How to Send Issues Up the Chain of Command

This article is written primarily for USAR and ARNG personnel.

As military leaders, we will sometimes deal with Soldier issues or work related problems that must be sent up the chain of command to get resolved.   Whenever possible, we should try to handle everything at the lowest level possible.  That’s the job of each leader in the Army, from the Corporal to the Commanding General.

But some issues are a little more complex than that.  Sometimes (as leaders) we don’t know how to fix an issue, or we don’t know whether or not our boss needs to know about an issue. And sometimes the issue is so critical; we know we need to notify our boss about it immediately.  Whenever either of these things happen you should send the issue up the chain of command to keep everyone informed.

Most Commanders (CPT and above) have some type of CCIR (Commander’s Critical Information Requirements).  These are “critical issues” they want to know about whenever the issue takes place.  Some examples might include:

  • Soldier Death
  • DUI
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Soldier Hospitalization
  • AWOL Soldier

Each Commander’s list will vary a bit based upon their personality, goals, leadership style and other factors.

In the paragraphs below, I want to share some additional tips about how to send issues up the chain of command.

# 1 Empower Your Subordinate Leaders and Support Their Decisions

If you lead other leaders, you need to tell your subordinate leaders that you trust their judgment and you support their decisions.  Sure, they might not always make the same decision that you do.  Heck, they might not always make the right decision either. But you have to empower them as leaders.  You need to give them the authority to do their job, and you need to be supportive (unless they do something unethical, illegal or immoral).  If you have someone working for you who makes decisions on their own, consider yourself lucky!

The last thing I would ever want is a subordinate leader who is always asking my permission or trying to get my approval to do something.  Leaders get paid to make decisions!  Teach your people to make decisions so they can be independent of you, not dependent on you.  And make sure you support them.  If you always go against their decisions, they will stop making decisions.

send issues up the chain of command# 2 As a Senior Leader, Tell Your Subordinates What Your Critical Issues Are

When you first start your new job position, sit down with all your direct reports (leaders) and tell them your expectations.  Tell them EXACTLY what issues must be reported up the chain of command and how/when they should be reported.  Put this in writing, brief everyone and give them a copy of your policy.  If you need to change or modify your policy at some point in time, that’s fine.

# 3 Take Some Initiative 

That is what you get paid to do.  If you’ve been given advice on what must be sent up the chain of command, then by all means follow it.  If you don’t know what to do, try to handle the issue yourself.  If at any time you are questionable about what to do take action, but give your boss a courtesy call.

Personally, I never got mad at a subordinate leader for taking the initiative and trying to resolve an issue, even if they did it wrong.  Remember, your job as a leader is to develop your subordinate leaders.

# 4 Have a Formal Reporting Process

Try to come up with a standardized or formal reporting process, which is nothing more than a series of steps people must follow to report/address an issue.  Here’s an example:

  • Call your boss on the phone first and then send an email if you can’t reach them by phone
  • Give your boss all the facts
  • Tell your boss what you have done to handle the situation so far
  • Suggest a recommended course of action (or two) based on the information you have
  • Listen to their advice and follow it

This is the simple process that I used while I was a Commander.

Final Thoughts

In summary, this is my best advice about how to send issues up the chain of command and how to empower your subordinates to handle issues at the lowest levels possible.  The bottom line up front is that you as a leader get paid to resolve issues at your level.  When you can’t do that, or if the issue is too serious of an offense, than by all means send it up the chain of command to be dealt with.  Otherwise, trust your judgment, take the initiative, and do the best you can to fix the issue.

What are your thoughts? Leave your comments or questions below. Thanks.

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6 thoughts on “How to Send Issues Up the Chain of Command”

  1. Pingback: Army Chain of Command | Citizen Soldier Resource Center
  2. Excellent, Charles: All leaders MUST make sure their subordinates have the opportunity and ability to send issues up the chain of command, without fear or reprimand.

    When leadership does not develop that atmosphere, job life in the Army or anywhere can feel claustrophobic. People will not be near as productive on the team as could be.

  3. Military and civilian chains of command often have set regulations for forwarding information/issues. Yet, I imagine most situations have gray areas. Finding out about those gray areas (through superiors) and clarifying gray areas (for subordinates) is critical. Upon accepting any assignment, definitely ask superiors for guidelines on how they want issues handled (they may already have a procedures manual in place for their command). With your subordinates, develop a manual and discuss it with them, detailing what issues are priorities and what issues are secondary. Developing and explaining a plan will save you time and stress later on. Lastly, document all issues encountered.

    1. The most important thing is that it happens. All leaders MUST make sure their subordinates have the opportunity and ability to send issues up the chain of command, without fear or reprimand. The day your Soldiers can’t bring you their issues is the day you have failed as their leader.

  4. This is such an important topic. One needs to know the proper procedure to send up issues. It’s something that should never be feared and should be able to be done without any threat of consequence.

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