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!
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.