Top 7 Tips for Lieutenant Company Commanders

Let’s face it, being a Company Commander even as a seasoned Captain is one of the most challenging duty positions you will ever hold.  That being said, those challenges are even more exponentially present when you are a Lieutenant Company Commander.  More and more in the ARNG and USAR we see senior 1st Lieutenants taking Command before they are promoted or have even served in another duty position as a Captain.  Whether we agree with it or not, the reality is that it happens more often than we would expect.  Here are my Top 7 Tips for Lieutenant Company Commanders that will hopefully benefit those considering or have taken on the challenges of being a Company Commander.

My first tip, which may seem harsh, is do not take the assignment.  Yes, that’s right I said it.  While to some it may seem like career suicide to turn down Command when being offered, I am a firm believer that the men are far more important than your career.  Really look at yourself in the mirror and assess where you are as a leader and tactician…because once you take on the duties of a Company Commander there is no mercy for making errors due to lack of experience or competency.  Your Soldiers will determine your level of competence right off the bat and are extremely great judges in that arena.  While it may dig at you and the ambition burn deep within your loins, try to utilize what my Battalion Commander likes to call “tactical patience” and wait until you have a full kit bag of experience before you take command.  Get promoted.  Serve in the S3 shop for a while.  Realistically, Command should be one of the last (or close to) assignments you take on as a Captain…not the first.

Oftentimes due to how the cards are dealt within the Battalion, someone is going to have to take Command as a 1st Lieutenant.  If you are selected, kudos to you as this just means that your BN CDR has that much faith in your abilities and potential as a leader.  One tip I would offer, and one I offer to all Officers is to know what you don’t know and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!  It is a huge mistake for a young Lieutenant to be a “know-it-all.” Nothing turns off Soldiers faster or brings down morale more than a “know-it-all LT”. Yes, those of you with prior enlisted service, this includes you too. Work hard to learn the unit’s tactical SOP, battle drills, field standards, maintenance procedures, and regulations. You will never know it all. Admitting to your 1SG and AGR Staff that you do not know something is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of honesty. Weakness is the Lieutenant who does not take the time to learn their profession as a Commander and asks the 1SG about everythingProfessional development is something you should constantly pursue and should include vigorous professional reading.

My third bit of advice would be to inspect what you expect from your Soldiers and leaders.  One of the greatest things I took from my PL time and now as an XO is the habit inspecting the platoon and getting my hands dirty. Soldiers will often spend more time and energy to take shortcuts than to just do things right. Armed with the knowledge of experience, I am able to inspect weapons and equipment to see if they are doing proper PMCS, field recovery, and so forth…the things that I expect out of them. As a 1st Lieutenant Company Commander (well any Company Commander), Soldiers are going to test you and see what kind of leader you are and what they can and can’t get away with. Soldiers need to see you getting your hands dirty and checking things. It is human nature that people will do their best at something that will be checked. If you do not check something, your Soldiers probably will think it is not important to you.  Bottom line, if you expect something you better be willing to inspect it.

Make training your top priority!  Focus your training on the Company mission essential task list (METL) and do whatever you can to reduce training distractions. Push your Soldiers hard to make them the very best but do not burn them out. Everything you do should prepare the Company to conduct its wartime mission. Remember, Soldiers fight the same way they train, so make training as realistic as possible!  For example, PMCS inspections should be conducted wearing Kevlar and load-carrying equipment, under the same conditions as the range. If you have a battle drill which must be conducted at night, ensure you train it at night. Train your platoon to execute battle drills and prepare for deployment on “autopilot” where everyone knows exactly what to do and when. A well-trained unit in action is a sight to behold.

You should understand the roles other leaders play in your success as a Lieutenant Company Commander. The following are some to whom you should pay particular attention; they include the 1SG, BN Commander, and your peers.  First Sergeants are a great untapped source of guidance.  The 1SG has already been a successful platoon sergeant and trained many Lieutenants just like you. The 1SG is the Commander’s right hand and totally loyal to you. If you have any type of disagreement with the 1SG, ensure it stays at a professional level and that neither of you says or does anything to compromise the other’s position with the troops.  The BN Commander will have the greatest impact on your growth as a Commander. Your Battalion Commander should be your mentor, leader, coach, and counselor.  Utilize their experience and expertise.  Lastly, the camaraderie you develop with other Commanders in your BN will stay with you the rest of your life. Work together and share ideas so you all will be successful. Whatever you do, never try to undermine another Commander to make your Company look better. For one thing, that is both unprofessional and unethical. In addition, that Commander’s troops will not appreciate it (and troops have funny ways of letting you know this). No one likes a backstabber. Friendly rivalries can be good for all of you as long as you keep it in perspective. Remember, there is plenty of room at the top.

Learn to make do with scarce resources and personnel. All leaders today must make do with fewer resources and personnel than many of us did in years prior. In the past, the Company was almost always over-strength, fuel was plentiful, and our supply budget seemed limitless. In today’s world of dwindling resources and personnel shortages, leaders must be more creative and resourceful. This means you and your PLs take on more additional duties and cross-train in more skills than ever before. You must figure out how to come up with two MGS crews when you only have personnel for one. You and your PLs must figure out how to maintain six vehicles and ensure their servicing, etc., is completed with personnel for only three vehicle crews. Remember too that these are the same Soldiers who are taking on these extra duties, cross training on everything else, pulling post details, going to the range, and pulling TOC duty!

