Leadership & Ethics
I’ve Made It Through The First Few Months As An OC – What Do I Do Now? Tips for Company CommandersBy Nathan Pierpoint April 22, 2020
By now, you’ve received your commanding officer’s guidance for the year, probably provided your command philosophy to your own company, and tried to map out the year. What you’re also coming to realise is that the year is full of courses, support activities, mandatory inspections and maintenance periods. Once you get through the frustration of balancing competing activities, you’ve probably realised you’ve escaped the wrath of the Battalion second in command (2IC) and/or Commanding Officer (CO) and you have managed to secure a little autonomy to command your company in the way you had hoped. So what do you do now? Do you let things just happen, or should you look for more work? This short little post will help you consider what do.
Have a Plan B
Let’s clear the air with this one first. You’re probably worried about how you sit for Staff College, and you’re wondering what you can do to ensure you get a leg-up over your peers. The short answer is – don’t. It’s imperative that you focus on the job of leading your company, doing the simple things well, engaging broadly, coming up with realistic and demanding training and, most of all, managing your soldiers in close consultation with the CO and Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). If, after all this, you don’t make it to staff College that’s okay too, just have a Plan B. In this regard, give some consideration to two important aspects of your future career. If you need to do another posting as a Major to determine your worth, where should you go? If you’re happy as a Major, where could you best serve? Give due consideration to what you enjoy doing (outside command and leadership), what you may have studied in the past, or what interests you about building, managing or improving the future Army. Communicate this openly with your CO and Careers Advisor, and have a discussion about where they might see you in the future as well. Don’t hide your expectations: make sure they are well known and expect an honest answer in return. Trust me, you’ll feel better for it!
Look for ways to improve your exercises
The next aspect you should be considering is how you can improve upcoming exercises, both individually and collectively. Certainly, there are training levels and goals to achieve, but a standard timetable during daylight hours isn’t what you should be looking for. Most importantly, if you’ve copied the standard exercise format from last year, rip it up and start again. Remember, the soldiers have more than likely been in the unit longer than you, so if they have to perform the same training year after year, you’ll get a lacklustre output from your team. Certainly take the advice from those that have gone before you, but you need to start thinking about a few key things:
- Is the exercise structured to meet my command style? Does it present opportunities for me to learn as well?
- Does the exercise help your platoon commanders and section commanders grow as a leaders? Consider what opportunities it presents to allow for time and space to fail safely and learn from those mistakes, and how you are providing that positive learning environment.
- Perhaps most importantly, how are you ensuring that the exercise works on developing genuine resilience in your soldiers? You can do this by making sure what they experience is realistic, especially the fatigue and pressure of challenging situations. This will allow you to better appreciate your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and appreciate what you can achieve as a team in the long run.
You should also give consideration to how can you shape the lead-up to, and preparation for, larger field exercises. Don’t let Battalion Headquarters (BHQ) come up with all the good ideas, because they probably won’t. That’s no disrespect to your command team, its just to acknowledge the fact the team in BHQ are likely to be juggling a number of other important matters and generally can’t turn their mind to an exercise as much as what they would like. You should be looking at opportunities to assist your command team, highlighting aspects that YOU can help improve or presenting work you have already done to improve the individual and small team level preparations. It’s okay to share what you’ve done with your other Officers Commanding (OC’s) as well – don’t hide all your good work! Good leaders share and collaborate; they don’t work in isolation.
Don’t be afraid to think outside your unit as well. Try to consider who else could you train with from the local area, or that might have a particular set of skills that you’d like to learn more from. Everyone is always competing for the same range space, generally over the same period of time - but most importantly, no one fights alone. Have a chat to your peers in local units to see who needs to conduct training as well, and where you might be able to gain a valuable skill. After discussing with the CO, what other agencies could join in the exercise? Understanding who will fight beside you is important, especially if they don’t wear the same uniform as you.
Look for opportunities for self-development
I strongly encourage those that want to last in this organisation to do something that helps you grow. This is more than just writing; this is involving yourself in activities for your own personal development, professional development, mental health and resilience. This could include things like: actively engaging in opportunities to write articles, give presentations or write essays as part of unit Professional Military Education (PME); doing a TAFE course or university degree if you wish or haven’t already (if you haven’t done one up to this point I recommend it); or you might even want to do a CrossFit course. The Intranet is also a great resource to find random courses available through the ADF or our partners. It’s worth spending the time to have a look through DEFGRAMS to see if there are courses for either yourself, or your soldiers, that provide a level of professional growth for you or the unit.
Ultimately, you should be looking to engage in activities that gives you an opportunity to express yourself outside of your normal command and leadership responsibilities. These opportunities will also give you time to focus on things other than what’s happening at work, build valuable multi-tasking skills, and prepare you for life after the Army (which will happen eventually!). As a former CO, I appreciated those OC’s who were not only diligent in their command responsibilities, but found the time to do things outside of work for their own self-development.
Don’t give up
Leading is a challenge. It’s a responsibility that you need to continually work on, it’s demanding on your time and the welfare issues can wear you down. It will be hard at times to find the motivation to keep going. As a former CO I implore you, please don’t give up. There are two aspects here to consider here.
First, command and leadership roles are not what everyone ultimately wants to do or can do well, and you might come to this realisation during your time as an OC – and that’s okay. But you need to finish it. Don’t give up on your command team, and especially your soldiers. Ask for assistance if you need help getting through tasks, and make sure you do the basic things well – management of your soldiers and their safety should be your number one priority.
Secondly, appreciate that close to the end of your tenure you will be tired, both emotionally and physically. It’s okay because your CO and your fellow OC’s are probably in the same position. Importantly, your soldiers will be in the same boat, so you are far more inclined to make mistakes. Think of your team like an Olympic sprinter: after the main event (Hamel or post-activity remediation), consider tapering your efforts to prepare for the next big activity. Importantly, its worth finding time to actively rest so that you are well postured to support short notice activities like Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) emergencies (fires, floods, pandemics) that will inevitably occur during the “off season”.
Inevitably, welfare issues will materialise as people get tired and make mistakes in their personal life as well. So its important that you manage these carefully, and don’t let them drag into next year and after your tenure (if you can prevent it). In the latter part of the year consider activities that add value and prepare your soldiers (and yourself) for next year. Activities that might be more enjoyable, and less reflective of a military activity, but still help to build resilience, and allow you to stay fit and healthy. Remember, a new thrusting OC or CO will arrive soon and will no doubt want to make it “the best unit in the Army” as well.
Everyone’s journey will be different, and I can only speak from my experience as both an OC and CO from a few years ago now. Hopefully a few of the points I’ve highlighted gives you something to think about as you navigate the rest of your time in command. Ultimately, all your CO wants you to do is try your best, ask questions and adhere to their command guidance. I always told my guys that the basic tenets of command, in my own words, were: trust, communication and teamwork. In the end, this is probably the closest you will be to soldiers for the rest of your career – so enjoy the camaraderie, the challenges and the opportunities that it brings while it lasts!