Platoon Leader Tip: How to Deal with a Difficult Platoon Sergeant

Here’s a problem one of my website visitors asked me about a couple days ago.

“I have a terrible relationship with my Platoon Sergeant. He is an AGR Readiness NCO and also a Platoon Sergeant, however, all I really see is AGR. He does none of the PSG duties, however is respected and known by our battalion leaders and our support battalion’s leaders. I cannot change our relationship through my relentless efforts. I understand that I am young, female, inexperienced; however I am a very hard worker, open, and willing to take feedback.

He has spent most drills in his office, letting other senior NCOs fulfill the PSG job. This makes an unstable work environment for me, and I do not get the support or mentorship I need to become a better officer. We can go through drills with saying less than 2 sentences to each other. I have tried counseling about communication. I have tried to pull advice out of him. I have tried many things. And yet, I know this is still MY problem as the Platoon Leader.

It’s very frustrating that he is consumed by his AGR job and has no efforts in helping me to become better. I know it’s not about me, but in order for my platoon to be good, I need to be as good as I can be as a leader.  Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. I have talked to my BOLC instructor and he suggested that there might be nothing I can do. I have talked to my Commander who suggested I talk to my Platoon Sergeant, which as mentioned above, I have done–frankly, quite a few times.

Please help!”

~ Name withheld for privacy Response

First of all, I’m sorry to hear that you are having this awful experience in your first real Officer job.  I don’t wish that upon anyone.  That being said, this does happen from time-to-time and while it might stink right now, it can turn out to be a blessing in disguise later on down the road. I say that because you will learn a lot from this bad experience, even if it’s what not to do.

Based upon what you told me, here are some things I recommend you do.  I recommend you try all of these different things, if needed.  Don’t give up too soon.  You might not see results overnight, but you can turn a bad Platoon Leader – Platoon Sergeant relationship into a good one with a solid game plan, a little work, and perseverance.

# 1 Take Responsibility for Your Own Personal Development

Yes, your Platoon Sergeant is supposed to teach you what right looks like.  But, ultimately you are responsible for your own personal development.  Don’t let his lack of mentorship justify you not growing as a leader.  Cowgirl up and create your own action plan to develop as a leader.  At a bare bones minimum, read 15-20 every day, find a mentor outside of your chain of command, attend leadership workshops, listen to audio programs, etc.  And remember, you can learn just as much from a bad mentor as you can from a good mentor.

Many Army leaders expect someone to sit down with them and mentor them.  In 999 out of 1000 cases this simply DOES NOT happen.  Most of what you will learn is through watching others.  You might get counseled in writing (if you are lucky), but don’t expect ANYONE to EVER spend much time teaching and mentoring you.  Ultimately, that’s your job.

# 2 Educate Yourself About What a Platoon Sergeant is Supposed to Do

Many new Platoon Leaders don’t actually know what the Platoon Leader is supposed to do and what the Platoon Sergeant is supposed to do.  In case you don’t know, I will give you a quick run over.  The Platoon Leader writes OPORDs, plans missions, and is responsible for the collective training.  The Platoon Sergeant makes sure the beans and bullets are taken care of.  And they make sure the Squad Leaders/Section Leaders have the resources they need to execute the mission assigned by the Platoon Leader.  They’re also responsible for individual training.

# 3 Talk with a Trusted Platoon Leader and Ask Them What They Do to Work Well with their Platoon Sergeant

Another idea is to have lunch with one of your peers and find out what they are doing to work well with their Platoon Sergeant.  Pick the Platoon Leader that you think has the best relationship with their Platoon Sergeant and ask them for a few tips.

# 4 Do His Initial Counseling in Writing the Next Time You are Together

I’m not sure if you ever did his initial counseling in writing, but if you haven’t, please do so immediately.  Let him know in writing what you expect of him and let him know what will happen if he exceeds and/or fails to meet your standards.

