We say “Outhack them all” a lot here at Bugcrowd. It’s part of our ethos – our way of thinking and being. Hacking is all about thinking differently to achieve greatness — it’s something I find incredibly inspiring.

Recently, I read It’s Your Ship, a phenomenal autobiography written by Captain Michael Abrashoff, the former commander of USS Benfold. I also had the chance to meet him in person. In my conversations with him, I found his approach to team building and “Outhacking them all” to be very thoughtful. He brought together human creativity with some good ole fashioned leadership skills to steer his ship.

Here are a few things from the book that were particularly insightful:

  • See the ship through the crew’s eyes

“One sailor said that we repainted the ship six times a year … every other month they had to spend entire days sanding down rust and repainting the ship. It was a huge waste of time and effort, mental as well as physical, and drain on morale to boot. The sailor suggested a better way: use stainless steel bolts and nuts to replace the ferrous metal ones that streaked rust down the sides of the ship driving the need to paint.”

Captain Abrashoff did not brush this suggestion off, he listened – something all of us can do more. In the end the team replaced all removable metal that was susceptible to corrosion with less-corrosive stainless steel. An upfront cost of $30K guaranteed the paint job would last for years. The impact was felt beyond that one ship. Today, the Navy has adopted stainless steel fasteners thanks to the thoughts of a young sailor from the USS Benfold and his manager’s receptive ear.

  • Keep your priorities in focus

“In battle, our initial reactions can often be the difference between success and failure, life and death.” Too often we get caught up in our day-to-day lives, that we lose focus of priorities when it really matters. It’s important that we learn from the successes and mistakes of others. If we prepare for the most challenging scenarios, chances are good that we will be much better prepared for the unforeseen.

  • Being the best carries responsibility

As leaders, it is our responsibility to create an environment of trust to be successful. It is this environment of trust “that turns green sailors into seasoned shipmates” and in business turns individuals into dynamic leaders. Captain Abrashoff suggests that leaders “help knock down the barriers to cross-functional collaboration by nurturing the freedom to fail because innovation knows no rank and good ideas are where you find them!”

Challenge your team beyond its reach and go above standard procedures because it’s the little things that make a big difference.

  • Trust in your people, they usually prove you right.

“Breaking our stratified system [hierarchies] to trust the people who worked in the ship unleashed the people with talent and let them rise to levels that no one had expected. This made Benfold the readiest ship afloat.”

Counsel continuously – and honestly – this is because one of the toughest things for organizations to accomplish is to get people to set aside personal differences and work for the good of everyone involved. According to the Captain, “I don’t care to have the best weapons department of any ship in the Navy if the engineers can’t make the propeller turn.” The task of leaders is to assemble the best team possible, provide training, then figure out the best way to get each member to work together for the good of the organization.

  • The secret to good work is good play.

Night time refueling at sea is a must for long-haul Destroyers, especially when the Benfold was serving in the hot Middle East. However, it required the crew to work late nights. One sailor came up with the idea of enlivening the night refueling by projecting music videos on the ship’s rear bulkhead and even inspired a laser light show. All this entertained the tanker crews, who had the best seats in the house. After a while, those crews practically fought for the “privilege of refueling the Benfold”. The result was that the Benfold could accomplish a lot more, go a lot further and faster (use all engines as they had plenty of fuel). “We were the offbeat ship that wasn’t afraid to loosen up, make the best what had to be done, and share fun with everyone.”

“Outhacking them all” and leadership go hand in hand. You have to think outside-of-the-box to be a good leader, and being a good leader means enabling your team to think outside-of-the-box. When teams are free to think differently it opens them up to try new things which usually ends up in success.  I am fortunate to work with a great group of Bugcrowd teammates that think out-of-the-box who unlock the creativity of our innovative Crowd of white-hat hackers that use their unique abilities to find vulnerabilities for our customers before they are exploited by bad actors. You see, they consider it to be their duty to safeguard the connected digital world – It is Their Ship and they use their creativity to secure it everyday.

I’d love to hear if this resonates with you.