and is that still something that you're continuing to this day?

Speaker 4:

So we started it at the height of the financial crisis back in 2008 and we invested in small startups and, um, Roy eventually got his MBA from USC and so he applied his business sense and you know, I kind of opened doors for them in the business community. Um, only one of the three has survived and it's, uh, hasn't made a ton of money, but it's been a learning experience. And, uh, um, but Roy and I have learned along the way as well how tough it is to start a business. And so it gives us an appreciation for, you know, entrepreneurs and people who are willing to take risks. And sometimes you, you hit it big and other times you struggle. Uh, but you know, we, we haven't lost our shirt and, uh, we, we're, we're still hopeful.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely. Great. So in your book, it's your ship, you talk about this, um, thing that you call managing up. So midshipman, especially as plebes and youngsters, uh, they can be 18 or 19 years old and kind of feel like a new sailor checking into a ship. They're still young within the brigade. Do you have any advice or thoughts about how younger mistreatment, especially youngsters, um, can kind of manage up as a midshipman? And how does that translate this idea of managing up to your career in the Navy or Marine Corps as a junior officer?

Speaker 4:

So it's a long answer. Um, before I got commanded the ship, I was chosen as the number two assistant to the secretary of defense. And between me and him as a three star Admiral or general, Colin Powell had the job. Admiral had the job as a three star. John Kelly had the job as a three star. And what's interesting is Colonel madness was my desk decimate. I've known mad dogs since 1995 and worked with them. But anyway, um, so what's interesting about the military is the people that you serve with, you know, go on to do great things. Um, and so, um, also in our office was a guy by the name of dr Ash Carter and he went on to be secretary of defense and Maddis went on to become secretary of defense. So you, um, you really surrounded by quality people and um, but I was working for this three-star army general and my job was to push paper all day long and every day a four foot stack of paper would come into the office. And it was my job to go through this four foot stack and highlight what I thought was important for sec Def to see. Well, I never got any training. They just threw me into the job and the general never trained me. And from my desk I would get this four foot stack of paper down to maybe eight or nine inches. And from my desk, I could watch the general work all day long. And when it came to my stuff, he would throw 90% of what I highlighted and thought was important in the burn bag for destruction, which meant I had like a 10% effective mr anyone. And I'm struggling, I'm failing flailing. And I wasn't happy, uh, because I wasn't effective. And I actually thought about resigning because I told you I think about returning every day. I was very job and I couldn't imagine doing it for another 26 months. And then one day I said, you know what? Before I resign, I'm going to try to train myself to think like the general. And every night he went home from work at eight 30 and I would go into his office and I'm still there at eight 30, which was, you know, it was a very time intensive, a pressure intensive job. But I would take his burn bag and I'd empty that onto his desk. And I'd compare everything of mine that he threw away and compared it to what he sent onto the secretary. And what I tried to do was to get inside his mind and think like him. And by understanding what was important to him, it became important to me. And I eventually got that eight or nine inches of stuff down to maybe one or two inches every day. And I'd sit there and I'd watch him work. And um, he would just rubber stamp everything I sent it. And so I went from having like a 10% effectiveness rating to maybe 97, 98% and I'm feeling good about myself. So I started to play another game with them in meetings they never asked me for. I was not in a leadership position. I was a gopher, I was a paper pusher. But in meetings I would sit in the back row and I would say, you know, I'd watched the presenters brief and I would say to myself, if I'm the general based on what's been presented, what a decision would I make? And I would try to anticipate what he would do. And if he made the same decision that I event that I made, it meant, gee, I can think like a three star if he made a different decision. That meant there was a gap in my training that I needed to go fill. And so, uh, what happened was he started to trust me and because I was always there with the solution before he ever asked for it, I could anticipate what the requirements were, be there with the solution. And he started to trust me and he started delegating responsibility to me. He put me in charge of the sec Def communications team, the security detail, the trip planning team. I had full bird colonels reporting directly to me. And I'm a, I'm an O five commander and, um, I had 45 people reporting to me in a job that was, uh, traditionally, uh, independent contributor job. Um, but it was because I would sit there and see how he made decisions and understand what his thought process was and then be there with the solution, um, before he ever asked for it. And so what people can do as they're coming up through the ranks, watch your boss, find out what's important to him or her, tried to understand how they think and if you can be there, if you can anticipate events and be there with a solution before they ever asked for it, then that's how you become more successful. And that's how you expand your aperture because you can see the big picture as opposed to just doing tasks. You're seeing the big picture of of why it's important and how you, how you play into it. And so what I would advise, you know any plebe on up under, try to put yourself in the, in the mind of who you're reporting to. Understand what's important to them and if it becomes important to you then then you become successful.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. Yeah. I love that. In your book, you talk greatly about the influence of secretary Perry on your leadership. Were there any other key leadership takeaways you have from your time working with him in addition to kind of thinking like your boss and just continue to do that to continue to be more successful? Were there any other key leadership takeaways you have from your time serving under him?

