How Should a Platoon Leader Interact with Their Soldiers?

Here’s a question I was asked on my website today.

“Do you have any advice or tips for how a Platoon Leader should engage with his enlisted Soldiers? I have heard different things from different Officers on how to interact with enlisted Soldiers. I know I should not have a stand-off approach, but am not sure what type of relationship I should have with them. I realize there is a difference in the relationship I should have with E-6/7s and E-5s and below. I would appreciate any words of wisdom.”

Here is my answer.

As a Platoon Leader, you should only manage two levels down.  That means you manage your Platoon Sergeant and Squad Leaders.  You never give orders directly to your Team Leaders and Soldiers.  Furthermore, I believe you should spend 90% of your time working and interacting with your Platoon Sergeant and Squad Leaders and the remaining 10% with your Team Leaders and Soldiers.  Otherwise, you are stepping out of your lane and being a micro-manager.

Your relationship with everyone in your platoon must be a professional one.  You should not be “friends” with anyone you supervise.  I recommend you establish a close relationship with your Platoon Sergeant.  You work together, share your failures and successes, and place the needs of your platoon above all else.  You won’t be on a first name basis, but you should be able to communicate freely, share ideas with each other and mutually respect each other.

With your Squad Leaders, you are their senior rater.  That means you need to know their strengths and weaknesses, personalities and what they bring to the table.  You should interact with your Squad Leaders on a one-on-one basis and in groups.  While most of the information will flow from you to the Platoon Sergeant to the Squad Leaders, it’s okay for you to give directives to them too.  Just make sure you keep your Platoon Sergeant in the loop.  Your relationship with your Squad Leaders is as an advisor.  You can offer them advice when they ask, but don’t end up doing the Platoon Sergeant’s job for him.

Your Team Leaders are three levels down.  That means you are their reviewer.  Once again, you should know what each one of your Team Leaders brings to the table, but you won’t interact with them on a one-on-one basis very often.  That being said, you should spot check their performance and know what motivates them.  And you should counsel with them periodically to learn about any problems that aren’t getting filtered “up” to your level.  Usually, when there is a Soldier issue, the Team Leader is the most informed, so they’re a good resource for fixing Soldier issues.

As a Platoon Leader, I don’t believe you should personally interact with your Soldiers on a regular basis.  By all means, you can check on them, ask them questions, and make sure everything is okay, but you shouldn’t spend much time doing this!  After all, that’s the job of the Team Leaders and Squad Leaders.  If a Soldier comes to you with a problem, listen to them, but make sure your subordinate leaders fix the issue.  My best advice is to remind you that you are not and should not be your Soldiers’ friend.  You are their leader.  You need to make sure they are taken care of and getting treated properly, but you shouldn’t be the one doing those things!

Final Thoughts

As a Platoon Leader, you need to think of yourself as a leader of leaders.  Your subordinates are the leaders of followers (Soldiers).  Of course, you have the responsibility to make sure everyone under your supervision is taken care of, but don’t make the common mistake of doing your subordinate leaders’ job for them!  Never manage more than two levels down.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any other questions? Please post any, and all below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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10 thoughts on “How Should a Platoon Leader Interact with Their Soldiers?”

  1. It is such a fine line to toe: the line between a compassionate, approachable leader, and a friend. These are some good tips to follow.

    I liked the advice to never give orders more than two levels down. It is important to follow the chain of command. You would also not want to usurp the authority of those leaders below you. Think of how you would feel if a higher-up went around you and started giving direction to your team.

  2. Great advice, Chuck. I’ve found that most Platoon Leaders want to be buddy buddy with their Soldiers. It’s as if being “liked” is the most important thing for them. That usually ends up backfiring on them.

  3. I would also like to add that it is important for the LT to be present when the Platoon is in the midst of a slugfest. Bad weather, working late, or overall having a crappy day. It lets the Soldier know you care and you are willing to share the hard times with them. Just a thought….but sharing the hard times with the team goes along way to gaining respect and credibility as a leader.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Mark. The PL should be the last one in line for chow and the first one out of the fox hole. As a former Soldier, there isn’t much more demotivating than seeing officers show up to work late and leave early. When the boss goes through the same situations as the people he leads, his Soldiers will respect him that much more.


  4. Chuck, I think that is one of the best and vividly illustrative ways I have heard the PL job described. It is neat to see what I do written so perfectly and in such a way. I couldn’t agree more. I particularly like how you utilize the 2 level system and correlate that to the rating scheme of the NCOER. A lot of people do not realize that the schematic of the rating system applies to how you should be managing and developing your platoon as well.

    I tend to spend 90% with my PSG and Senior VC. I also do not ever interfere with my Jr. NCOs conducting their counseling of their crews and subordinates. I think that many PLs would be wise to read this article. In fact, I am going to print this one out and leave it in my continuity book for the next PL filling my paragraph and line.

    Great article, Chuck!

    1. Thanks for the comments, Justin.

      I wish I would have known this advice when I was a new Platoon Leader. As a new PL, I tried to do to much. Even worse, many of the things I did were not my “real job.” I did those tasks because I did not truly understand what I was supposed to be doing.

      Most Platoon Leaders end up micro-managing their subordinates. In fact, I’ve known many Platoon Leaders who were trying to do the job of their Squad Leaders or Team Leaders. It’s very sad to see. The only way a Platoon Leader will truly learn their role is through their mentorship with their Platoon Sergeant and Company Commander. Otherwise, it’s trial by fire.


      1. Candace Ginestar

        I completely agree with this article and with Justin’s comments!
        I think just your willingness to be there early and late shows a lot. My PSG and I generally volunteer to do all the late missions if possible. Last drill C trp needed a late pickup (around midnight) and our unit got released around dinner time. Instead of assigning drivers to be available to do the mission, we just volunteered to stay and go do it. I think the Soldiers appreciate the reprieve when we are able to give them one (especially because they always get worked to the bone and are happy to do so). Good work should be rewarded whenever possible!

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