Company Command

Il Duce

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This is something I wrote and posted to Facebook, so if you're friends with @Marauder06 hopefully I'm not giving away anyone's secret identity.

I thought it might be useful here in the context of leader development. I'm posting to the intelligence thread because, though I think these are fairly universal, my experience is in intelligence companies - maneuver folks may have important differences in their developmental scheme.

Post below:

One of the things I’ve done more in my current job than ever before is preparing and mentoring company commanders. Company command is the most responsibility an officer will have during their first 15 years of service – and maybe ever. It’s an incredibly difficult job meant to be a crucible for junior leaders.

The requirement to teach, coach, and mentor these officers has made me reflect a lot on what I think is important in a commander – and what commanders have influenced me the most. The thought I’ve returned to again and again is how important my first company commander was to me, how much I learned from him, and how much I admire him as an officer and a person.

My first company commander was @Marauder06 . I’ve worked with him since and we’re still friends. It’s been illuminating to reflect on the things he did and how they’ve shaped me as a leader. It’s crazy for me to think about how junior he must have been at the time – more junior than many of the captains I talk to now – which only makes the accomplishment more significant.

The most significant things he did differently than most, and what I try to impart to my units’ CPTs is:

1. He counseled. He didn’t just offer advice here and there, didn’t just give clear guidance – though he did that as well. He sat down formally and in writing – every month – went over each LTs performance, what they did well and where they could improve, and talked about where we ranked against our peers. I sit down and counsel my subordinates the same way every quarter – as the regulation stipulates – but I can count on one hand the number of leaders I’ve worked for in 17 years who do the same. Most of the subordinates and peers I’ve spoken with never receive much in the way of counseling regardless of their time in service. It’s a leadership deficiency throughout the Army – but not one I or those that work for me fall prey to – thanks to a good commander who made it the only way to do business when I was too young to know any better.

2. He listened and learned. He didn’t hold sensing sessions or command climate surveys. He asked you your opinion, and if was good, he took it. Not always right away, but many times the next time the same problem arose he rolled your position into his own. No one was ever scared to speak up, feared reprisal, or ran the risk of losing/gaining credit for ideas and solutions. He just cared what other people thought – but never acted insecure about it. It’s a trait I’ve often tried to emulate but it’s harder than it sounds. He made no secret he was trying to get better at his job every day – and expected the same from us.

3. He was decisive. You never had to wait on a decision. I can’t remember a time when he was afraid to act or make a call. He did not always get it right, but that never made him gun-shy or doubt himself. I never knew if it was confidence that came from inside – or if he was faking it. But, I’ve always thought that was kind of the point. When in charge, take charge. A part of your role is to instill confidence in your subordinates, peers, and superiors. That means making the call and moving out – even when you’re not sure. It may sound like a small thing to football captains and prom kings/queens but to a dipshit college kid wearing a gold bar it was a lesson I needed badly and one that stuck.

4. He cared. He didn’t give out hugs, make friends, craft birthday baskets, or harp about how special you were. He cared by knowing who his Soldiers were – where they came from, what their family life was like, when they were up for promotion, and when they weren’t doing their job right. He cared by being fair, holding high standards, expecting Soldiers to meet them, but never turning against them when they didn’t. He enforced discipline – but never acted vindictively or with malice. I thought those were just the traits of a good human being. But as I’ve spent more time in the Army I’ve come to realize how often the toll of service can manifest against those traits. It’s too easy for your fatigue, desire, emotion, hurt, disappointment, or excitement to carry over into the way you lead. Your subordinate becomes the object of what’s going on with you – their behavior the manifestation of your problems, not theirs. He never fell into that trap, at least where he let his subordinates see. In the years since I’ve swelled with pride to see my Soldiers succeed, and felt disappointment and anger as they did not – and I did the things a leader needs to do to end or reset their career. But I learned from him as I started out that none of those actions can come from your emotions – no matter how noble you imagine them. They must come from fulfilling your duty – which is how you care when you’re a commander.