Speaker 4:

Um, he was a very humble man and he led with a sense of humility. And I call this leadership style excellence without arrogant. And, and it didn't matter what your rank was, you could be a private or you could be a general, if you had an idea how to improve something 1% he wanted to hear from you. And um, I took that with me to the ship. I interviewed every sailor individually and I said, you know, look, we can't change the rest of the Navy, but if you see something that we can improve 1% I want to hear from you. And so what we were about on the ship wasn't radical change. It was just incremental change. In a very large organization, you're improving 1% a day, nobody's going to touch it.

Speaker 5:

Absolutely. And you talk all about that. And in your book it's your ship. Do you mind just telling my audience a little bit if they haven't read the book a little bit more about your book and what all is inside?

Speaker 4:

So when I took command, it wasn't the worst ship in the Pacific fleet, but you know, we were near the bottom. Um, the quarter before I took command, our retention rate was 8%. Um, we had a high accident rate and there was, the morale was very poor on the ship. And I'm here thinking about all the things I can't influence. You know, I don't get to choose the people I work with. I can't go back and ask for more money to get the job done. Um, I can't choose our missions. And so, and I'm thinking, you know, I'm not smart enough to turn this around cause as, as we discussed, I graduated in the top 80% of it. So, um, I said, I'm going to stop obsessing over the things I can't influence and instead I'm going to obsess over the things that I can. And I realized that one of the things I can influence is myself and how I show up to the people I'm trying to lead. Am I leading with ego or am I coming across with a sense of humility and, um, I can change our culture. And people get wrapped around the axle about what culture is. To me, it's very simple. Would you want your son or daughter or your boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife to come work for you every day and see in action. If you're proud, you're on the right track, if you're in bed, if you're embarrassed, fix it. And I tried to fix everything I was embarrassed about and we treated our people with respect and dignity. I interviewed every one of them individually. And what's amazing is the same crew that was performing near the bottom in 15 months. Uh, we were awarded the Spokane trophy, which is the trophy for most combat capable ship in the Pacific fleet. And um, my Commodore at the time was a guy you probably heard of Jim, Steve Rita's who went on to be a four star commander of our nature NATO troops and emailed me and says, Mike, um, congratulations on winning the Spokane trophy. But he said, don't get too cocky and arrogant. When I had command of a ship in the Atlantic fleet, my ship won the Battenberg cup, which is the award for Bishop. And the Atlantic fleet. And he said, Oh, by the way, to this day, my ship still holds the Navy's record and gunnery of 103.6 out of a possible 105 points. He said, until you can beat my scoring gunnery, I don't want to hear from you and I don't want to hear from us has been full. I never told the young lady, I never told the gunnery crew how to do it. I taped that email to the gun Mount three weeks later, went out, shot gunnery, shot 104.4 and I let the gunnery crew right the email response back to the Admiral, letting him know what he could do in his Battenberg cup. So anyway, it's truly a bottom to leader in our industry. Type story in your three and four after I left, um, uh, Benfold won the award for best ship in the entire Navy and throughout my career, um, I saw ships that fell apart. They, the commanding officer left because everything was being held together through force of their personality. Uh, but they don't, it's not good for the ship. If the captain does everything and it falls apart today, the captain leaves. And so I always tried to, um, lead and prepare for the future so that because I don't, I don't think that commanding officer's final fitness report should be given to them the day they leave. I think it should be given a year after they leave because if you've trained for the future, um, your, your ultimate performance should be judged a year after you leaves the ship. And so, um, in your three and four after I left the ship, they won the award for best ship in the Navy. And so, um, but anyway, we get featured in fast company magazine and um, the Harvard business review and um, literary literary agents started calling. They said you to write a book and I'm just thinking, get, I mean, I grew up in a house in Altoona, Pennsylvania of 10 people, seven women and three men. We had one bathroom in our home growing up. And the house I live in in South beach has five bathrooms, every one every day, just because I can, you know, I mean, you know the, the things you remember that drives you. Yeah. But, um, so that's what I write about and it's your ship, our experience and the lessons that I learned as the commanding officer and the publisher thought I might sell 20,000 copies if I bought first 10,000. Yeah. And, um, and it's been 17 years, but it's, your ship is now sold over 1.1 million copies. It's published in 10 different languages. And so I'm very blessed. I'm very fortunate and I don't, I don't take it for granted, but, uh, I'm working just as hard today as I did in the Navy and, and since I left the Navy.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely. And, and sir, I'm, I'm a huge fan of yours. So I actually read, uh, that book before my time as a detailer during plebe summer. And one thing that specifically stuck out with me, and it's something that I kind of continued to this day is you have a a line in the book that says that as I saw it, my job was to create the climate that enabled people to unleash their potential. How did you as a CEO of Benfold really try to embody and embrace that culture of like, Hey, I want to give you guys the power and the opportunity to be the best you can be and make that 1% contribution in a system in the Navy that generally promotes or advertises and rewards micromanagement and getting like little things done and like really being kind of hands on the whole time. How did you really embody that culture on board your war?