# 5 Consider Getting Some Input from the Battalion CSM or 1SG

Whenever I had difficulty dealing with a NCO, I would occasionally talk to the Battalion CSM, my unit 1SG, or a trusted senior NCO to get some advice.  I never said bad things about the other person, but I would ask them lots of questions and get some really good ideas.  If your Platoon Sergeant is real close with your unit’s Battalion CSM or Company 1SG, I would highly suggest going OUTSIDE your unit and talking with another trusted NCO, so there isn’t any backlash.

# 6 Find a Different Mentor

While your Platoon Sergeant is “supposed” to be your primary trainer and mentor; it doesn’t always work out that way.  As I mentioned earlier, you are ultimately responsible for your own personal development.  And if you want a mentor, it’s your job to find one.  When I first started out, my mentors were BOOKS.

As I met new people I respected, I would pick their brain whenever I could.  I also believe that we can all learn something from EVERYONE we come in contact with.  Keep an open mind and study what people do wrong and right.  You can learn a lot by observing everyone you meet.

# 7 Be the Lone Wolf

While I don’t recommend this to too many people, in some cases you might need to be the lone wolf.  What I mean by this is you might need to go around your Platoon Sergeant and work with the Squad Leaders (as a last resort).  Ultimately, the success of the platoon is on your Soldiers.  If you’ve tried everything, and I mean everything, and the two of you can’t work it out, you might need to go around him.

# 8 Meet with Your Commander and 1SG

If nothing else works, I suggest you meet with your Platoon Sergeant, Company Commander and 1SG at one time.  Tell them that you want to improve your relationship with your PSG, but nothing seems to be working.  Don’t make your Platoon Sergeant look bad, but let your CO and 1SG know you are having some communication problems and show them that you want to fix it and improve your relationship.  A good Command Team should be able to sort this out in no time.  Yes, it could backfire on you, but I would suggest trying it if nothing else I mentioned worked for you.

# 9 Don’t Burn Your Bridges

As a final tip I want to remind you not to burn your bridges.  If the NCO is real popular within the chain of command, you really don’t want to go after them with all your might and end up burning your own bridges in the process. Sometimes you might just have to wait it out and eventually you or your Platoon Sergeant will get reassigned.

Final Thoughts

I wish you all the best during these tough times.  Thanks for visiting my website and good luck straightening things out with your Platoon Sergeant.

If any of my website visitors have any other ideas, please leave a comment and let us know about them. If you have any questions, you can post them here too.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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17 thoughts on “Platoon Leader Tip: How to Deal with a Difficult Platoon Sergeant”

  1. Here is another angle: pump his ego. Not because he needs it, or because you want to, or because it is right, but because it may accomplish the mission.

    In his next counseling share with him that you are noticing he has a lot on his plate due to his AGR role. You want to help. Ask what duties and responsibilities can you two leverage in order to knock out the platoon’s mission while developing squad leaders.

    Delegating PSG tasks to other NCOs is a solid way to develop them for future PSG roles. There is typically one high speed SSG ready to get after it, and sometimes they are waiting for the nod.

    Your PSG may identify that this is an issue for him and it is a good idea. Ask for specifics on what he believes is appropriate to delegate. Put it on paper as a temporary plan of action/working agreement to reassess at a specific time and date.

    Now, end the conversation clearly but cautiously telling him you do not want to create the perception that he cannot balance his civilian job because all of your soldiers have to do that down to the newest private.

    You want to make sure soldiers do not see it that way as his job is very unique and special(wink) being a crossover position with the unit. Both jobs are critical to the mission of the unit and you know he can handle this, you are hoping to help make it easier on him so he can achieve success in both roles at a high level.

    In my opinion, if you put this on paper there are four real outcomes.

    Outcome 1 is he sees this as a way to offload work and continue to be a spotlight ranger. Perfect. This gets him happily out of the way so your team can drive on.

    Number 2 is he genuinely is swamped and can’t communicate it effectively and you are the hero. Even better!

