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“ISI’s work with GeoEngineers at our annual shareholders meeting was dynamic and extremely beneficial. Her ability to engage the audience was outstanding and we greatly appreciated her willingness to adapt the program to our specific needs. This was one of the


What can business people learn from a Navy Captain?

A leader learns the power of praise to raise ROI and productivity on his team

  1. Feedback
  2. Coaching for performance
  3. Motivation

From "It's Your Ship" Captain Michael Abrashoff. Hatchett Book Group Publisher.

I have a high school friend and we have a typical military rivalry in that I was in the Army Air Cavalry, he a Marine pilot. I should give up on the rivalry because he was a fine Marine and I was only an average soldier as told in my story "you can do better." That story may interest you as it tells of the power of constructive feedback and coaching from my own very personal experience.

He and I like to discuss leadership development and it often it turns to the execution based leadership we saw first hand in our time in the military. The military is clearly not the only place to learn these skills, but it is a great place to witness and learn both good and bad leadership qualities and behaviors. I told him that I had been reading "It's your ship" written by Michael Abrashoff about his taking over a poorly managed and functioning Navy Destroyer, and what he did to turn it around. I found the book and its lessons to be especially strong for my clients in transit and transportation as it's constituent parts and mission what leaders in this industry deal with daily. Not life or death but a daily need to execute and produce in a highly charged, and often chaotic environment.

From "It's your ship" Captain Michael Abrashoff. Hatchett Book Group Publisher.

Abrashoff describes his experience in turning one of the poorest performing Navy ships into one of the finest in the entire fleet. The book and its lessons were a clear and well written guide to turning around any team in an underperforming environment. I wanted to dissect a few of his ideas into action items that any manager could use. I called him and asked his permission to do so. Like most people of his stature and accomplishments he agreed without hesitating. A good and open man whose letting me use his words and ideas are furthers examples in my experience of the generosity we see in the finest leaders and managers.

This is one simple but sound idea for those in charge and any who would like to be.

Captain Abrashoff:

"My officers knew that they could always use me in their leadership toolkits. They never hesitated to knock on my door and say, 'Hey, Captain, next time you're out walking around the ship, Sonarman Smith really aced that databank' or 'Seaman Jones is doing a helluva job in the laundry. Could you stop by and tell him how much you appreciate him?'

Kevin Catlin notes: Steal this idea, now! Take it a step further. Let your managers know that you are interested in their reports of who did something extraordinary. It could be as simple as them truly owning a project, or taking on an assignment outside of their comfort zone, heck, answering the phones day in and out with a great attitude would make the cut, any behavior or result you want to see the team do more of. Make it part of their job to find these pockets of excellence. When they deliver to you the person who is performing at peak level or was situationally excellent, go to that individual and say:

"Here is what your manager said you did." Be specific about the exact behavior or a result that was achieved. Let them know how their work impacted the teams, the organization, even you personally.

It might sound like this:

"Kevin, Jill (Kevin's manager) said that you spent at least four extra hours making sure the quarterly meetings went off without a hitch. That you really sweated the details to make sure it was done right. I want you to know that in large part and from your efforts, the meetings were a complete success. You made the entire team look good and I am personally grateful."

Ask yourself:

  • Would the effect be positive, negative or neutral?
  • Would the person receiving the feedback be more or less inclined to repeat the behavior and effort?
  • Would you personally appreciate this kind of acknowledgement and specific praise from your bosses' boss?
  • Would the specificity of the feedback teach specifically what it was the person had done, allowing them to know the exact results and behaviors being rewarded?

Of course to all of the above!

I guarantee a delighted, motivated and engaged employee. One who is likely to repeat and even build on the behavior that her bosses boss, just praised. Isn't that what we are trying to do as a leader/coach. These "one minute" praising were a cornerstone to Abrashoff turning one of the poorest performing ships in the Navy to one of the best. I would note as well that a Navy Destroyer is a big boy/big girl endeavor. The sailors on these ships come from a wide array of backgrounds, situations, and education levels. Abrashoffs' actions cut through to his people regardless of all of that.

Abrashoff continues:

"Those conversations were the highlight of my day, and they didn't cost the Navy or me a dime. The more I went around meeting sailors, the more they talked to me openly and intelligently. The more I thanked them for hard work, the harder they worked. The payoff in morale was palpable. I am absolutely convinced that positive, personal reinforcement is the essence of effective leadership. Yet some leaders seem to be moving away from it. They stay connected electronically with e-mail and cell phones, but they're disconnected personally, and many leaders almost never leave their offices.

People seem to think that if you send somebody a compliment online, it's as good as the human touch. It is not. It's easier, but much less effective.

Social interaction is getting lost in a digital world that trades more in abstractions than in face-to-face relations. It's more than a shame – it's a bottom line mistake."

Kevin Catlin notes: The amount of time we as a company are spending on repairing basic communication skills with our clients is stunning. Abrashoff's actions would mitigate a fair amount reasons we are brought in to help teams and companies. Don't waste an opportunity to guide the behavior of your charges by the simple act of pushing away from your desk and getting face to face when delivering both positive or constructive feedback. With remote teams, use the phone over email.

Abrashoff continues:

"As I have said before, my sister Connie works for a major bank. One of her people did a phenomenal job, making hundreds of thousands of dollars for the bank, and Connie's boss sent an e-mail congratulating and thanking her. That very afternoon, he rode the elevator with her and didn't even acknowledge her existence. It completely wiped out any good his e-mail could have done."

"Recall how you feel when your own boss tells you, 'Good job.' Do your people (and yourself) a favor. Say it in person, if you can. Press the flesh. Open yourself. Coldness congeals. Warmth heals. Little things make big successes."

Kevin Catlin Notes: Gold…pure truth. Leadership is many things and we will continue to explore them, but it is always doing the simple things very well. Go to the lunchroom, shop floor, 10th floor, anywhere but your office and check in, be curious and attentive to the people who work in your company. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them how you are doing and what more they would like to see from you personally. Ask them for ideas that will help the organization run better. They know, and by asking, it says to them that they are part of the center of the organization itself and that you personally find their input valuable.

Use your head and ask yourself, would these actions motivate and engage your people?
Use your heart to ask yourself, if it were you on the receiving end would it motivate you?
Use your feet and begin!

To your success,

Kevin Catlin

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Sunday, 05 July 2020