At this time of year, I've always shared an old blog post with some advice for those young people graduating from college. This year, I thought that I would share a new post. Here goes...
I want to tell you a story about Retired U.S. Navy Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. Twenty years ago, in June 1997, Captain Abrashoff became the Commander of the USS Benfold, a guided missile destroyer. Unfortunately, the USS Benfold was a seriously dysfunctional ship. Morale was quite low, and many sailors could not wait to leave the Navy. Captain Abrashoff has described how he led a remarkable turnaround on the USS Benfold. I love the stories that he tells in his book, It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.
My favorite story centers on the Sunday afternoon cookouts on the aft flight deck of the USS Benfold. One day Captain Abrashoff noticed the enlisted men waiting in line patiently for their food at one of these cookouts. Then he watched as the officers cut in line, rather than waiting their turn. The officers then ate together, separate from the enlisted men. What did the Commander do? He went to the back of the line. One officer approached him, "Captain, you don't understand. You go to the head of the line." Abrashoff responded, "That's okay. If we run out of food, I will be the one to go without." When the Commander finally received his food, he went to sit with the enlisted men, rather than his officers. Note that Abrashoff did not chastise his officers or reprimand them for their behavior. He simply chose to enjoy a quiet lunch with the sailors whose morale had been so low when he took over. On the following Sunday, the officers waited patiently at the back of the line, and they did not go off and eat by themselves. How about that?!
What's the morale of this story for young people beginning their careers after commencement this month? Be the type of person who understands that leaders don't cut to the front of the line. Lead by example, not simply by harsh words and reprimands. Take the time to sit with those doing the real work. You might learn a new thing or two... no, you WILL learn a thing or two. Finally, remember that all eyes will be on you when you become a leader. Your words and actions will have great symbolic importance. Mind the signals that you send. Small actions will say a great deal to others about who you are and what you value.