An Analysis on the Correlation of Leadership and Retention

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Retention refers to the percentage of employees that remain in an organization, and it continues to be a significant topic for all categories of job groups in the 21st century (Phillips & Connell, 2003). Retention is a problem faced by all organizations in our always competitive labor market regardless of the company’s size, technological capacity, target market, and other factors (Ramlall, 2004). Michael (2008) believes that the shortage of skilled manpower, economic growth, and high employee turnover has resulted in the emergence of the concept of Employee Retention (Cited in Ng’ethe, Namusonge & Iravo, 2012). The importance of retention is better understood with Ramlall’s (2004) statement which claims that organizations would be wise to create a nurturing environment for it’s people to ensure that the human capital of the company is not forgone, and many believe that in doing this it is beneficial for organizations as they are able to retain and sustain their competitive advantages in the global economy.

This essay will consider the USS Benfold by looking into the riveting experiences of its past leader in command- Captain Mike Abrashoff (2001) as stated in his article entitled Redemption Through Retention. The USS Benfold was not always considered the pride of the pacific fleet, it was made into what it is today by Captain Abrashoff who completely changed the mindset and the synergy of the entire crew. Average turnover statistics for the US Navy was at 40% as new recruits would decide to leave before their four-year tours finished, but the Benfold became an exception to this after Captain Abrashoff’s command and as of 2001, the Benfold was able to set records for both performance and retention with a waiting list of crew that wish to serve aboard the ship (Abrashoff, 2001). The purpose of this essay is to study the concept of retention and leadership between Captain Abrashoff and the members of the crew in correlation to Theory Y, Charismatic Leadership, Situational leadership, Trait Leadership, and the halo effect. This being said, this paper acknowledges that studies indicate that retention and considerate leadership style (which includes fairness, development of employees, and the giving of support and a sense of value for staff) have a direct relationship (Kleinman, 2004).

Leadership can be dubbed as the world’s most aged preoccupations, as the study of leadership and leaders excel and grow alongside the progress of civilization, however the definition of it is still a lengthy on-going discussion between world scholars thus we may settle on stating that the definition of leadership depends on the purpose that the definition wishes to serve (Bass, 1990). With this in mind, having several theories of leadership is fitting for the complex nature of people and organizations. In the situation of Captain Abrashoff during his time on the Benfold, Theory Y is practiced. Douglas McGregor’s (1960) Theory Y claims that human beings are active growers, with a longing to shape themselves to be ready for responsibility and the best way to manage them was to manage them as little as possible much like giving plants water and letting them bloom by themselves (Stewart, 2010). Additionally, Theory Y is said to focus more on the idea of managers working to encourage their employees and view them as the best possible form of themselves who are trustworthy, respectful, and self-motivated (Odumeru & Ogbonna, 2013). Captain Abrashoff practiced this by handing over responsibilities and trusting his team to do their tasks properly and at the same time viewing each and every sailor as an intrinsically motivated person with a story and a life they left behind rather than just an employee.

Moreover, Bass (1985) characterizes charismatic leaders as individuals who carry great power and influence, in relation to this Conger and Kanungo (1988), Erhart and Klein (2001), together with Jacobsen and House (2001) state that charismatic leaders become an icon who provides clarity to unclear situations, understands faults, and motivates change by creating a vision with an articulate strategy to their subordinates (cited in Babcock-Roberson & Strickland, 2010). In other studies, Shamir et.al (1993) proposed processes by which charismatic leaders achieve a motivational impact on their followers which are: increasing intrinsic value for work and goal accomplishment; concession of followers; assurance of faith for a better future; and increasing followers’ commitment (cited in Shamir, Arthur & House 1994, pp. 27-28). With this understanding of charismatic leadership, Captain Abrashoff fits the bill as he made it a point to set goals and boundaries for his people while showing them a more personal side of him, whether it be with one-on-one talks or everyone on the deck listening to jazz while watching the sunset. Abrashoff’s charisma increased as his sailors saw that he was rational when it came to punishments, such that he tries to repair and correct mistakes rather than give up on erroneous members of the crew.

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Abrashoff admits that retention through redemption was at its hardest when things went completely wrong and the most negative aspects of human nature was seen. Such as when there was a fight that erupted among three of his sailors because of a racist remark. In this circumstance, we can observe Abrashoff’s practice of situational leadership. The initial model of situation leadership was done by Hersey and Blanchard (1996) which categorized the actions supposedly done by leaders in relation to the level of support their employee needs, further stressing the fact that it was the attitude of the leaders that made an effect and not the leadership style (cited in Wright 2017). Murphy (1941) claims that situational leaders observes the situation and does not intervene but instead stands as the tool through which a solution for the challenge is achieved (cited in Landis, Hill & Harvey 2014). In the conflict mentioned above Abrashoff was able to properly handle the situation with proper thought. Abrashoff mentions that before the Benfold, his mindset would have been to remove them from the ship immediately. However, after getting to know his crew, he knew that two of the sailors involved in the fight had joined the navy to avoid the gangs in their homes. Abrashoff was quick to understand the situation and pass the correct punishment accordingly whilst keeping a good relationship with the members of his crew.

Captain Abrashoff can also be clustered into the trait theory of leadership. The Trait perspective was initially idealized by Allport and Odbert (1930s) wherein they aimed to recognize all the traits that would describe people. Roughly 60 years later, the trait perspective was applied to leadership through McCrae and Costa’s (1996) ‘Big Five’ personality factors which include: Emotional Stability; Extraversion; Openness; Agreeableness; and Conscientiousness. (Cited in Clegg, Kornberg & Pitsis 2016) Abrashoff kept his composure under circumstances such as during an engineering inspection that could apparently make or break a Captain’s career. He was also sociable towards his crew, whilst knowing that he was taking a gargantuan risk with changing the undesirable norms on the ship.

Finally, let us discuss the halo effect. Thorndike (1920) defines the halo effect as a phenomenon where in the perception of an individual’s skills in a specialized area is exaggerated in people’s minds based off a higher level of expertise in a completely unrelated area (cited in Rosch & Schwartz 2009). Simply put, it is produces bias and blurs judgment which affects behavior (Cited in Clegg, Kornberg & Pitsis 2016). Furthermore, Waldan and Javidan (2009) proposed that charisma reaps the results of absorption strategies which then creates a resistance for change, thus creates an unpredictable rate of turnovers (cited in Zhang et al., 2014). While some scholars may believe that Captain Abrashoff is a part of this phenomenon, there is still reason to disagree. The argument for opposition is based on the assumption that Abrashoff’s competency and ability to make his crew follow him was not based on a biased judgement, nor the fact that he was proficient in some respects but because he managed his crew well with a personal yet driven connection. There would be no bias in judgement as he was legitimately well-rounded in all aspects concerning the Benfold whether it be in terms of leadership or technicalities of the ship.

Successful leadership has proved to be a key element in retention and thus should be regarded as a significant part of any recruitment or retention strategy (Kleinman, 2004). Hamstra et al. (2011) hypothesized the idea that choosing the most preferred leadership style by employees may improve employee retention in an organization (cited in McCleskey, 2014). Through the discussed leadership theories and concepts above, it can be understood that Captain Abrashoff created a meaningful connection with his comrades through his leadership choices, and in turn drastically improved not just the retention rate of the USS Benfold, but the overall outlook of its crew on how to view service. Hence, well-thought leadership coupled with effective managerial strategies do not only motivate employees, but also make them more committed in any organization wherein they choose to proactively participate towards an organization’s success. 

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