    Option 3 is he sees through the expert flanking maneuver, but recognizes that the game is up and you did not have to make it this gentle.

    Lastly, if he stays the same after all of this bring in the command team and separately if needed the CSM. You are not asking for much, you are trying to help and the subtext is that his AGR duties are either preventing him from executing, or he is hiding behind them.

    This is the nuclear option. However, your number one priority is the mission, followed by the welfare of the platoon’s soldiers.

    There is more to this with specific language, but since it is six years later I hope this is not still happening. I believe that non traditional techniques are how we overcome leadership problems. Plus, he may have genuinely needed help organizing and managing tasks.

  2. Mellissa Burr Mulligan

    When I found this article, I thought someone wrote my story. I have found mentors (multiple) outside my chain of command; however, I am told repeatedly that there is nothing I can do. I've been told to just 'wait it out' because I will not be a PL forever. It is this mentality that allows this type of behavior to become common place and is not Army standard. Its frustrating to say the least. What action can I as a lowly PL do to a full time E7 who repeatedly chooses to not engage in platoon activities. A counseling would do nothing really except maybe cause the platoon sergeant to get irritated and further prove he does not have to listen to the PL. In a National Guard unit and dealing with an AGR Readiness NCO, a PL is pointless. They have no resources available to resolve these relationships. It is up to the NCO to do the right thing and if they don't there isn't much you can do.

    1. You could start out by talking with the PSG face to face to see what the problem is. Pull them aside in private and try to work it out in a friendly way. Let them know you want a good working relationship and that you want the platoon to succeed. That’s a good starting point.

      I’m assuming you’ve already done all of their counseling in writing. If you have not done that yet, please do so immediately. If there are additional problems, do more written counseling. You could also pull aside the 1SG or CSM to get some feedback. It might help to have a nice discussion with your Company Commander as well.

      Don’t think of yourself as a lowly PL. You are the PSG’s supervisor, even if they have more experience than you. It’s YOUR job to hold them accountable to the standards. If you don’t do that, you would be part of the problem.

      I hope that helps.

  3. It is very unfortunate that this young woman is having to deal with this situation which may or not be a personal bias on the part of her Platoon Sergeant. However, I think that it is great advice given by you (and other commentators) that she will just have to find a way to work around it. No, it is NOT fair, but it is what it is.

    This may be a great lesson in having to take full responsibility for her own career development. It looks like she will need to seek out a mentor elsewhere. This will be a great opportunity to make her own way in spite of obstacles, and if she ever has another poor leader, she will be prepared to handle it.

  4. I wanna make two quick points here:

    First, the fact that he is AGR should not be glossed over or used as a negative. While many full-time leaders try to hide behind their status and act as if their full-time job is more important, many do not. In many units the readiness NCO is 100% tasked out by the CO and 1SG on drill weekends dealing with command, unit, and soldier issues. While this not ok, the m-day leadership needs to help implement processes and directives that free up the full-time staff to do their jobs during drill. Maybe this NCO’s leadership has not done this, doesn’t provide any support in between drills, and expects him to fix everything during drill. Food for thought.

    Second, I don’t believe it is always a cop-out to refer to something as NCO or Officer business. For instance, I don’t need my LT or CO to tell me specifically how to execute certain training events. I would hope that it would be recognized that I achieved my position due partially to my expertise in organizing and executing collective training. I appreciate neccesary guidance, but in the end I am the expert at training soldiers. Conversely, while I enjoy having input into an OPORD and METL development, ultimately it is not my decision. We all have our roles.

    1. I get your point on NCO Business. You do have a certain expertise, you do have certain things you have earned over time that I need to respect as an officer. I personally don’t like telling NCOs how to execute training. I am glad you like having input into OPORD and METL development, though.

