Mike Abrashoff

Sessions I and III: “The Power of Grassroots Leadership”


When D. Michael Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold, he knew immediately that the ship and its crew were sinking under the weight of an ineffective leadership model and a 200-year-old hierarchy. His solution was nothing less than brave and his leadership skills were nothing short of historic. “I created the climate in which people could do excellent work,” he said during a RealTime session on May 8. “I didn’t do the work myself.”


A recent recipient of the prestigious Spokane Trophy for combat readiness, the USS Benfold has catapulted Abrashoff and his leadership style into the national business spotlight. During RealTime Orlando, Abrashoff shared with an audience of executive, change agents, and budding leaders his universal principles for inspiring and encouraging great ideas:

  • Everyone has strengths and weakness — it is the leader’s job to make sure no is denigrated.
  • Treat everyone with respect and dignity.
  • Take into consideration every person’s opinion and perspective.

“As impressive as the ship is, it would just be a hunk of steel without the people who make it run,” Abrashoff said, explaining how he spoke with every crewmember in order to mold a 360-degree view of the Benfold. “Likewise, your business would be worthless without your people.”

During his time with the Benfold crew, Abrashoff said he tried to live by this credo: Belief, Passion, Motivation. By doing so, he hoped to increase communication on board and make every person feel valued. “I’m not good enough to make all the decisions, so I needed to give my people independence to make decisions on their own,” he explained. “The person who came up with the great idea became the BMOC, and that person was responsible for implementation and for working their butt off.”

In the midst of RealTime Orlando (Abrashoff’s second RealTime), he took a moment to fill in Fast Company on the importance of talent, the necessity of communication, and the power of community:

What do you hope to convey to the RealTime participants?

In the new economy in the 21st Century, the secret to success for any company is to attract, maintain, motivate, inspire its employees to establish a relationship with customers. The company that can do that is the company that I would want to do business, and that most Americans would want to be part of. My message for the 21st Century is this: The employees are the human capital that makes business thrive – technology and money won’t do it.


Where do great ideas come from?

As the commanding officer of a $1 million war ship, my great idea came from the people on the front lines doing the work, the people seeing friends develop, the people who have ideas on how to make their jobs more efficient, smarter, cheaper, faster. Ideas no longer come from the top down in the information age. Today, the people doing the work are the ones who will effect crucial change. The question is how to inspire and motivate them to unleash their talents and create the most possible.

Why are you here at RealTime?

This is a community of like-minded people who get it and who understand the value of human capital. They are fun people to be with, and I love sharing ideas with folks from all blocks of society – nonprofit, for-profit, and government agencies. I enjoy sharing ideas and profiting from the collective intelligence.

Return to RealTime Orlando