One of my favorite recent reads is It’s Your Ship, by D. Michael Abrashoff. The book was written by the former Captain of the Benfold, a Navy destroyer, who applied the principles of Total Quality Management (although he doesn’t call it that-there is nothing technical about the book and the stories he tells are great) to significantly improving the performance of his ship. Here are my big three take-aways:
1. It’s all about listening. I love that this Navy captain seems to be just as passionate about the power of listening as I am. Not because it is a lovely, respectful thing to do, but because it is smart and powerful and will frequently give you an edge. And also because it is a respectful thing to do; Abrashoff is admirably humble about how hard it is to listen respectfully, without just waiting your turn until you get to speak. Attached is an excerpt from the chapter called Listen Aggressively (what a great title for a chapter!)-one of my collection of one-pagers, as I find as a facilitator that one page is about the limit for the time I am willing to give on a topic to having people read during a workshop or meeting.
2. It’s all about process. Abrashoff gives the best examples of what it’s like to actually enact continuous improvement, not just give it lip service. What he describes is the logic behind TQM, which was very big when I was starting out in school leadership, but may not be such a hot ticket now. Total Quality Management is a management system that focuses completely on the processes that generate the outcomes-and precisely because it is the process that generates the outcomes, you should be relentless about improving the process, about focusing your people on improving the process, and not holding them accountable for results that they are not individually responsible for. I know, I know, makes perfect sense, but these are ideas that our system still struggles with. The classic source on TQM is Deming’s Out of the Crisis-I’m attaching his Fourteen Points.
3. It’s all about humility. I am deeply respectful of people who can write openly and honestly about their failures, without seeming to be asking for reassurance, without minimizing, and without excuses. We can be very glib about failure; I think of all those classroom posters with quotations from Thomas Edison (“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”) and Michael Jordan (“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life”). Reading someone who has experienced failure with a human cost and recognizes that as being integral to who he has become is very different.
Let me know if you read it, or have read it. I’d love to know what you think. And please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you. Best, Isobel
Listen Aggressively from It’s Your Ship
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106