10 Things to Remember For Butter Bars When Taking Over a Platoon
1. Don’t Be Too Excited
First thing’s first. You are not going to be the greatest Platoon Leader the Army has ever seen. You do not possess some sort of miraculous, ultra-leadership trait that will cause your Platoon to beckon to your every order without question. You are just some dude with a gold bar who is being pushed into a position of great responsibility with literally no experience. I don’t mean to make your new venture sound bleak, but… it is. You MUST understand that you are not the first PL your Platoon has had, and you won’t be the last. Do not get caught up in thinking that you are going to be some sort of “super-leader,” because in the end you will always fall short of expectation. You don’t know shit, you have no experience, so how could you possibly be a good leader? You need to go into your new position humble and ready to learn.
2. The First 30 Days
As soon as you find out which Platoon you will be taking responsibility for, you need to immediately begin integrating yourself into the team. Shadow the outgoing PL (if you can), get to know your PSG by going to lunch and having down to earth conversations, figure out what the Platoon is good at, and what they suck at. But, DO NOT even think about making any changes to the way the Platoon operates until at least 30 days after your arrival. You need to allow enough time to take everything in and see what is working and what isn’t. Do not rush into making any decisions. Take your time and consult with the PSG before even thinking about making any adjustments.
3. Learn What You Can
Sure, you may have a degree, you might be… “educated,” but you are far from knowledgeable about the Soldier dynamic, especially in a small, tight-knit platoon-sized element. These guys (and gals) have been working together for some time now, and more than likely have put up with plenty of bullshit and hard times together. You are the “new guy,” the outsider. You already don’t have much going for you as a new officer and Soldiers already don’t expect much from you. They will not trust you at first, and why should they? So, go into your new position knowing you don’t know shit. Ask questions, get your hands dirty, and be present ALWAYS. Be around to talk with you Soldiers, get to know them, clean your weapon with them, dig your hole with them, eat your Chili Mac MRE with them, do EVERYTHING you can with them. It will take time to earn the trust of your Soldiers, but if you go into the position humble, and willing to learn what you can from your NCOs and Soldiers, you will eventually become one of the crew. The more you learn, the better you will be able to make decisions that are in the best interest of your Soldiers, which is what good leadership is all about.
4. Know Your Role and Protect the Platoon
You are ultimately responsible for everything the Platoon does or fails to do. That’s why you get paid more. However, understand that your position is no more important than anyone else’s in the Platoon. The team needs everyone in order to operate effectively. Your specific position ultimately boils down to being the middle-man between the Commander and the Platoon. You are a communicator, not a rifleman. Your greatest tool is the radio. That being said, (and I know I’m going to hurt some commanders’ feelings with this) your responsibility is to the Platoon, before it is EVER to the CO. You are the one on the ground with your Soldiers, you know the situation, and if you’re a decent leader you know your Soldiers. Therefore, you know what is best for their well-being much better than the CO ever will. So, when the time comes to make decisions, based on what the CO’s orders dictate, that may affect the safety or well-being of your Platoon, remember your men and women, and remember where your responsibilities truly lie. Do right by them, always.
5. You WILL Fail, Don’t Stress It
Whether you suck at land nav, can group on target for shit, or get your ass handed to you in the combatives pit, there will be times when you just flat out fail. Remember that some of the best lessons you can learn are through failure. Even more so, your failure can be lessons learned for your Soldiers. When you fail something, stay humble about it, don’t take it to heart. Your guys will talk shit, but that’s OK. That’s what brothers and sisters do to one-another. In fact, the more they joke with you and give you a hard time, the more likely it is that they respect you for being human. The best thing you can do in regard to failure is use it as a learning tool, not only for yourself, but for your Soldiers as well. There is nothing wrong with using your own mistakes as an example of what not to do.
