Monday, March 25, 2013

Two Leaders with Much in Common

During a recent road trip, I listened to two audio books.  On the surface, the books would appear to be quite different.  One was the unabridged audio version of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. The other was an abridged version of It’s Your Ship:  Management Techniques from the Best Damn Shipin the Navy by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff.  I found, however, that both books had several themes in common.

So how could there possibly be a convergence between a self-professed geek, mother, and female executive of an internet company and an Annapolis graduate who commanded a guided missile frigate in the United States Navy?  Although the styles are quite different (Sandberg’s book is part memoir, part motivational tract; Abrashoff’s is more of a management manual), the points at which they converge can be summarized in three words:  retention, relationships and reform.

Both authors want to see gifted people engaged in their respective enterprises.  Abrashoff is very concerned about the high attrition rate in the Navy.  At the time he wrote his book, three out of four sailors failed to reenlist after their first term of service.  As a commander, he was initially concerned about the cost of continually recruiting and training people to take their places, but he also came to see that these people could both thrive and pursue their callings if they could be persuaded to make the Navy a career.  Sandberg is concerned that women are not encouraged to become leaders in business and industry.  She believes that women are often their own worst enemies because they hold back their gifts and they fail to support other women in leadership roles.  When women chose to have families, they fear that they will loose career momentum or be seen as slacking off on their responsibilities, so they often just drop out of the work force.

Both are very clear that relationships are paramount in identifying and developing leaders.  Abrashoff had interviews with each crew member as they came on board.  He wanted to learn their backgrounds, strengths, and aspirations. He sent birthday cards to family and spouses and often wrote letters to family members letting them know what a great job their sailor was doing.  He treated his crew like human beings and encouraged them to have fun!  Sandberg points out that women need strong relationships not only to succeed but to persevere.  Women are often afraid to express both their ideas and objections because they fear rejection; Sandberg provides a number of studies to show that their reservations are not unfounded!  She understands the important of mentors and supportive marriage partners.

Both authors are rebels.  Abrashoff realized that he was bucking years of Navy tradition as he implemented new ways of leading, training, and acting.  Even though he often saved the government a great deal of money with his innovations, one wonders if his persistence in “coloring outside the lines” had  something to do with the fact that he left the service after 18 years and was not promoted beyond the rank of Captain.  Sandberg, who was once listed above Michelle Obama in a list of the most influential people in the world, realizes that she is walking a tight rope as mother of two who also wields considerable influence in the digital world.  She has come to accept that she has a responsibility to encourage women to lead and men to support them even if her stance is unpopular.

The most interesting point of agreement is that both of these writers believe in inclusive workplaces where both women and men can lead without discrimination.  They both lead highly technical enterprises that require good people who can do the job regardless of their gender.   If they found themselves seated side by side on an airplane, they would quickly see that they have much in common.

Lean In 
It’s your ship 

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