Lastly, I would urge you to guard your integrity. An Officer, and in particular a Company Commander, must have impeccable integrity in word and deeds. Your Soldiers must trust you because in combat they are trusting you with their lives. Never compromise your integrity…ever!  You will face numerous ethical dilemmas as a Company Commander and must maintain your integrity in each situation. Some situations will seem so murky you have a difficult time telling right from wrong. When in doubt, trust your instincts to do what is right.

Final Thoughts

There you have it.  These are my best tips for Lieutenant Company Commanders.  If you had the opportunity to serve as a 1LT Company Commander, I would love to hear from you.  Please share your best tips for success by leaving a comment below.

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13 thoughts on “Top 7 Tips for Lieutenant Company Commanders”

  1. I just have to add that if you do absolutely have to take this position as a Lt, get a mentor. Find someone old and wise who was there and learn from them. You could visit a VA hospital or the local VFW. I just think that a young Lt needs to have more experience before taking on such a heavy load.

  2. What you said about the 1SG is spot on, Chuck! My mother is a retired 1SG with the US Army and was looked to frequently by her Commander for advice on handling things. Even now as a JROTC instructor, you would think that she (not her Captain) was running the show! Holding your soldiers accountable, even for the little things, is another important factor. If they cut corners in seemingly insignificant areas such as inspection, you best believe they’ll do it on the field too!

  3. This is a wonderful post. I have to agree with Justin and just say ‘No, thank you’. Get the training you need and don’t push the time of rushing your career. It is important to get the training you need before accepting a position that you have not been trained correctly for.

  4. I have to say Justin… GREAT POST!

    It is very wise to do as Justin says here and say No Thank You. There is no sense throwing yourself into a lion’s den without any weapons. That is essentially what you could be doing by accepting company commander so early in your career. You could actually destroy your career by doing so.

    I agree that you need to build experience before taking on such a responsibility. You will have another opportunity and you will be stronger and wiser when you do.

    1. That’s how I feel Greg. I’ve seen lots of LTs take command, but most of them struggled simply because they didn’t have the experience. Yes, they had heart and talent, but without experience and maturity, it’s hard to succeed in Command.

  5. Many Lieutenants – even "butter bars" – are being pushed into command positions in the Reserve as there is a shortage of Junior Officers. "No, thanks" is not an option. As you said, training is a top priority, as this is the heart and soul of drill. It must be meaningful, with little idle time. The one-hour block of instruction is an absurdity, very ineffective use of time. Half-hour blocks is a more efficient and effective use of time. Next, Commander should focus on the reports: Attendance to drill, to schools, NCOES and MOS school enrollment, medical/ dental compliance, PT, security clearances, weapons qualification, equipment certification, sensitive items inventory, etc. This mundane tasks is what the new commander must focus on, as this is what he will be reporting to the higher ups. Bottom line, he must learn to be a manager.

    1. When it is an option to say No Thanks I think you should. What you are saying isn’t always the case and actually is pretty rare in the NG (not sure about AR). Many times we have young, stellar LTs filling a Commander slot when there are 1,000 CPTs sitting up in staff that are maybe not as well off as Commanders. All I am saying is that if it is an option, really consider taking on Command as an LT. The items you have listed above are important for a Commander to keep aware of…but if you alone are tracking those items and following up…you will lose your mind. I would say that those items need to be understood as important and delegated to your XO, 1SG and AGR Staff (for example, attendance is handled by 1SG, schools/NCOES etc is handled by TNG NCO…you see where I am going with this and the XO reports it all to you and through you…) You job as a Commander would be to make sure that those items are being addressed but not doing them yourself. Your focus is LEADING the Company…not doing everything yourself.

      1. Like I said, Lt’s in the ARMY RESERVE are being pushed into command positions due a shortage of Junior Officers. Not only that, many Reserve detachments and companies are staffed by one or two full-timers only. I was in command of a detachment with only one full-timer, an NCOIC position (1SG was not authorized) filled by an young SSG, and no XO. I took the position as an 1LT in order to get promoted to Captain. Fortunately for me and the unit, I had 20 years of enlisted service under my belt and had just came of an Active Duty tour as an S-4. With time and mentoring – and many mistakes- I learn to focus on the things I had to focus as commander. While one must learn to delegate, at the end of the day the commander is the one that has to respond to “the old man” at battalion or brigade (ironically, I was older than both my battalion or brigade commanders.

  6. GREAT article, Justin!!! I think people get so competitive, they get more focused on being ‘ahead’ of their peers, which is why they want to be commanders as LTs. Setting yourself apart is not a bad thing, but a lot of officers are focused on the wrong things and the wrong way of setting themselves apart. It should never be about competition with your peers, but about your Soldiers. Sometimes I think people forget this.

    1. It’s fine to set yourself apart from your peers. But don’t let your ego get in your way and help you get a job you aren’t prepared for. I personally HATE the idea of even letting LTs command, but that decision is/was above my pay-grade.

      When someone fails in Command, it’s normally the Soldiers that suffer, not the leader.

  7. I preach this time and time again on my website. Don’t be in a rush to take command. I am personally against LTs being commanders, simply because they do not have much experience. I understand that most LTs who are placed in that position will do their best and most of them will do a good job. I still don’t think it’s a good move.

    Make sure your Company Commander job is the culmination of your company grade officer experience, not the beginning of it! You need a few jobs under your belt at the platoon, company and battalion level. This makes you more well rounded and better prepares you for Company Command.

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