6. Be A Good Example, Always
You don’t have to be perfect (in fact you shouldn’t be), but you do need to do the right thing. As the Platoon Leader, it is up to you to set the overall tone of the Platoon. Your Soldiers are going to feed off of your energy. If you start off the day all pissy and in a bad mood, you Soldiers will do the same. You need to put your feelings aside and be the grown-up. Be at the right place, at the right time, and in the right uniform, always. You need to figure out what motivates your team and work towards providing that motivation when you can. You need to stay motivated as often as possible. Don’t talk down on your superiors in front of your Soldiers, its unprofessional and it will cause disruption at the unit. Keep a strong mind, stay mission orientated, and pay attention to the feelings of your troops. If someone is down, talk with them and offer support. NEVER disregard or ignore a possible problem one of your Soldiers is having. You should be there for them as support, always.
7. Communicate Effectively
To be honest, and I can tell you from my own experience growing up as a Private through a SFC, your Platoon will usually try to find ways not to do what you need them to do, especially when in garrison. They will find excuses why an item has gone missing, why they didn't open the connex for inspection, why they weren't at PT, or why they "didn't understand what you meant." They can't help it, and typically it is not their intention to do these kinds of things in a way that should be offensive to you directly. Don't be mad at them, and don't let it get you upset. Instead, MAKE SURE to communicate your needs completely and frequently so that they undeniably understand what it important and what is not. Do not allow any mistakes in translation when giving an order, and do not be afraid to use a knife hand or two when you REALLY need something done. I am not saying to be the overbearing kind of leader, or to be "the yelling type," but when you are operating as the "captain of the team," proper communication is key to the overall success of the unit. Never assume they know what you mean if you weren't 100% clear on an order or a command. Make sure to always provide proper direction, motivation, and purpose for everything.
8. Work Smarter, Not Harder
Don’t worry, your leadership is going to provide you with plenty of busy work. Whether it be products for training meetings, OPORDs, story-boards… you name it, you’ll do it. So, you need to get your priorities right and figure out which “products” require the most attention. You should be spending as much time with your Platoon as possible. Don’t get stuck in the rut of being the PL that spend the majority of his time in the office. Manage your time properly. Some products just don’t require as much attention as others. For example, if you help with the PT schedule, that should be something you should really focus on. Same with training plans and reservations of ranges/land. Products like story-boards and CONOPs are important (kind-of), but they don’t hold a torch to what really matters. You should just include the bare minimum to be acceptable to your leadership in regards to these kinds of products, nothing more, nothing less. Again, I may be hurting some commander’s feelings out there, but time with your Soldiers is better well spent in person or in the dirt then it ever will be behind a computer screen.
9. Look For Ways to Develop Teamwork / Encourage Competition
One of the easiest ways to encourage teamwork and unit-cohesion is through hard PT and hard training. Don't be the Platoon Leader that doesn't PT with their guys. You better be there, and you better motivate them to put in work. For training, don't just schedule a boring-ass marksmanship qual range and call it a day. Add-in some reactive drills, maybe some CQB, or a stress shoot. Get them to challenge themselves. Develop a monthly squad competition internal to the platoon, where they can test themselves against each other in Skill Level 1 tasks and fitness. You should also be competing and participating in events like these alongside your Soldiers whenever you can. Finds ways to compete against each other and grow as a team. Not only will you all get better for it, but your esprit de corps will be much higher.
10. Provide a Good RIP
When it is nearing the time to give up the Platoon to an incoming Platoon Leader, you should do right by them by preparing your Platoon for the new leadership’s arrival. You should also make an effort to spend as much time as you can with the new PL before you leave the Platoon. Have him/her come join you and the Platoon for PT or a training event. Show them how the Platoon operates, the “Do’s and Don’ts,” and the norms. Show them what a “day in the life” is for you, and what they should be looking out for. And for the love of God, DO NOT fuck them over with property. Get your books together and be professional when it comes time to sign over your equipment. Remember what it was like for you and make sure you do better than the last PL did for you.
Don’t stress so much about becoming a PL. Enjoy the position, work FOR your Soldiers, and learn what you can. Those are the best things you can do in order to be successful and grow as an army officer.
Author: CPT Dan Fahey
~Exceed the Standard