Note From CSM (R) Gerecht: CSM Woodyard was my battalion CSM when he wrote this article. He was an incredible leader, exceptional mentor, and role model. Unfortunately his life was cut short as a result of a traffic accident while serving as our battalion CSM. I hope each of you reading this article today will be inspired as many of us were inspired by CSM Woodyard!
If you’ve been around the Army for any length of time, you’ve heard a platoon sergeant speaking of “My LT”. These words can be given any number of inflections to convey any number of emotions: pride, respect, exasperation, etc. It’s important for the platoon sergeant to remember that the “LTs” performance reflects not only the platoon leader’s abilities but the platoon sergeant’s abilities as well.
The earliest level of direct NCO/Officer relationship is at the platoon level, and it’s here that foundations are laid and relationships formed which may last throughout a career. We can sum up the essence of this relationship in four “C’s”.
It’s essential that the platoon leader and platoon sergeant begin with a common goal. If there is any questions, the goal is simply good training, mission accomplishment, and care of the troops. Orientation toward this goal begins with genuine mutual respect—a recognition of the training, abilities, and aspirations of each leader. It doesn’t include an unhealthy preoccupation with personal rewards, evaluations or what “the boss” is going to think. If either of you is more worried about these things than about the mission and the Soldiers, resolve it immediately or get out of the leadership business. Your Soldiers will recognize it and “tune out” a phony in a very short time.
In order to build cohesion, you should be seen together often (but not always). Some important places to spend your time are: the motor pool, training, sports, unit social activities and the dining facility. If you want to get a true idea of how your Soldiers eat, check the evening and weekend meals, not weekday lunch. Prove to members of your platoon that you care about them as individuals and that you care about them as a team. You’re not supposed to become buddies, but you must work together. Finally ensure that the troops can’t get around one of you by going to the other.
Platoon leaders and platoon sergeants must communicate. Good communication doesn’t happen all by itself; it requires constant, conscious effort. Both sides must work at it; one person can’t communicate. One of your earliest sessions will include your NCOER counseling. At this time, discuss who’s responsible for what and ensure that neither can abdicate responsibilities. Set guidelines for how you will deal with routine business and how you will react to anything out of the ordinary.
Talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen. Then add some more “listen.” Both of you should listen to guidance and directions from above, listen to your Soldier and to each other. Set aside time each day to discuss training, activities, and problems. Be sure to include time for brainstorming-sounding out new ideas and improvements.
As platoon sergeant, you must be constantly aware of your role as teacher to your platoon leader. In most cases, you will be older, more experienced and more established as a leader. Your task is to convey your knowledge and experience to your lieutenant without being condescending or disrespectful. And remember-you’re never so knowledgeable that you can’t learn something new for yourself.
The next aspect of communication is so important I almost give it a “C” of its own. Meanwhile, timely counseling is absolutely necessary to maintain a motivated, disciplined, smooth-running platoon. Counseling-to include rewards and punishments-is integral to caring for Soldiers. In fact, it’s as important as good training and good equipment. You and your platoon leader will work together to establish realistic, recognizable standards. Then, you must correct Soldiers who fall short, recognize those who meet the standards and reward those who exceed them. It’s not necessary for you to sit together during the counseling session, but you must counsel and you must communicate the results to each other.
As an NCO your professionalism should present a constant challenge to your platoon leader and to the Soldiers assigned to you. Every day, you set the example in appearance, physical fitness, dependability and attitudes. If you slip, you give someone else an excuse to slip with you. When it comes to common task, MOS competence, weapons, or general military knowledge, you must be the most proficient Soldier in the platoon. If you’re doing all of this, you will earn the same respect I heard in the voice of a young lieutenant a few days ago. He told me, “When I screw up, I don’t worry about what the commander will say’ I worry about what SFC Jones is going to think of me. I hate to let him down.” Such respect does not come with the job; you earn it.
The final “C” I call cover. Be careful not to give this one the wrong connotation. Cover does not include covering up breeches of integrity or deliberate wrongdoing. It does mean that you create an environment where you lieutenant can make mistakes, learn and grow. You begin creating the environment by demanding proper military courtesy from the platoon members towards their platoon leader.
You must understand and weigh the relative inexperience of young officers in contrast to the amount of responsibility they carry. In addition to the platoon, most lieutenants will have a number of additional responsibilities. Most young officers need help managing their time. Teach them how to prioritize, plan and delegate. You will know that your leadership team is working well when their time is not eaten up with routine running of the platoon.
Everyone makes mistakes. Lieutenants make their share. Your job here is twofold. First make sure they learn from those mistakes. If a mistake is repeated, provide firm, pointed instruction to keep it from becoming a habitual problem.
The Army has done a superb job in recent years of teaching NCOs to train Soldiers. We have placed less emphasis on the vital task of teaching young officers. However, if you’re new at this business, help is available. Your best source is probably your first sergeant or an experienced, trusted platoon sergeant. Also keep your eyes open for a commander or staff officer who works well with NCOs. This indicates a good first experience and chance for you to learn about the relationship from another angle. The 22-series of leadership publications (Now ADP/ADRP/ATP 6-22 series) provide another valuable source of information.
As you begin working with “your” LT, your first concern will be to provide the very best leadership possible for the platoon. But at the same time, you’re training a future commander or staff officer and making an impression that will influence his/her relationship with NCOs for years to come. You have a big job, platoon sergeant; get to it.
Extracted from the Winter 1993 edition of the NCO Journal.
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