A major factor in being a leader (and it matters not if one is in a leadership position–leaders lead regardless of rank, position, or assignment) is just knowing what’s going on. This seems axiomatic, and to an extent, it is. But many would-be-leaders, especially among those within the set that possess rank, position, and highly responsible assignments, come to it with the impression or expectation that because of those things that others will tell them the things that they need to know. For many it is a hard lesson, a few never learn it, but that’s just not the case. Often those around you don’t know what it is that they should be telling you. Even more likely, is that the aspiring leader cannot possess sufficient situational awareness to ask all the questions that need asking.
The 70% solution to this problem, I have found, at least within the context of the National Guard, is the sacrifice of personal time. In particular, if you really want to know what’s going on, you have to arrive early and stay late. And if you can only do one of these, arrive early. It is in those early mornings when all the real decisions about who, where, and when are made, as that’s the time when the assumptions are finally confirmed or debunked and everyone is close enough to the target to see it clearly and all the much maligned changes to the plan that was briefed get made. Staying late is still important, especially if you are responsible in any way for the welfare of others. It is in those moments before subordinates walk out the door, that they become most aware of any deficiency to be corrected, or requirement to be fulfilled. And they can most easily share those things with you if you are still present. And they are more likely to do so as well, before the cares and obligations of their regular lives overshadow and lead them to forget about the things that seemed important on the way out the door.