The Staff Sergeant (E-6) is the workhorse of the Army. This group represents the “middle management” responsible for the execution of much of what goes on day to day. Even the Drill Sergeants who shape new recruits into Soldiers are mostly Staff Sergeants. So when you step into a Squad Leader role, you need to understand some basic changes you’ll need to make from your time as an E-5.
# 1 Start learning to delegate.
As an E-5 Team Leader, you’ve been focused on your three Soldiers. You’ve been directly responsible for their care, training, and oversight. Now it’s time to manage through others—through your two Team Leaders. There are some subtle differences between the direct management you’re accustomed to and successful delegation. The biggest thing is to remember that follow-up means spot checking your Soldiers to ensure the Team Leaders are doing their jobs. That, conveniently enough, leads to the next point.
# 2 Learn to inspect vs. checking.
The Team Leader checks all three of his Soldiers in detail. That’s the “pre-combat check.” As a Squad Leader, you don’t check all eight squad members—that’s duplication of effort and a waste of time. You check your Team Leaders, and then you conduct a pre-combat inspection. Just as your Company Commander in Basic Training didn’t look at every single piece of clothing and equipment of every Soldier when conducting an inspection, you spot check. If you find what you expect, good. If not, you start digging to see what else might be wrong. That extends to asking Soldiers basic questions about the mission to see whether information is flowing down through the Team Leaders.
#3 Let your team leaders handle their business.
Your junior NCOs have to have experience if they’re going to develop. Let them get it by doing their jobs. Step in when needed, but only when needed. This includes allowing them to make mistakes. “Good mistakes” are those that result when someone thinks through something, takes the right actions, and still ends up with things going wrong. Don’t crucify people for that. Bad mistakes—the ones that result from carelessness, laziness, or negligence—are the ones that are unacceptable.
# 4 Get a good grasp on the paperwork.
You should have been doing counseling on your Soldiers as a Team Leader. Award recommendations you might or might not have done yourself, depending on your specific unit. But now you need to start mastering counseling, awards, and the many more pieces of paper that will blow your way. You need to be able to train your subordinates in how to handle it the right way, so if necessary do a little research and learning yourself.
# 5 Know the OPORD format.
This one, admittedly, is mostly for combat arms Squad Leaders. In an infantry unit, the Squad Leaders work directly for the Platoon Leader in combat operations. He briefs his OPORD directly to them, and they in turn brief their Team Leaders. You need to be able to navigate the OPORD format and condense the order you receive down to the essentials your Team Leaders will need.
# 6 Watch your platoon sergeant.
One day, assuming you decide to stay in and you perform to standard, you’ll add another rocker and step up in front of a platoon. The time to start learning is now. Take the opportunity to see what your Platoon Sergeant’s responsibilities are and how he or she handles them. Ask questions when your job and his or her job permit. At some point, you’ll be the senior Squad Leader, which means in the Platoon Sergeant’s absence you’ll step up and fill the role. Start gathering the knowledge to do so successfully.
In some occupational specialties, you may linger in the various NCO ranks for quite a while. In others, it’s possible to move up quickly. If you find yourself thrust into a Squad Leader position and don’t feel quite ready, these tips will help you get oriented to the terrain and succeed.
What do you think about all of this? Do you have any questions? Just post them below. Thank you.
Daniel Slone is a 16-year infantry veteran and currently the first sergeant of a light reconnaissance unit of the Louisiana Army National Guard. In civilian life, he has earned a BA in political science and an MBA and is the controller for a holding company engaged in multiple lines of business.
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