Speaker 4:

Public address microphone right at my desk. And I literally interviewed every sailor individually, all 310 of them. And in the interview I asked him three things. What do you like most about Benfold? What do you like least? What would you change if you were the captain of the ship? And if they gave me an actionable idea in that interview, I hit the public address microphone right then and there before the officers, before the chiefs knew about it, I hit the microphone and I said, Benfold, this is the captain. This is the idea. I just got, this is who I got it from. It makes sense to me. We're going to implement it right now. I want your full support. And sailors took notice. And so before they ever came up to see me, um, for the interview, they'd have their ideas already thought out and if I could implement it right then and there we did it. And that's how we created that culture by which they knew I was serious, uh, saying, this isn't your father's Navy. Um, we think it's a better Navy. Um, and we went from being that top down command and control to one where, um, people could float ideas, uh, without fear of retribution because there was never, and there was never retribution against anybody on that ship. Even if it was a crazy idea, I'd look them in the eye and I'd say, I appreciate your thought, but we can't do it and this is why. And so I never belittled or never demeaned and it's just about treating people with respect and, and to be honest, the way I wish I had been treated as I came up through the ranks but wasn't. And so that's what we tried to create on the ship.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. That's really special. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. And now you've transitioned to the private sector. You've been in the private sector for close to 20 years now. Uh, do you have any for all the parents out there that are listening or anything? Um, so your, your time in the Navy and now your time in the private sector, do you have any words of advice or comfort for any parents who are considering sending their kids to the Naval Academy? You had their neighbors or have their kids in the Naval Academy, but the Naval Academy is the right place to be.

Speaker 4:

Well, it's not the right place for everybody. Um, but I've got two nephews who went, uh, one's a Marine major today and one's an Ensign in the Navy. And, uh, I'm extraordinarily proud of them, but, um, they need done, the parents need to understand the Naval Academy's one of the toughest institutions to get into, um, in the country. It's got a higher acceptance rate than even Harvard. That, that students who get extended, uh, admission have a higher acceptance rate than, than people go into Harvard. And on the other end for hiring, you know, when your time is up, um, the, the Naval Academy ranks number 12 on the list of universities that hiring managers want to hire their graduates. This is out of all the universities in the country. Um, and so if, and I think West point is under, they may be like 22 or 25. I don't think the air force Academy is on there. But you know, I've thought about why is the Naval Academy so high and it's[inaudible] because we have to adjust to change. And, and I've been in the private sector for 19 years now, and a lot of people get set in their ways and they don't want to change and they don't want to grow and they don't want to anticipate what the future looks like for their business. And so they fall behind and they lose relevancy to their business. Um, but I think Naval Academy graduates have shown that we are adaptable to change and that we anticipate what needs to be done. And so hiring managers and business leaders from around the country actively search out, um, they will guide them in graduates. And so as a parent, um, what would drive me is where are they going to get a great education? Yup. Uh, and two, it's free. That always helps. Although not everything that's free, you know, we, we pay, we earned[inaudible] patients, but also what's going to set us up for success in the future and the results are in and enable Academy graduates are highly sought after in the private sector. Yeah,

Speaker 3:

absolutely. Uh, that's funny you mentioned that. My parents always joke, at least, I swear they joke that I'm the favorite child because I was free. My brother and my sister made expensive choices for their, uh, college education. So yeah. Uh, that, that piece use it. Like you said, we definitely earn it, but uh, that is

Speaker 4:

because with the, um, and my father passed away in 2003, but with the royalties from itchier ship, I bought my mother a new house in state college, Pennsylvania. I bought her a Prius. I pay all her utilities and her friends in state college thinks that she only has one child and that his brothers and sisters, she only talks about one of the seven. I get it.