  5. As a woman, I feel comfortable in pointing out that you are a woman, and you're in what has been a traditionally man's world, and still is in many respects. Yes, I know that there are new laws and rules, but even platoon sergeants are human, and a predominantly male Army now accepting female soldiers is a stretch for many minds to find a comfort zone with. Am I saying he's targeting you intentionally because you are female? No! So please do not put the victim glasses on. What I am saying is that it might behoove you to take a step back, slip into his boots for a few minutes, and look at things through his eyes. The guys that I know in the Army and in the Guard have made the same comments over the past several years, regardless of their positions on accepting females into the military, and those comments were that females in the military need to talk less and learn/do more, and they need to not get so emotional. You are going to have to prove you are a capable soldier not inclined to whine or get overly emotional, as is the perception with many guys. Ask yourself, are you proving them right? Have you tried talking with your platoon sergeant, soldier to soldier? Not demanding an audience when he has ten different things going on, but respectfully asking to schedule some time with him to talk and clear the air. It's always best to work things out with the person you have an issue with whenever possible.

    I concur with suggestions 1,2,3, 6 and 9 above. Personal responsibility is always the first step, because even when we think we are making "relentless efforts", often we could be contributing to the problem or approaching it from an ineffective angle. I was also struck by the word "relentless". That gives a perception you've been hounding him, and you might want to use that as a starting point for self-evaluation. Educating yourself about what a platoon sergeant does, as well as talking in confidence with one of his counterparts, is an excellent way to create understanding (standing in his boots for a while, remember?). Seeking a mentor other than your platoon sergeant is a great way to complement this process.

    Finally, point number 9, don't burn your bridges. I can't stress that enough. You have a long road ahead of you, and your handling of this situation could create numerous potholes for you in the future. Remember, you are a team, and you are all in this together.

    1. Candace Ginestar

      I agree with this, and I think that #9 is the most important because of how small the Guard is – people don’t move away as much, and it really is a family. Be careful who you talk about and think about the impression you are leaving on others.
      We did some shifting around of personnel, so my AGR was the PSG on paper, but another NCO was actually the PSG operationally. This may be something to suggest to your commander.

  6. I agree with the point of counseling the PSG. Something that new PLs fail to do when they arrive within the first few drills is to sit down with their PSG and counsel them. You discuss your duties and responsibilities and talk about who thinks who should worry about each area. This prevents you from crossing each others lanes later on down the road. It also, like you mentioned, allows you to develop and reveal your expectations for him or her. Coupled with that, you have the tough job of breaking the AGR curse. I will agree it is a PAIN in the @$$ when AGR Soldiers behave as if they are untouchable and are unaccountable to you, a Commissioned Officer just because they are full-timers. On this, the rule of 2 levels up helps. Have an issue with a PSG…talk to your BN SGM.

    The worst thing you can do as an Officer is complain about how HIS lack of performance is affecting YOU. YOU are a COMMISSIONED OFFICER in the US ARMY. If you have a turd NCO, deal with him and seek self development elsewhere. You did not need him to earn your Commission nor do you need him to be a good PL. That is just more fuel for an NCO when they complain about Officers…”all my PL does is complain about how I do not help…She’s the one with the rank and makes the big bucks…let her deal with it…” Look at this situation as a challenge and deal with it because expecting him to do this and that and doing nothing about it will get you just that…nothing.

    1. Good points, Justin.

      A few times during my career I had NCOs tell me that I wasn’t their boss, because I was an M-Day Solider and they were AGR. Needless to say I fixed that immediately. At the end of the day, the AGR folks work for their unit Command Team, not the other full-time AGR. It’s also important to have a rating scheme that reflects that.

      Your point about complaining as an Officer is spot on. If we are dealt a bad NCO, it’s still our job to get the job done. We can’t make excuses and say we can’t achieve success because we don’t have a good NCO who will mentor us or do their job properly.

      As officers, the buck stops with us.


      1. I agree with you on the fact that the buck stops with us. We need to be prepared to accomplish the mission, whether we mesh well with our NCO counterpart or not. The Soldiers are still showing up and ready to work.

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