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Mike Abrashoff

Former Commander, USS Benfold and Author, It’s Your Ship

When Mike Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold, morale was low, turnover was high and performance ranked at the bottom of the Pacific Fleet. Twelve months later the ship was the benchmark for performance — the shining star . . . using the very same crew. This inspiring talk is based on the vital leadership lessons Abrashoff learned as he led the remarkable turnaround of the ship. The first lesson was Abrashoff’s realization that before the ship’s performance could improve, his own leadership style had to change from the traditional command and control model. When the crew would present a problem, Abrashoff became known for responding “What would YOU do? It’s YOUR ship!” His Leadership Roadmap principles created a high performance culture and empowered his crew to take charge and use ingenuity and initiative to improve every aspect of the way things were done. Abrashoff’s presentation leaves audiences with the tools and inspiration to lead differently and elevate organizational performance to new levels.

The One Variable Leaders Can Control

Travels From:

Miami, FL

Fee Range:


Favorite Food:

Roast Beef & Mashed Potatoes

Mike Abrashoff's Bio

Mike Abrashoff is at the center of one of the most remarkable modern-day stories of organizational transformation. At the age of 36, the Navy selected Mike to become Commander of USS Benfold.  At the time he was the most junior commanding officer in the Pacific Fleet – on a ship that was plagued by low morale, high turnover, and abysmal performance evaluations. Few thought that the ship could improve – yet 12 months later the ship was ranked #1 in performance – using the same crew.  People were amazed and the lesson was clear – leadership matters and culture is everything. 

In many ways, the USS Benfold was actually an extreme example of the same problems facing many organizations today.  That’s why dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal 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.

Mike is clear, “I didn’t turn the ship around – my crew did that.  What I did was to reinvent my leadership style and create an environment where they felt safe, empowered and supported.  When they 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 solution was to establish a set of management principles that he calls The Leadership Roadmap. At the core of his leadership approach on the USS 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.”

Mike Abrashoff

Partial Client List:

  • A&W Food Services of Canada
  • Applebee’s
  • Best Western International
  • Benihana
  • Bruegger’s Bagels
  • Carnival Cruise Line
  • Cheesecake Factory
  • Chick-Fil-A
  • Dave & Buster’s
  • Denny’s
  • Drury Hotels
  • Five Guys Enterprise
  • FedEx
  • Franchise Times
  • Home Depot
  • In-N-Out Burgers
  • InterContinental Hotels Group
  • KFC
  • Lowe’s
  • Marcos Franchising, LLC
  • Massage Envy
  • Olive Garden Restaurants
  • Papa Murphy’s
  • P.F. Chang’s
  • Qdoba
  • Red Robin Gourmet
  • Orangetheory Fitness
  • Starbucks
  • Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide
  • Texas Roadhouse
  • UPS
  • VeriSign
  • 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, COO Five Guys Enterprises, LLC
  • 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, VP National Association of Chain Drug Stores
  • 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®
  • Mike Abrashoff recently spoke at our annual Summit and we have had many, many, amazing reviews from our franchisees. Mike customized his presentation to hit a bull’s eye around our learning objectives. We have been challenged with helping our team with knowledge, skills and actionable tools to connect with the wide range of generations we have in our system. Though Mike’s core message was about extraordinary leadership, he really drove home key learnings on how to connect with anyone – regardless of their generational viewpoint! He was amazingly easy to work with and we all loved how low-key he was. Mike’s message is great for everyone and he gave our coaches many actionable items to take back into their studios. We LOVED working with Mike and would definitely hire him again!

    Amanda Avila, Events Manager Orangetheory Fitness

Mike Abrashoff's Keynotes

It’s Your Ship - Achieving Breakthrough Performance

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

The Virtual Leader's Roadmap

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 the 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.

No Limits — Don't Let Goals Become Limitations

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.

Go Deeper with Half-Day and Full-Day Programs

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.

Additional Resources

Video Clips

Our People Are Watching

Creating a Culture of Yes

Stay Safe in Tough Times

Focusing on What’s Important

Becoming the Best Ship in the U.S. Navy

People Don’t Come to Work to Fail

Build Trust to Get Honest Feedback

Book Jackets
It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Mike Abrashoff
Get Your Ship Together: How Great Leaders Inspire Ownership from the Keel by Mike Abrashoff
It's Our Ship: The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership by Mike Abrashoff
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