Managing Two Levels Down in the Army

Today, I want to talk about managing two levels down in the Army.

When it comes to military leadership, a lot of leaders “lose touch” about “who” they should be leading and “how” they should do it.  For the purpose of this article, I want to share some extremely valuable leadership advice I learned during my 15 years in the Army.

I’m even embarrassed to admit that early on in my career, I really messed this up.  Fortunately, I found a few mentors midway through my career who showed me what right looks like.

If YOU are a military leader, either an officer or NCO, you should ONLY manage two levels down.  Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • A Platoon Sergeant would lead/manage their Squad Leaders and Team Leaders, not the other Soldiers in the platoon
  • A Company Commander would personally mentor the 1SG/XO and the Platoon Leaders and Platoon Sergeants, not the other Soldiers in the company
  • A Battalion Commander would mentor the Company Commanders and Platoon Leaders AND the XO, CSM and Staff, not the other officers and NCOs in the Battalion
  • A Squad Leader would mentor his Team Leaders and Soldiers

A lot of leaders make the mistake and try to manage/lead MANY levels down in their organization.  For example, a Battalion Commander might be trying to manage his unit way down the the squad level.  Or perhaps a Company Commander is trying to manage their unit down to the team level.  Or maybe a Platoon Sergeant is trying to manage their individual soldiers.

When you lead more than two levels down, here’s what happens:

  • You micromanage your subordinate leaders and do their job for them
  • You spend your time with the wrong people
  • Your disempower your subordinate leaders
  • You waste valuable time you should be using to focus on more important tasks

So, here’s the best advice I can offer you.

# 1 Work closely with your direct reports (1st level)

If you are someone’s rater, you should work closely with them.  Depending upon their rank, title, experience level, and level of competency, you should help them set goals, provide feedback, make on the spot corrections and praise them.  You want to know them on a personal level and you should be communicating with them DAILY (minimum weekly).  They should be able to bring their problems to you and you should set aside time to mentor, help and lead them.

# 2 Monitor and get the know the people you senior rate (2nd level)

Here’s where a lot of military leaders mess up.  I can speak from personal experience and tell you that throughout my career I had very little, if ANY one-on-one time with my senior raters.  The only time I heard from them was when my OER was due.  I always wondered how they could write something about me since they never even met me!  Maybe you can relate.  Maybe not.

If you are lucky enough to senior rate people, you need to make sure that their supervisor is leading and mentoring them properly. You also need to have some contact with them, in person, over the phone and/or by email at least once a month.  At a minimum, you should interact with everyone you senior rate at least once a month.  You should also REVIEW the counselings your direct reports do with the people you senior rate.  The most important thing  is that you KNOW these people individually, so you can write an honest and fair evaluation report about them. And you want to help them become better leaders.

# 3 If there is a problem at the 3rd of 4th level, make sure your subordinate leaders deal with it!

Here’s another big area where many military leaders mess up.  If you are informed about a problem in your organization and it’s below the second level, you should have SOMEONE ELSE deal with it!  Before you ever address an issue you need to make sure the issue had a chance to work its way up the chain of command and your subordinate leaders had a chance to handle it.  If you “jump” on the issue, you are stepping out of your lane!  Sure, there will be a few rare exceptions to this rule (not many), but always make sure you don’t try to do your subordinate leaders’ job for them.

Final Thoughts

Here’s the bottom line folks.  Manage two levels down and you will be a more effective and more efficient leader.  Try to do more than that and you will burn yourself out and not be very productive.

What are your thoughts?  Leave a comment below and let us know.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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6 thoughts on “Managing Two Levels Down in the Army”

  1. It’s the art of delegation and knowing your role. I personally like when the head honcho does rounds. It tells me they are in touch with what’s going on with their subordinates on all levels. Communication though, that should be limited to reports and your two level down system. Greg & Candace make great points about empowering your subordinates too. They won’t learn to fly until you kick them out of the nest.

  2. This is a great post Chuck.

    I especially liked the part when you stated that when a leader goes further than two levels deep, they are taking power and respect away from other leaders. This creates a complete negative atmosphere and will lead to nothing but negative consequences. the key is, as you said, when there is a problem further down then two levels, the leader needs to confront the leaders that are over the problem.

    1. Candace Ginestar

      Nothing is worse than feeling disrespected or having that taken away from you, as you stated. Once a negative atmosphere is created, it can be detrimental and very hard to recover from.

    2. There are those times when a leader feels a need to jump in and help at lower levels. I see nothing wrong with this as long as they make their intentions clear beforehand. By doing so, the leader will gain respect as being honest and hardworking. Others will see this and will learn from it. The most important part of all of this is communication. As long as leaders are communicating, things will run smoothly.

  3. Candace Ginestar

    Thank you Chuck! Bravo!! I see this happening a lot. As leaders, we must empower our NCOs, not disable them, especially our junior NCOs. Squad and team leaders are where the rubber meets the road, and they need room to maneuver – how can they, if their commander is breathing down their neck? I would think that a commander is sufficiently busy, to where they don’t have to micromanage…or they don’t even have time to think about it.

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