5. He spoke truth to power. We had some sketchy stuff go down in our battalion. Looking back it still shocks me – and I’ve seen more than a few shenanigans in my career since. I learned nothing about politics as a LT from my commander – and I’m glad of it. He was intentionally, deliberately, and enthusiastically not politic in any of his dealings. At the time I remember thinking ‘is he making things harder than they need to be’ by refusing to kowtow or shade the truth. It’s something I’ve come to appreciate more and more in my career as I see leaders shade the truth, stay silent, or pretend the standard is being met when it’s not. As I’ve gained rank I have realized how slippery the slope can be. You think ‘I’m a good officer, I just need to play the game a little to be in a position of influence to do things right.’ But, once you start playing it’s very hard to go back. He never started, and gave us LTs an example to remember as we progressed.

6. He had fun. No matter how stressful things were, what problems came down the chain, or how many late nights he always seemed like there was no place he’d rather be. He formed a band with members of the unit and re-wrote the lyrics to old songs with a snarky twist, formed a partnership with a local school, adopted a dog, had us design and carry platoon guidons, and a bunch of other hokey shit. Some of it worked out, some not so much – but he made it seem like there was a place for everyone in the unit. As long as you took your work seriously you could still enjoy life and be yourself. I haven’t started any of the programs or hobbies he did at any of my jobs since but, I took the lesson that if I ever started waking up wishing I was doing something else I would walk. This profession is too important not to love.

7. He built a team. I never once heard him tell the battalion commander, staff, or GOs when they visited what he had done – it was always the company. In the company I don’t remember him ever singling out individuals except when they were promoted, farewelled, or received an award – it was always 2nd platoon, 3rd squad, supply or operations. The spotlight ranger is a pernicious beast. Officers especially are expected to be ready with their support form, their weekly summary of accomplishments – hoping to catch the eye of the boss and be the golden boy for however long it lasts. The system rewards those types too often, but people who build the team lead units that eat those jokers’ lunch every time – and we did from maintenance, to inspections, to field problems, to PT. I don’t think we came in last on anything that involved a team and more often than not our company was at the front. I may be remembering through rose-colored glasses but in the end that’s what you want. As long as your team believes they’re a team and believes they’re winners they are – there’s only one real test in the Army and that comes in combat. The rest is just preparation.

8. He was a teacher. At every opportunity he took the time to explain how things worked, why he made a decision, and what was likely to happen next. My first day in the unit I remember thinking ‘man, this guy must think I don’t know anything’ followed closely by ‘he’s right, I really don’t know anything’ as I understood maybe 1 in 10 of the things he and the other CPTs were talking about at dinner. But young LTs learn quickly – the right things and the wrong. I could name dozens lessons he shared with me those years ago – not least because I’ve been passing them off as my own insights in the years since. But more than that it was the idea teaching others is our legacy. Giving your subordinates the chance to be the best versions of themselves, to learn from your mistakes and hard fought lessons to have the chance to be better – that’s how we make our mark as leaders. As I’ve progressed in my career I’ve seen a lot of different types of leaders, and more than a few who clearly don’t see that as how they want to make their mark. It’s another way I was lucky to have a commander who demonstrated a better path.
 

Marauder06

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This was really cool, thank you. Going to have to think about it for a while before making a more detailed response.

Anyone who is friends with me on FB already knows my real name and my "mara" identity here. No issues with the secret ID ;)
 

Il Duce

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Yeah, I considered adding a caveat to say 'he's not dying or anything (that I know of) my unit just had a panel to fill a new battalion and a half we're standing up so I interviewed and counseled a dozen different CPTs and have had this on my mind.'

