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Book review: It's your ship; Capt. D. M. Abrashoff

A review of Captain D. M. Abrashoff's book: "It's your ship". TLDR: go read it.
Book review: It's your ship; Capt. D. M. Abrashoff
Photo by Joshua Rodriguez / Unsplash
For the readers of Through the Stack this post shouldn't be a surprise: this is a direct follow up on the recent reading of the State of DevOps 2022 report and inquiry into R. Westrum's research. See Through the Stack 2.05.

This book was an advised reading by Prof. R. Westrum following our brief email exchange. In short: this was excellent advice, and this is a great book; I would recommend it to anyone looking for good ideas on how to help move from a bureaucratic organization to a generative one.


The book is the story of Captain D. Michael Abrashoff and his command of the USS Benfold. It's a fascinating one: it follows him from before his command of the ship (and how it shaped his perspective on commanding and leading) until he departed the ship and his command.

It's nicely structured, covering different topics one after the other and making links between chapters nicely. It follows a progression: from taking command to building the leadership to consolidating and then using it. The author also took time to condense the learnings regularly, making the book much more functional.

For a time, I thought this book was a lot focused on the Navy and was going to be like an advertisement for it. Yet, the recommendation from R. Westrum made me change my mind. I listened to an audio version of the book through drives and walks. It was a great discovery.

A great story

I'd say that first, this book is a great biographical story: the book covers a part of the author's life in detail. But it's also well-written and a great story about a commander, his crew, and their ship. For a civilian, it's a snapshot into a world I know only from movies and tv shows, and it's pretty interesting.

A good leadership outline

Yet, the book's real value is definitely within the leadership outline it draws. The author showcases a style that is not what we typically expect from military commanders or even most managers and company owners.

The organization aimed for by Capt. Abrashoff is a lot more generative than bureaucratic, with a clear emphasis on the following:

  • team ownership (from the title to the words he gives to the crew on his departing day)
  • shared trust
  • shared responsibilities
  • interest in novelty and ideas
  • humility in the face of the unknown
  • the clarity in objectives and key results
  • acceptance of one's failures and owning them
  • interest and use of failures as learning opportunities

I now understand how much of a breadth of fresh air this book must have been for many. Having grown up and worked in a culture where failure was frowned upon and caused being cast aside, I am used to seeing people opening up the umbrella to deflect any responsibilities.

I have to admit that also took part in such practices at times. Yet, with years, I have learned another way thanks to leaders applying a similar approach to Capt. Abrashoff's.


The book is a great story and leadership outline. At the same time, it's probably not wise to try replicating it chapter by chapter; one should aim to understand the outline and the main ideas listed in each chapter and update one's leadership style.

The author also has made efforts to showcase how he fostered members of his crew to understand the critical elements of his leadership style and adopt them. He gives several examples of those people leading their transformation and success in their careers.

In a way, the book doesn't outline something outlandish: Capt. Abrashoff isn't revealing an ancient secret or something that was given to him by some mystical entity. This book has a lot that you can see in the work of great past leaders. Yet, this book is truly remarkable because it is condensed, precise, and directly applicable.


This book is a must-read (or listen to) for any leader or aspiring leader. It can be an antidote to the "traditional" way of managing and leading people or a rebirth of the "good" way.

If you read it, pay attention to the progression, how the author builds up from his first day on the ship to his last, and how he goes from potentially being "yet another captain shouting orders" to a true leader for whom the title was earned and yet seemed almost irrelevant.

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