In this post, first published in The Forge, Colonel Richard Barrett reflects on his time as a Commanding Officer and provides some handy tips for those assuming command.
Proud but humble
Congratulations on being selected for command. It is a recognition of your efforts to date and your future potential. But ensure that you are humble. Remember that it is conceivable that you won’t always be right.
Lead, but directly, physically serve
Take opportunities to physically serve your team. At a meal time, digging a pit, doing a manual task.
Command Philosophy – get to know the unit, listen to what it needs
Each unit has its own personality that constantly evolves. Even the same unit changes over time. Look and listen to what the unit needs before you espouse your philosophy and new direction.
Commanding Officer (CO) – Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM): an arranged marriage
Neither the CO nor the RSM usually gets a choice. It is an arranged marriage, it needs hard work and maintenance.
A unit is strong but its morale can be fragile
The unit will still be there when you have gone. Have you built it up or damaged its people?
Trust, be disappointed, trust again
Trust your team, but inevitably someone will let you down. When they do, you have to give trust again. This entails personal risk, but without it there is little room for subordinate growth or professional enjoyment.
Provide clear direction and let your subordinates do their job.
Micro-manage the Equipment and Stores Account
Closely manage the Equipment and Stores Account. Do an ‘everything check’. Empty the store, count it and put it back in. Schedule a CO spot check every week.
It’s not about you, but it’s on you
You feel every high and low in command. It’s not actually about you, but you are responsible for everything that goes on in the unit. Graciously accept the good, because you’ll own the bad.
Only accept the trophy for champion unit
Lance Corporal Jones accepts the rugby, netball or cross country trophy from the Brigade Commander.
CO is the sweet spot between intimacy and authority
The Section, Platoon and Company Commanders know the soldiers better, but the CO retains the authority. DOCM/SCMA will usually accept your recommendation.
COs give eulogies.
Terrain, weather, corporate governance
It’s a fact of life, just do it.
Corporate governance = professionalism
Few people care if the unit can do the best battalion attack. If there’s no corporate governance culture – it’s not a professional culture.
Transparency is your friend
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your spidey senses. Then tell the Brigade Commander, and ask for higher HQ to help you solve the issue.
Welcome audit teams
Greet them Monday morning. Have lunch with them Tuesday. Initial backbrief Wednesday, they’ll help you solve the problems on Thursday, and give you a good report on Friday.
Have fun and be seen to have fun
This is the best job – enjoy it. Also, CO is the pinnacle for what many will see. It has to be attractive.
Monitor your own mental health and emotional reserves
Watch yourself and your HQ. It is your duty to make good decisions. You can only make good decisions if you have sleep and take leave.
Command is awesome but consuming
CO is the one job that Army has comprehensively prepared you for. It is intellectually easy, and it should be fun. But it is all encompassing. You are a guardian for a short and special period of time, and then it’ll end.
Note: I didn’t always get these right at the time.