Being a team leader is where the rubber meets the road. I think it is one of the most important jobs in the entire military. It is the first leadership position one can earn, but also has the most responsibility. Platoon Leaders and Platoon Sergeants, as well as the Commander and First Sergeant, get all the ‘big bucks’, all the praise and accolades from higher. However, any leader worth their salt knows that their Soldiers make it happen – and their Team Leaders are responsible for that.
Not every Team Leader is built the same, that much is true. However, there are some things that every Team Leader should know. In this article, Team Leader refers to a TL in the infantry sense, not the cavalry sense (where the TL is actually the term for the squad leader).
1. Command Climate. This might sound confusing, but all this really means is that you need to understand your commander’s command philosophy. If they don’t support certain kinds of corrective training, and that type of training is all you know how to do, then you better learn another approach. If you don’t have your commander’s support, you don’t have much of a leg to stand on. Your commander sets the tone, but it is your job to execute. This doesn’t mean follow illegal orders. This means Soldiers can see when things aren’t united. Whether you agree with your commander or not, you need to uphold the standards they want set in place.
2. Know Not Only Your Job, But Your Soldiers’ Jobs. Also, Know Your Soldiers. If you get transferred to a new unit after your promotion, especially if it’s a different type of unit than the one you were in previously, you had better take some time to learn what the unit mission is, and every pertinent detail about what your Soldiers are supposed to be doing. If you don’t know what they are supposed to be doing, how can you lead them? On top of all that, you are responsible for knowing your Soldiers, and everything about them and what makes them tick. Show them you care, and they will go the extra mile for you.
3. Developmental Counseling – How it Works, and How It Can Work For You. Counseling is not only for negative events. Developmental Counseling is essential to not only tracking Soldiers’ progress, but for having a paper trail, concrete information on paper, and a linear way to evaluate your Soldiers. Your Platoon Leader/Platoon Sergeant should counsel the Squad Leaders, who should in turn counsel you, who then counsels your individual Soldiers. Ideally this counseling should be done at the start of IDT weekend, where expectations for training are laid out. Follow up counseling should be done Sunday afternoon. Generally speaking, higher level leadership should lay out the expectations at the start, and follow up later.
4. Develop a Leadership Style and Be Consistent. This is your chance to develop your own style. This happens for new officers, also. We all have a leadership philosophy and things that matter most to us. This doesn’t give you a free for all to act one way on one drill weekend, and a different way on another. This is not your chance to ‘test out’ different methods each time you are with your Soldiers. There should be consistency and a standard to your leadership style. Soldiers respond to discipline and standards, so take the time to hone your overall philosophy. Then, you can tailor problem solving to each of your Soldiers (when something happens, each Soldier will respond differently, and it is your responsibility to know them).
5. AR 670-1 Is Your Friend, And Learn How to Make Corrections Before Someone Higher Does. I’ve heard it said by many senior NCOs – if they make a correction on one of your Soldiers, YOU have already failed. This goes for every type of correction. I have always said that Team Leaders need to be similar to rabid dogs, they should always be looking for discrepancies and correcting them on the spot.
Bottom Line: There are a lot of things that Team Leaders should know, and I’ve only highlighted a few of them. What do you think a TL should know? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.