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It was a revelation for the commodore.


The book is about leadership, but it is also about taking a tough situation and turning it completely around. The book is a metaphor for how managers who have brains, good listening skills, strategic competencies and flexibility — and willing underlings — can take a non-producing organization make it successful. The key points in this book:

Good managers lead by example

Listening is more than just having open ears; a good manager has to have an open mind and truly hear what is being conveyed to him by anyone no matter how lowly the position within the organization

Managers need to communicate their purpose and their vision to their teams

A climate of trust must be created for any positive changes to occur

Without taking calculated risks, not much will change for the better

Strong managers know how to build up their employees and how to generate a feeling of unity within the organization

Take Aways

One of the most impressive things that managers should take away from this book is what Abrashoff did in handling a racially charged conflict. When Abrashoff, as commander of a Navy ship, was obliged to punish two black sailors and one white sailor following a fight with racial overtones, he handled the situation with authority but with compassion too. The participants in the fisticuffs were busted, but the commander to help them become better people and more effective servicemen also mentored them. The two lessons his crew learned from Abrashoffs mix of punishment and mentoring: a) take peoples “background and circumstances” into consideration prior to doling out judgment; and b) help “wrongdoers” to become “better citizens rather than discarding them” (pp. 178-79).

It is easy for a manager to fire an employee when he or she makes a stupid mistake or gets into a serious conflict. But if anything can be learned from Abrashoffs example, giving a person a second chance and actually going out of your way to mentor the person sends a powerful message. When someone got into trouble, he brought them in and personally counseled them. Moreover, managers should read this book and learn; to wit, Abrashoff made it a point to interview every sailor on his ship, 15 minutes at a time, until he had met and gotten to know everyone on board. “Show me a manager who ignores the power of praise,” Abrashoff wrote (p. 141), “and Ill show you a lousy manager.” In fact on his ship the commander was authorized to give 15 medals a year for excellence in carrying out duties. “I wanted to err on the side of excess, so in my first year I passed out 115” (p. 146). I recommend this.

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