During my career I was always given the worst element in the unit (Squad, Platoon, Company). The good part about assuming responsibility for what my senior leaders saw as a substandard element is that I had no place to go but up. Typically what I found was that the element had some great Soldiers that just needed responsibility and accountability. We usually became the best element within 90-120 days. Not because of me, but because the Soldiers cared and wanted to be seen as the best element in the unit. (not trying to brag, they really did well)
However, following a Great or Good leader is more difficult as they have high standards and have honed the element to a significant point of readiness. They typically have a good relationship with their Soldiers and the Soldiers have a strong loyalty towards this leader. So how do you uphold the current standard and make the element better?
What I have found is a leader typically does a few things well, a few things good, keeps a few things moving, and some things just don’t get done because there simply is not enough time.
The Great/Good leader realizes what is important to senior leadership and makes those the priority and then focuses on other tasks that are important and then maintains other areas to the standard.
For example: Let’s say that senior leaders see marksmanship, NTC, and physical training as top priorities. This is where your focus should be. Then the unit has secondary priorities of preparing for NTC and new equipment training, and finally maintaining standards in day to day operations (maintenance, Soldier care, etc.). These should be your priorities.
So how do you impact the element in a positive way. The previous leader could only do so many things well. Perhaps they maintained a high physical training score in the element, were known for taking care of their Soldiers, and their ability to train their Soldiers to a high standard. These are significant achievements but they do not begin to encompass all the duties and responsibilities associated with leading an element.
When you lead an element their is a 360 degree perimeter and no one is good at managing all the tasks associated within that perimeter. They can only focus on so much.
Your objective should be to assess what the previous leader did well and maintain those areas to a high standard. Then find other areas that the previous leader simply did not have time for or are just barely maintaining the standard. Select a few of these tasks and do your best to raise these areas to a high standard. By maintaining the previous leader’s standards and adding your personal touch to other areas you increase the readiness and moral of your unit.
In summary – find out what is important to senior leadership make that your focus, assess the areas that the previous leader did well and maintain them, and then assess the areas that need improvement and knock them out of the park. By doing this you will earn the respect and loyalty of the element, be viewed as a positive leader by senior leadership but most importantly you have improved the readiness of the unit, developed your Soldiers, and set a good example.
Finally, never bad mouth the previous leader…it is unprofessional and only serves to encourage animosity among Soldiers that were loyal to the previous leader. It destroys your credibility as a leader.