The Company XO & Company Commander Relationship

Among all the duties and responsibilities a Company Commander has, developing his/her XO is one of those that is sometimes overlooked.  Being an XO is a thankless job, and all too often Commanders often rely on them to take care of the day to day operations of the Company, but neglect to mentor or develop them.

I personally believe that this is a terrible oversight and that a Commander has the ability to have the biggest impact on the XO and shape them for when they take Command later on down the road.  This article will cover a few tips for developing XOs and strengthening the Company XO/Company Commander Relationship. 

Oftentimes the XO will fill in for the Commander, whether they are covering down on a meeting, leading the Company convoy or writing an OPORD in their absence.  Yes, there will be plenty of opportunities for the XO to grab the ropes but one of the best things you can do to develop an XO is to let them lead when you are around. 

Randomly let them run a training meeting or other meeting and then discuss their strengths and weaknesses afterwards.  Let them conduct tactical operations during training as if they were the Commander.  Allowing your XO the freedom to operate while you’re around shows them you have confidence in their abilities and allows you to provide instant feedback and mentorship.

Before your XO arrives and you are preparing your initial counseling statement, take some time to develop a specific plan for how you are going to develop your XO.  Ask yourself some questions like:

  • What experiences would best develop him/her?
  • What does he/she need to work on?
  • What experiences has he/she had already?
  • How can I narrow the gaps that exist?

When developing your plan, always remember that development is the result of three things: 1) Experience; 2) Preparation for Experience & 3) Making Sense of and Processing the Experience.  

Now, I am not here to just preach to Commanders and their role in the development/relationship process because XOs need to be willing to be developed and learn as well.  In order to make sense of any experience and develop as a leader, you have to be motivated to learn and grow!  

An XO is essentially a Company Commander in Training.  In 1, 2 or 3 years you may very well be a Commander and your future command could very well be a reflection of that of which you served under as an XO (both good or bad!).  Make sure you keep that mindset and always be looking to pick your boss’s brain and learn from their experience.  Take notes, or even create a binder and go over certain aspects of Command with your Commander.  Learning is something that will bring you both closer together professionally and strengthen that Commander/XO relationship.

In closing, it is important for any leader to take time to develop their subordinates and their peers.  As a current Company XO I always try to take some time to help mentor and develop the PLs in my Unit.  I have plenty of experience in that arena and can share that with them.

Your Commander is no different.  Take the time to develop others and take the time to be developed.  There is no better teaching tool than experience and a close knit Commander/XO relationship ensures that the torch of experience continues to be passed along.

What tips do you have as a current Commander for developing your Company XO?  XOs, what techniques have helped you the most throughout your time?  Feel free to share!

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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3 thoughts on “The Company XO & Company Commander Relationship”

  1. This is a great article Justin.

    Company Commanders should realize that if they mentor and train their XOs correctly, it will take a load of burdens off their backs. In the same sense, XO’s should listen and heed the advice the Commander is giving them. By doing so, you will gain great insight and experience for later on in you career. I strongly agree with Chuck on learning by watching and asking questions. I would also suggest that reading is a good learning vehicle also.

  2. Great article here, Justin. I would like to chime in and add my thoughts on the Company Commander and Company XO relationship.

    For Company XOs, here is what I recommend:

    1. Realize your job is to SUPPORT the commander and make them shine.
    2. Realize your commander is busy and is FOCUSED on different things than you. You do the behind the scenes stuff and they focus on the big picture.
    3. Don’t be scared to ask your Commander for one-on-one mentorship time.
    4. Learn by watching. Learn by asking questions. And learn by doing.
    5. Put personalities aside and always do what is best for the unit.
    6. Always as your Commander, “what can I do to make your life easier?”

    For Company Commanders, here is what I recommend:
    1. Make time to mentor your Company XO.
    2. Get your XO reading!
    3. Do your initial and follow up counseling as required.
    4. Let your XO run the show whenever possible.
    5. Schedule 20 to 30 minutes every drill weekend to have some alone/mentoring time with your XO.
    6. Most importantly, be a good example!

    I hope these tips help.

    1. One of the parts that really hits is allowing the XO to run the show and do tasks. So often, as leaders we want to do everything ourselves and this is where the problem lies. If we keep doing everything ourselves, the subordinate is not learning, and then when we are gone, the system can fall into a shambles.

      On the other side, the XO has to be a willing learner. If they are not, and do not follow directions, this can cause the Commander to want to do it all themselves.

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