If you are a brand new Commissioned Officer, listen up! As a seasoned Platoon Leader myself, and having been an NCO beforehand, I have had the great fortune of understanding how new Platoon Leaders get started on the wrong foot and earn their stereotypical reputations. I have spoken with NCOs, Platoon Sergeants, Company Commanders and the like and here are the Top 10 Mistakes Made by Platoon Leaders.
1) Poor Delegation – It basically all starts with poor delegation of duties. A lot of green “butter-bars” do not understand the importance of delegation or they think because they are in charge they can tell people what to do, but that is not delegation. Delegation is an important aspect of the job as a Platoon Leader and you have to understand what needs delegated, when, and to whom you should delegate to. As Andrew Carnegie once said, “No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.”
2) Negligent Oversight of Team Members – Along with poor delegation of duties, new PLs often fail to oversee the execution of those duties. Letting everything slide. You can delegate authority and tasks, but you can never delegate responsibility for delegating a task to someone else. If you picked the right Soldier, fine, but if you picked the wrong Soldier, the responsibility is yours, not his for the success and failure of your Platoon. Just because you have delegated a task, doesn’t mean you wash your hands of it. You must provide that oversight and control to ensure that things are accomplished to standard and within your intent.
3) Failure to Inform Leaders of Shortcomings – Many PLs remain absolutely clueless right up to the end which is reflective of their own leadership shortcomings. Why struggle that long? Shortcomings are not like wine, they do not get better with time. If you don’t know something…ask! Suck up your ego and realize that as a 2LT, yes, you are a Commissioned Officer, but you are still learning the ropes. Take advantage of that, because later in your career there will not be much leeway for not knowing.
4) Fostering of a Negative Environment – Some PLs sour the atmosphere for everyone in the Platoon. This is a little difficult to explain without possibly offending anyone, but…some people were just not born to be a Platoon Leader. Sure, you graduated college and earned your Commission, but perhaps you’d be better off preparing slideshows and writing memos. Soldiers will pick up on this very quickly and will begin to assess whether you belong or not. My tip…from day one, act like you belong there!
5) Procrastination – Leaving things to the last minute is never a good idea, and most PL’s fail to use the time available to them now to ensure that things get done. I see this time and time again. Whether it be from ignorance (not really knowing what your job is) or pure laziness, PLs with bad reps are the ones who are not proactive and getting things done. For example, you may have some Platoons who hand in their NCOERs weeks before they are due…and you have those who struggle to get them in even after they’re due.
6) Assuming Unrealistic Responsibilities – Most accept the promotion knowing that they have no experience or qualifications, and really no right to be a Leader of Soldiers. Oftentimes they accept responsibility for the things that they don’t know first thing about! Understanding your realistic expectations is always a good idea as a new PL. Spend a good amount of time truly understanding what your job is as a Platoon Leader before you walk into your first drill thinking you know what it is all about…
7) Taking a Commission for the Wrong Reasons – Believe it or not, some Lieutenants accept the position out of spite for their peers or someone else. Using the position solely to gain power over another Soldier is inappropriate. For example, I once knew of some prior enlisted Soldiers (young Privates) who were in college and because they didn’t like their current Squad Leader, they decided that they would join ROTC and become a 2LT. To me, this is the worst reason to become an Officer. If you do not have the purest intentions of leading Soldiers…just don’t do it.
8) Letting Soldiers Dictate Your Actions – Some PLs really have no idea what to do when things don’t go right, and come up with a bad plan because of pressure and irresponsible behavior on the part of his Soldiers. A strong Leader would realize that even if your Soldiers think it’s a good idea, doesn’t mean it is. In fact, some Soldiers want to see you fail. While it is always a good idea to consult with your Platoon Sergeant, never let your other Soldiers start calling the shots. You are the Platoon Leader.
9) Poorly Executing Bad Ideas –If all you have is a bad plan, your better execute it well. Reality most times is that PLs have some bad plans and this becomes even worse when they execute poorly. I don’t know if it is a lack of confidence or overthinking what you are doing, but PL’s often “make simple sh*t hard”. To me, there is not remedy for this other than to know that as a new PL you will be susceptible to this and you need to learn as much as your can as to be confident and develop good plans.
10) Blaming Other People for Leadership Failings – In the end PL, you have no one else to blame but himself, and trying to put the blame on other in front of everyone only makes it worse! A leader has to accept responsibility for the failings of their team. After all, with every failure (which is going to happen) comes the opportunity to learn and grow. Take it for what it is worth and move on. Blaming others will only make your new learning harder for yourself.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Take these tips to heart, if you are a new PL, or even if you are a seasoned Officer. Again, these are just my observations and opinions but I do believe that if you avoid these 10 things, you will be set up for success!
What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comment area below. Thank you.
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