This post is part of a series that attempts to add something to the “platoon leader advice” category beyond the typical “be good at everything at all times and you’ll be fine” variety. The intent is to provide more specific (and obscure) advice.
A hard thing for young leaders to grasp is that their subordinates don’t really want to hear them talk that much. As inspired as we think our thoughts and ideas are, there is a layer of scar tissue that builds up between people over time as a result of familiarity. For a platoon leader, getting your message across on day one is a lot easier than on day one hundred, before the platoon has learned your norms and idiosyncrasies – what you say you care about and what you actually care about.
One of the ways I found to break through the scar tissue is to use the Battalion Commander and Command Sergeant Major – the Battalion Command Team – to deliver the message. If you’re doing it right, your message should be nested with theirs, so it shouldn’t be a hard sell. I viewed every planned or surprise Battalion Command Team visit as an opportunity to deliver an important message to the platoon straight from the top.
Regardless of what the Battalion Command Team is visiting for, they’re normally going to want to address the platoon. In the moments before this, I tried to speak with the Battalion Commander and Command Sergeant Major (with my Platoon Sergeant, of course), and tell them what our issues were and what message we thought would be helpful to hear.
For this to be effective, you have to be comfortable telling your boss what problems exist, instead of briefing that everything is fine.
When I first started doing this, it felt a little uncomfortable. I felt like I may have been leaning in a bit too far with my Battalion Commander by laying out issues and recommending messages. Over time, I found that the honesty was appreciated. The Battalion Command Team seemed relieved to be asked to inject themselves in a way that might be directly helpful at the platoon level.
There’s a great feeling to be standing behind a platoon, listening to the Battalion Commander and Command Sergeant Major hammer home an important issue that has struggled to sink in. It’s one thing if the Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, or Platoon Leader says it. It hits home completely different when it comes from the mouth of the Commander Sergeant Major.