Speaker 3:

Oh man. All right. Uh, well thank you so much for all that right now. Uh, on Academy insider, we ask all of our former midshipman uh, to answer a round of lightning, a lightning round of questions. Uh, are you ready to go? Certainly. All right. First spot is the Naval Academy is known to be a tremendously beautiful campus. What is your favorite spot on the yard?

Speaker 4:

Probably my rack. Yes, your value third spot. But no, I loved hospital point as it was quiet out there and you know, nobody yells at you and you can go run and work out there. But hospital point was great.

Speaker 5:

Love that. Uh, you say, uh, in your book it's your ship that first priority is good food. And based on your appreciation for that, what was your favorite meal in King hall?

Speaker 4:

Well, I don't know if they let, so my least favorite meal, I don't know if they still serve it with hand. Francis do they still serve?

Speaker 5:

I don't think I ever had that.

Speaker 4:

It's this piece of ham that's wrapped in cheese that's deep fried and I'm sure it's got like 4,000 calories and that's probably why they survived. But everybody always joked about him, Francisco. But um, to be honest, um, I compared the food at the Naval Academy to all those other universities where I thought about one, the Naval Academy by far had the, had the best food, um, of, of any institution. So, um, I'll tell you what it was. It was bear claws in the morning.

Speaker 5:

Very fair calls in the morning are really good. Yup.

Speaker 4:

And Roy worship every night after dinner would get down to the steering and get a corn dog. And so a, I'd never had a corn dog in my life until we went down to the steerage and we'd get corn dog.

Speaker 5:

That's great. I was a big smoothie guy myself, but nightly stay at nightly steerage runs there. You guys[inaudible] we didn't have smoothies back then. You have air conditioning now. So you guys are, we do. It's like good luck. Yeah. Real soft. Good life. They're living a good life. Um, all right. Next question is who or what, uh, has, has the biggest influence to leadership style that, uh, you know today that you can trace back to the Naval Academy?

Speaker 4:

That's a great question. Um, so we had a company officer who was a seal. His name was bill Payne and, uh, he was an outstanding, uh, company officer. And he taught me a lot about leadership. Um, and what he taught me was, um, he's not afraid to get in there and you know, he wasn't, he wouldn't sit at his chair and bark orders. Uh, he would be in there with us and so he would be out there for PE, you know, and running and whatnot. And so he showed that an officer can be a of the people but also above them. And so we had tremendous respect because of the way he treated us. But we also knew that, you know, he was, uh, the company officer, he was Lieutenant and that he was in charge, but, um, he was a more inclusive leader than other company officers, um, that I had.

Speaker 5:

Yeah, absolutely. Um, all right. I also know that you're a big reader and a lot of different topics and genres. What is your favorite book? Well, I'd have to say it's your ship.

Speaker 4:

We've no other book. Uh, it would be your ship. Um, John Maxwell has a great book, 21 irrefutable laws of leadership. Um, and I know John Maxwell and he's a fantastic guy and that's why I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. But, uh, you know, I never learned much out of a book. I'm experiential. I'm an experiential learner. And so, um, the key is, and so one of the things that has made me successful postnatal post Navy is a lot of people out there are academics telling people how to do things. And the respect that we from the military have in the private sector is that we are actually out there doing it, uh, with not all the resources that we'd like under difficult conditions. Um, but yet we get it done. And if you think about, um, the institutions of government that are respected by our fellow citizens, it's the military. And, um, and I w I was getting on a plane in Dallas, um, probably three weeks ago. Um, and I'm sitting, I, I'm sitting there in my seat and this older couple walks by and I've got my Naval Academy ring on and the gentleman said, um, is that a Superbowl ring? I said, uh, no sir, it's from the Naval Academy. And he said, that's even better than the Superbowl. So, um, what, what active duty and people at the millet service academies probably don't appreciate is the tremendous amount of respect, uh, that we have from our fellow citizens, uh, because of our sacrifice that we make, but also because of what we're taught that we don't realize we're being taught how to be adaptable, how to anticipate the future, how to do what if scenarios and be prepared that, uh, that makes us highly sought after in the private sector. Absolutely. Um, all right. Moving on to what is your greatest memory from your four years and Annapolis? I would say the, the lack of sleep. Um, you know, and uh, and, and so I don't know if you guys still do it. You guys probably don't have room inspections anymore or you probably are, you probably have maids that come clean your rooms. But, uh, because I didn't like making my bed, um, I would sleep on top of the sheets, uh, during the week so that I didn't have to make the bed every morning. And the sheets have to go out once a week to get washed. And so the night before is called hotel night where you get to sleep in between the sheets and whereas otherwise you're just laying on top of the bed spread. And so probably hotel night was a big, a fond memory of being able to sleep between them.

