Top 5 Tips for New Army Company, Battalion and Brigade XOs

Nothing is worse than coming into a job and not knowing what to do.  Sure, every job can be articulated in terms of duties and responsibilities but nobody ever really paints the picture on how those things are accomplished.  For the most part, we figure it out as we go.  In my opinion, it shouldn’t be that way, especially in the Army.

One job that really shouldn’t be a “figure it out as you go” job and that is the job of Company Executive Officer (XO). Overall, the XO is responsible for…well, everything.  The duties and responsibilities of the XO encompass a lot and can be overwhelming at times.  That all being said, I am offering up my Top 5 Tips for New Army Company XOs in hopes that they will better prepare you for the position.

My number one tip would be to get your bearing and get organized!  When you step on as XO, it is game time.  You are now immersed in the current operations of a Company, Battalion, whatever it may be.  There is no time to really, “figure it out as you go” and people depend on your competency and ability to execute.

Suspenses don’t change just because there was a transition, maintenance demands don’t just stand still while you adjust and people are demanding.  I know when I started as XO it seemed like a lot and what helped me was just to collect myself, get organized and paint the overall picture of the organization I was a part of.  This allowed me to understand a lot of things and put them into perspective.  Taking the time (before I assumed XO duties) to get organized is critical!

I was talking with the outgoing XO, FTUS, BTN staff sections…everyone I could to get the materials I needed together to build spreadsheets, binders, etc.  So, before you start, develop a plan, get organized and make sure you have your bearing.

Understanding the roles of other leaders is another critical aspect of success as an XO (especially as an HHC XO).  As XO, you work to serve the Commander, the 1SG, the PLs and the Soldiers.  XO is consuming enough as it is to not understand who the other key leaders are and how you can delegate and ensure things are getting done through other people.  Now, I am not saying you just dump work on others, but if you do not delegate things you will become ineffective, period.

Knowing the leadership throughout your organization and their roles will help you know who to delegate things to and when.  It will also help prevent conflict with others.  Can’t tell you how many times I have seen XOs butting heads with FMS maintenance personnel over issues that would probably be better dealt with in-house to correct.  So, tip number two is to know the players and what their roles are and how you fit into that overall picture.  As always, lead through your NCOs! 

Having a daily planner and/or calendar app is critical!  This goes with my first tip, but more over to help keep you organized throughout your time as XO.  You will get pounded with suspenses that you will need to track (trust me).  Between my civilian job and being XO, I often find it hard to remember what day it is…thankfully I have my black daily planner and calendar inserts.  I cannot imagine how anyone could be an XO without one.

You will also experience tasks that require you to have paperwork processed so many days prior to execution that make it hard to accomplish without a planner.  For example, our Battalion requires Convoy Movement Orders (CMOs) in order to move our Stryker fleet on State roads.  That means for me as XO, I have to know what vehicles need to move from HS to FMS 90 days from now and process that paper work.  Add to that the Form 1 Requests I have to process to draw vehicles from UTES for training and there is just too much to keep track of in your head.  Maybe you can…who knows, but I would bank that a planner and calendar will ensure success for you as XO.

This tip is probably one of my best and the most overlooked by XOs (and all leaders for that matter).  Always inspect what you expect!  As XO, yes you are not the maintenance expert more so than the maintenance manager but if you do not inspect the things you are expecting you are setting yourself up for failure.  Yes, lead through your NCOs but never underestimate the power of following up yourself.

If you ask the Soldiers in my unit, I am a tough XO in terms of enforcing the standards and expectations I ask of them.  I will personally PMCS a vehicle as a spot check, I review each log book that comes across my desk and I do not accept shortcuts.  Soldiers know that they can’t bullsh*t me and that leads to success on many fronts.  Our vehicles and equipment are accounted for and well maintained and I have peace of mind that things are going as I intended.  You can tell Soldiers and other leaders to do this and that but unless they know you are following up, you lose all credibility.  Don’t make that mistake!

Lastly, always remember (at any level of leadership, not just XO) that you serve the Soldiers, not the other way around.  I have always been told that the XO job is a “thankless” job and you have to be ready for that going into it.  Part of that understanding lies in knowing that your job is to bust your rear end making sure that your fellow Officers, FTUS, Commander and Soldiers are able to do their job because you’ve done yours.

Too often I have seen XOs on power trips who demand this and that from everyone else, but do not do anything.  This is the wrong answer.  Keeping this mindset will also always steer you in the right direction when you are at a loss as to what you should be doing.  Start looking around you and ask yourself, “What can I do for; my Commander, my FTUS, the Sniper section, etc.” and your job will become clear.

Serving as an XO is one of the most demanding, yet most rewarding jobs you can have as an Army Officer.  With the challenge comes development and a sincere appreciation for the dynamics of leadership, supply, maintenance and other aspects that make an Army organization run efficiently.  I hope my tips have helped you prepare for the next step in your Army career and add to the wonderful tips provided in the Part-Time Commander XO Course material!

What tips do you have from your experience?  Feel free to share!

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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3 thoughts on “Top 5 Tips for New Army Company, Battalion and Brigade XOs”

  1. Wow, some great tips here from both of you Justin and Chuck. It is important that time management is a priority from what I can tell for an new XO. I believe if I was going into that position, I would attempt to find a mentor to help guide me through the process. So many leaders make a job look easy and we get this mindset that it is until we step into it. I would say the #1 tip I found here is to know when to delegate. No man or woman can do it all themselves.

  2. Justin,

    These are all some really great tips for Army XOs. Here are a few additional tips I would offer.

    # 1 Know Your Commander’s Weaknesses – My first tip is to know your commander’s weaknesses. No one is good at everything. Figure out what areas your commander is weak in and pick up the slack in those areas.

    # 2 Work Closely with Higher – Work closely with your higher headquarters to make sure your unit has completed what they want done. If you are a Company XO, work with closely with the Battalion XO. Show them you are proactive and that you care. Make your unit shine in their mind.

    # 3 Know Your Role – Know that your primary job is admin, supply, maintenance and current operations. You are the person behind the scenes keeping the machine going.

    # 4 Be a Helper – One of the things that I did that worked well for me when I was a Company XO was to walk around and ask my different platoons and sections “what can I do to help you?” This is being a servant leader, it shows your troops you care, and it keeps you informed about any potential problems going on in your unit.

    I appreciate your article Justin. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure you will do a great job as XO.

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