Stand A Taut Watch
Standing a taut watch. Many of you may understand that phrase, but for those who have not had the opportunity of service at sea, it relates to the duties of the watchstander. There are many terms for those who stand the watch, and you can find them everywhere from the bridge of the ship at night, making way to their destination while lookouts keep a sharp eye for hazards, to the duty officers who toil on land everywhere throughout the world, during the dark of night while their comrades sleep.
The job of the watchstander is to follow the night orders of the boss, maintain vigilance, report as required, and take action as necessary. Leaders in any organization or on any team have a very similar charge. From a very early point in any young military recruit’s career, the 11 general orders are drilled into their heads to ensure that they maintain a reverence to the awesome responsibility of keeping their shipmates and comrades safe during the night while they are entrusted with the watch.
Distilled to their essence, the 11 general orders speak to how a watch must be maintained, and what is paramount. Take charge of the post and property, keep your focus, stay at your post until properly relieved, and keep alert and responsive throughout the watch. As a leader in an organization, you have many of the same responsibilities.
First and foremost, as a leader you should have a very clear picture of the things and people for which you are accountable. This includes both your primary and collateral duties, which usually are many. If this includes equipment, know where it is, what condition is it in, and be able to account for it. If it’s people, what are they doing, where are they at, and are they OK? Imagine that at any moment, you could be called to answer for everything within your assigned responsibility. What is your answer? “I don’t know” probably isn’t going to cut it.
As a leader, know what things need to be passed on to the big(ger) boss, and when. You have the ability to enjoy a more specific picture of the way things are operating than the boss does. With that in mind, surprising the boss is usually not a good thing. Stuff happens, and you can never predict lightning strikes, but you can surely pass it on when the forecast says rain. Bad news never gets better with age.
Leadership takes vigilance. Good leaders do not say “It’s all good, I can relax. Everybody knows what to do. The team is ready. Everyone is behind this 100%”. Leaders do not rest, ever. Weeds do not stay pulled, problems do not stay solved, and a crisis met and overcome does not retreat forever.
The price of vigilance can be fatigue, frustration, and often a feeling that your efforts are not appreciated. However, these are the wages of responsibility and accountability. As tired as you may be, spending yourself in such a cause, to hold the charge of the watch dear to your heart, and bring your team through the night, alive, safe, secure, and in position to be successful, day after day after day, is what makes a career as a leader. Your reward is to see good things get done, people grow and learn to do things under your guidance, and the knowledge that you held yourself accountable at all times in the service of the citizens and your team. That is as good as it gets.