On my way to New Orleans last December, I sat next to a man who was a project manager. Since I was about to embark on writing a speech about businesses entitled, “Think Outside the Bottom Line…For A Better Bottom Line,” I took on the role of Joan, the amateur journalist/investigative reporter and questioned him about what he thought were the best practices for running a business.

The first thing he said to me was, “Read a book called It’s Your Ship by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. My first response was “why would I want to read a book written by a captain of a ship?” The answer to that skeptical question was inherent in the subtitle of Captain Abrashoff’s book:  Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.

Now I was interested. As soon as I got home from New Orleans, I ordered the book and read it in two days.  I learned that managing a ship is like running a business in all aspects. Most importantly, human beings are the capital of a ship, just as individuals are the capital of a corporation. No organization or business can survive without individuals who fully understand and admire the mission of the entity, who are respected, valued, honored and happy members of a worthwhile endeavor.

The ship that Captain Abrashoff  assumed command of was a ship that was rated the worst in the navy. In two years, USS Benfold was on the cutting-edge of ship performance and productivity. How did that happen? It certainly didn’t happen by divine intervention. It happened because Captain Abrashoff realized that the only way his ship could become the best of the best in the Navy was by improving his leadership skills. Ever heard of the saying, “The fish stinks from the head?” Every corporate CEO implicitly knows this to be true or if he or she doesn’t understand that concept, the ship will go down. Leadership isn’t about arrogance – as in, I have all the ideas and you will just follow my lead. Leadership is about knowing yourself first.  It is then and only then can a leader know its employees or crew of sailors, as in the case of Captain Abrashoff.

Within months, Captain Abrashoff got to know each and every sailor aboard ship, knew what each sailor was good at, found sailors who wanted to lead by example, and challenged each crew member to be the best they could be at their job. The Captain understood that knowing your crew is what inspires loyalty, trust and happiness on board.   The slogan on the USS Benfold was:  “It’s your ship.”

A leader sees his organization through the eyes of its employees. A leader knows how to communicate with positive affirmations and suggestions.  A leader creates discipline by focusing on purpose.  A leader listens aggressively.  A leader is vulnerable, practices gratitude, and forgiveness.

We can all be leaders if we know ourselves.  Cervantes said it best:  Make it thy business to know thyself, which is the most difficult lesson in the world.”