From My Bookshelf to Yours: ‘It’s Your Ship’

During the research and writing process for my new book – “Frontline Leadership: The Hurdle,” published by Utility Business Media Inc. – I read a lot of books, and I want to share some highlights from a few of my favorites. This article will focus on the bestselling “It’s Your Ship” by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. I hope you find this article useful, and I also hope it inspires you to read both “It’s Your Ship” and my book as part of your continuing personal and professional development.

Understanding. That’s a one-word summary of why you should read this book and what you will learn from it. Understanding yourself first and then understanding others. Understanding what others expect from you and your team. Understanding situations and the impacts of your decisions. Finally, my favorite line from the book: Understanding that the more control you give up, the more command you get. It’s your ship!

Understanding is the key takeaway I want to share from this book. I love how Abrashoff starts almost every chapter with a challenge or situation he faced, and then he explains his desire to understand the people involved and the situation at hand before making any decisions. He is constantly putting himself in others’ shoes and listening aggressively. What a great lesson.

Understanding Yourself First, Then Others
Abrashoff states that hard experience has taught him that real leadership is about understanding yourself first, then using that understanding to create a superb organization. He explains that most obstacles that limit people’s potential are set in motion by the leader and are rooted in that leader’s own fears, ego needs and unproductive habits. When leaders understand themselves, a transformation takes place that shifts perspective and helps them be perceived as more authentic.

Abrashoff also explains that the key to being a successful skipper is to see your ship from the eyes of the crew, and he speaks about how he constantly asked everyone on the crew for ideas about how to do their jobs better. I absolutely love his assertion that the secret to lasting change is to implement processes that people will enjoy carrying out. Abrashoff made a real effort to encourage his people to not only find better ways to do their jobs but to also have fun while doing them.

Understanding Expectations
I get asked quite often for advice about how to lead up the organizational chain. Abrashoff provides a fantastic answer in “It’s Your Ship” when he states, “I discovered a way to create change without asking a higher authority’s permission. In effect, I put myself in the shoes of my boss, then asked, what do I want from Abrashoff …?” He then explains that if he could figure out those things and deliver them, his bosses would leave him alone and focus on other ships that weren’t delivering. What another great lesson for us.

Understanding Situations and Decisions
Abrashoff wanted his crew to sail on the best ship in the U.S. Navy. He constantly communicated that goal and sought to achieve it by working to understand challenges and where they came from plus seeking ideas from the crew about how to overcome them. He also understood the impacts of his decisions, which he made carefully, and that no one, including him, could make all the decisions.

Further, Abrashoff focused on results more than salutes and wanted his crew to feel free to speak up. He took calculated risks and nurtured the freedom to fail. I’ll repeat that lesson: Nurture the freedom to fail, understanding that innovation knows no rank and that part of any leader’s job is to challenge your crew beyond their reach.

“It’s Your Ship” is one of the most insightful and thought-provoking books I have ever read. Essentially, it teaches leaders to see the ship through the eyes of the crew, communicate purpose and meaning, create discipline by focusing on purpose, and listen aggressively. And I’ll repeat my one-word summary: Understanding.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and that it inspires you to read and apply Abrashoff’s book and mine. Join me for a complimentary webinar July 13 at 1 p.m. Eastern during which we will discuss this article. I look forward to seeing you there.

About the Author: David McPeak, CUSP, CIT, CHST, CSP, CSSM, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute ( and the author of “Frontline Leadership: The Hurdle.” He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, human performance, safety and operations. McPeak is passionate about personal and professional development and believes that intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are key to success. He also is an advanced certified practitioner in DISC, emotional intelligence, the Hartman Value Profile, learning styles and motivators.

About Frontline Fundamentals: Frontline Fundamentals topics are derived from the Incident Prevention Institute’s popular Frontline training program ( Frontline covers critical knowledge, skills and abilities for utility leaders and aligns with the Certified Utility Safety Professional exam blueprint.

Frontline Fundamentals


David McPeak, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM, CUSP, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute ( His experience includes operations management, safety and training roles. McPeak holds multiple safety and training certifications and has received numerous awards. He also has served as chairman of Task Team One of the OSHA ET&D Partnership, as a member of Incident Prevention’s editorial advisory board and as a member of the North Carolina Apprenticeship Council. Reach him at

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