I thought that might derail things into speculation about your health though - 'I don't know, he looks a little pale in this photo - has he always been that tall? - you can tell by the look in his eyes there's something going on - let's get the 'doctors' who were able to diagnose HRC from afar on the campaign trail on it, this guy is a goner.'
 

x SF med

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@Il Duce ... are you sure you're describing the gigantic goofy meathead I know? Parts of it ring true, but you are stretching it a bit far... is he still rating you? :ROFLMAO::ROFLMAO::ROFLMAO::wall::rolleyes:

His height makes him pale... altitude anoxia, y'know...

(kids... DO NOT try this at home, the gigantic part is 100% true, the rest, well you decide).
 

Devildoc

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I have never led anything larger than a division (and in the Navy it means something completely different!). I have had outstanding leaders and utterly horrible leaders. Marauder06 sounds like a leader I had, who made flag rank. I am envious of people who get leadership like that.
 

Il Duce

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@Il Duce ... are you sure you're describing the gigantic goofy meathead I know? Parts of it ring true, but you are stretching it a bit far... is he still rating you? :ROFLMAO::ROFLMAO::ROFLMAO::wall::rolleyes:

His height makes him pale... altitude anoxia, y'know...

(kids... DO NOT try this at home, the gigantic part is 100% true, the rest, well you decide).

Yeah, I'm prepping a follow up article tentatively titled 'guy hasn't done shit since company command' - that should quell any sense of pride from the first article...
 

Gunz

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My company commander in Vietnam, Bob Mallard, was cut from the same mold. The perception is a bit different for Es and junior NCOs because they aren't in such intimate contact with the CO like his subordinate officers; and in our case the CO and XO controlled the widely dispersed teams from a small compound rather than from the field. Captain Mallard had done his first tour as an infantry platoon leader. I don't know any Marine in that Combined Action Company who wouldn't have done anything for that guy. He had the kind of presence that commanded respect and yet wasn't above an occasional joke or wisecrack with an E2 or E3 and something as simple as that goes a long way. We knew he had our backs, we knew he gave a shit about us and we knew he'd BTDT. During my first contact I was slogging across a thigh-deep rice paddy with a PRC-25 on my back and a rifle trying to keep up with my Actual as we advanced toward a treeline from which we were taking fire--and trying to talk on the net at the same time. I'll never forget his calming voice over that handset. "Just take it easy, son, and tell me what's happening..." Son--the guy was probably 29 years old.

As @Il Duce has alluded to above, this type of officer seems to be the exception rather than the rule...but the exceptional commanders have an impact on their subordinates that shines through mediocrity, and in many ways makes up for toxic leadership that you encounter elsewhere.
 
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Board and Seize

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This thread is reminding me of the three senior officers I've had the pleasure of serving with in some capacity that (to me, at least) that exemplify real, meaningful leadership: Colonels Galvin, McGowan, and Armes.

Fred, I'm sure, needs no intro/description here. He's just posted a link on linkedin to a moveon.org petition regarding an upcoming House resolution to clear the names of Fox Co. Marines from the initial MSOC deployment to Afghanistan.

McGowan and Armes formed an OIC/AOIC team at III SOTG and created a very special place where critical thought was highly regarded, and subordinates were empowered (and backed up) to act on behalf of the unit's mission without needing to seek approval/permission at every step. I was challenged intellectually and ethically/morally (this was during the time that the USMC had a Corps-wide ethics training centered around the Milgram Experiment, the Stanford Prison Experiment, and the My Lai massacre: See Mcgowan's Leatherneck article - if you can get past the paywall). I was allowed more responsibility and latitude than is typical for the rank I held - and I excelled as a result. I am now in my final semester of college at a prestigious liberal arts college - and my presence here is directly attributable to these men who were/are excellent leaders.

It's encouraging to see Mattis raised to SECDEF as most of the "men's men"-type leaders get sidelined before getting birds, let alone passing through the GO gauntlet to emerge as a cabinet member. I hope that more men like these will find themselves able to survive and thrive despite the larger institutional resistance they face from big Army/Navy/Marines/AirForce.
 
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