Speaker 3:

That's, that's awesome. Um, and all right, final question, sir. What advice would you give someone who is either a midstream and a potential midshipman or currently a junior officer like myself to focus on to being the best leader that we can be at this stage in our life.

Speaker 4:

So if you're in high school, um, and have any interest in attending the Naval Academy, you can Google the, um, the requirement or the, um, attributes of the incoming class of plebes and you can find out what they did in high school and then try to strive to, to hit as many checkmarks as you can. Like varsity sports has big community services, big, uh, boy Scouts is big national honor society. So if you're a freshman in high school, um, and wanna to prepare yourself to be competitive, you should look at the attributes of the incoming class and, um, gear yourself towards that. And so, um, if you're in the, if you're a midshipman now you need to think about, um, what is it that you want to do when you get commissioned and what drives you? And it, it shouldn't be getting promoted. What should drive us is keeping our fellow citizens. And so every day I would ask myself, is what we are doing today, making our shipmates safer and making our country safer. And if not that I'm not going to participate in it. So I didn't get involved in politics or, you know, schmoozing up the chain of command. It was what's gonna make us the safest, what's gonna get, help us get to mission, accomplish the the best. And then once you graduate, it should be, I think you should prepare yourself to stay in the military, but also prepare yourself, um, for a future career somewhere else. That way we have options. What you never want to do is to um, preclude yourself from having options. I would see Navy captains retire after 30 years and they had no plan for what they were going to do the rest of their life. They didn't prepare themselves for anything and they were awfully unsatisfied after 30 years in the military because they didn't have a plan for their future. So whether you plan to stay five years, 20 years, 30 years, you should always be in the back of your mind. Be thinking about what your next life is going to be like because you know you're going to be living till 90 or a hundred years old. You know the days of retiring at 50 years old are not going to happen. And even if they did, you'd be bored to death. My mother taught junior high school for 41 years, retired at age 60 and then continued to substitute teach three days a week for the next 24 years to age 86. So with technology and with health improvements, we're going to live a long time and we need to think about what it is that's going to turn us on that causes us to get out of bed in the morning and to be excited, um, that we can also make some money at. So that, you know, we can live a nice lifestyle. And so I look forward to getting up every morning now, uh, because you know, there's so many things that I could do and what people need to be doing now in the military is to prepare for your career. But if you decide to get out, what's your, what are you, how are you keeping your options open so that you're marketable doing something that you have a passion for. And that would be my advice is to figure out what you have that passion for and then prepare yourself for it.

Speaker 3:

Awesome.[inaudible] thank you so much, sir. For your time and talking with all of us today about everything that we did discuss. Again, I read it's your ship right before my time as a detailer and it was highly motivating to me, uh, what I could do as a midshipman but also as a leader in the fleet. So I have your book listed in the show notes of this episode, uh, and in my book recommendations on my website and sir if someone is energized, but what by what they heard today, if they really appreciated what you're saying and are interested in your book or any of your books or any of your work, uh, where can they go to learn more about you, uh, and more about your, uh, your ventures.

Speaker 4:

My website is APG leadership.com and my email is M Amber schaaf@apgleadership.com. Fantastic. You're doing great work. Keep it up and good luck with your career.

Speaker 3:

Thank you very much sir. I appreciate it. And to the Academy insider audience. Thanks so much for listening and I hope you guys have a great day.

Speaker 4:

Thanks.

Speaker 3:

Thank you all so much for listening to the Academy insider podcast. Please leave me a review on iTunes and be sure to subscribe. If you want to learn more about the United States Naval Academy or the midshipman experience, make sure to go to my webpage, www.academy insider.com or you can go to my Facebook page, Academy insider, where you'll find articles, videos, and other kinds of content related to the maturity experience. All links discussed in the show are listed in the show notes, so make sure to go check those out. Um, green for me are the Academy insider. Thank you so much for letting me be your guide to the United States Naval Academy.