Expectations. On the average morning, expectations are not usually the first thing that comes to mind. My mornings are typically a frantic mix of exercise, coffee, and news; expectations are never more distant. But recently I found myself responding to a message from an Army ROTC cadet that peaked my interest, and thoughts of my own expectations of young leaders. His message touched on the now infamous Best Defense post from Army First Lieutenant Max Lujan, raising a concern that many of his peers didn’t believe they held a clear grasp of the expectations others would have of them once they were commissioned.

They know they are supposed to lead, they have a general idea of how to lead, but what will be expected of them when they actually lead others? How are they supposed to lead more experienced formations? Combat veterans? Non-commissioned officers?

via BUTTERBAR — Medium.

On the off chance there’s a young Cadet or Lieutenant reading this, and not reading Doctrine Man regularly, here’s DM’s thoughts on expectations for a new Platoon Leader.

I have, of course, a couple thoughts of my own.

First, a bad platoon leader doesn’t listen to his NCOs, particularly his Platoon Sergeant.

Second, the really bad platoon leader lets his NCOs, particularly his Platoon Sergeant, lead the platoon.

Yes, the smart Lieutenant works hand in glove with his NCOs, particularly his PSG, to lead the platoon. But at the end of the day, it is the Lieutenant that is in charge. He’s wise to solicit advice from his NCOs, but he alone must make the decisions, based on that advice, the guidance from his commander, and his assessment of the situation. That applies tactically, and in garrison. The only way to learn to lead well, it to get out front and lead.

One of my very first platoon leaders was also my very best (who went on to a fairly distinguished career). In garrison, he rarely gave an order, that we could see. Instead, he’d gather the PSG, and if appropriate the squad leaders, and issue his orders. We troops in the ranks received our orders in turn from the PSG and squad leaders. But the Lieutenant was there, watching over the evolution. That both reinforced the NCOs authority, and left little doubt in anyone’s mind that the PSG was taking his cues from the Lieutenant. As an added bonus, if the PSG felt the need to tell our young Lieutenant that he was proposing something stupid, the PSG could give his advice away from the eyes and ears of the junior soldiers.

In the field, of course, the Lieutenant was a bit more direct about giving orders. The chain of command is simple. The Lieutenant gives orders to the squad leaders, who then execute. Again, the smart leader does so in consultation with his PSG. A Private might snark about having more experience than the Lieutenant, but in reality, most young platoon leaders are reasonably well trained in the doctrine and tactics of their branch by the time they reach their first duty station assignment. Provided our young leader is not an especially caustic personality, most troops are happy to display and share their expertise to bring the new officer up to speed on the technical details required to perform well. When I was a nearly new Bradley gunner, I was happy to help train my new platoon leader on the finer points of Bradley gunnery.

DM’s points about what your troops can expect:

The other half of this equation is what they expect from you. They need a leader who can make decisions, who leads by example, and who isn’t afraid to roll up his or her sleeves and get dirty when the time comes. They need a leader who is tough, but fair. They need a leader who is calm in the face of the storm. They need a leader who is worthy of their trust, their respect, their loyalty. Earn it.

Emphasis mine. Make. A. Damn. Decision. Most decisions you make are not life and death. They’re mundane and have little in the way of positive or negative outcome. But if you can’t make small decisions, the life and death decisions are infinitely harder to make, which is a default decision to do nothing, and tends to get people killed.

The rest of that paragraph is a long way of saying, have integrity. Your troops assume you have that, right up until you show then you don’t. If you don’t, if you lose that trust, you’ll never regain it. Find a new line of work.





9 thoughts on “BUTTERBAR — Medium”

  1. First decision I ever had to make as a young Enswine? Well, it was a big one. My Leading Petty Officer was a female body builder, aspiring to be a WWF ring girl after her retirement, and she’d … let’s just say she’d PT’d away pretty much all of her upper body fat deposits, and wanted to get the Navy to install replacements. And this involved a special request chit. That I had to sign off on.

    Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Over.

  2. One of the hardest things I had to do as young lieutenant was to convince a reluctant company commander and first sergeant to relieve my platoon sergeant.

    He was a dud. He didn’t know the weapon systems or his MOS…he was an 11C E-7 mortarman who always was looking squared away…NCO of Quarter, recruiter poster squared away looking guy. The problem is he had not been on mortars for years. He was a big buddy of the CSM. I as a 9 month in unit (just finished rifle platoon leader time) weapons platoon leader was more proficient on the mortars, FDC procedures and the TOW weapon systems than he was. He could not do a TOW Range card nor could he run the M16 plotting board.

    Took me 2 months but it finally happened. Appointed a junior SSG who looked like a rag bag but new the weapons. Vehicle readiness and weapons proficiency soared.

    The lesson learned hear is to listen to your NCOs…and recognize when they are deficient and are wrong.

  3. I have lost count of how many PLs have worked for me. Had 18, just in my tank co and HHC. Another 18 MTOE PL positions, each of which changed once or twice, and three in a couple of cases during two years in BN. Not counting time not in command, that is a lot of them. One day, when I have time, I will write down my thoughts on the care and feeding of new platoon leaders…..

  4. No military background here – engineer in the DOD contractor world. Still – leadership. I didn’t realise how important it was until I found myself without it. Sitting in a series of high level meetings, watching upper management dither. I’m still employed so I didn’t say it out loud but I wanted to scream, “Holy chit, dude! You have a room full of minions raring to go off and kick this thing’s ass but we need you to do some of that highly compensated management chit and Make. A. Decision.”

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