There’s No “I” in Command Part 1: Connecting With the Larger Organization
The opinions expressed here do not reflect the positions of any branch of the U.S. Army, Department of The Army, Department of Defense, or U.S. Government.
The author of this piece is CPT Scott Nusom (@snusom22). Scott is an Armor Officer in the United States Army. He is currently a graduate student at Penn State University and was fortunate enough to command two companies in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
For new company commanders it is a normal urge to jump right in, eager to pull the unit in the direction we think it should go. We spend a lot of time anticipating and preparing for command and when it is finally our time to take the guidon, we are ready to hit the ground sprinting! Although the performance of our own units will always be in the forefront of our minds, it is important to remember that success requires much more than the efforts of any one individual. Just as our companies would falter without the dedication of the Soldiers within our own formations, we also heavily rely on the support and capabilities that our higher headquarters provide. Awareness of battalion priorities and decision making that helps instead of hinder the larger effort will set the foundation for success as a company commander.
The day I assumed troop command, my squadron commander told me “good commanders make their troops better but great commanders make the squadron better.” This advice influenced my approach to command and contributed to how I perceived my role within the squadron. Being able to function effectively as part of a complex team is a necessity, especially when the inevitable frustrations with higher headquarters materialize. The following recommendations can help new company commanders remain connected and focused on the larger organization once the daily grind of command takes over.
Make your commander’s priorities your priorities. Although company commanders should have their own priorities, you cannot let those replace or become more important than the priorities of your commander. Just as you will want your Soldiers and leaders to buy into your vision, it is equally important that you buy into your commander’s vision so you can show your company that what is important to your boss is a priority for you. If your decisions are in conflict with what the battalion is trying to accomplish, your Soldiers will never see how their hard work is contributing to the collective effort. Further, you do not want to create an environment where your Soldiers feel disconnected from the larger organization. You want your Soldiers to have immense pride in their company, but not at the expense of the battalion. As the commander, you have an obligation to show your company why the battalion commander’s priorities are important. Legitimate disagreements with your boss should happen behind closed doors, not criticized in the presence of Soldiers or subordinate leaders. Your commander is trying to improve the battalion in the same way you are trying to improve your company. Being on the same page as your boss will help both levels of the organization remain focused on a common objective.
Build a professional network. Connecting to the larger organization requires building collegial relationships and effectively communicating with leaders throughout your higher headquarters. Although you have earned the opportunity to command a company, you should still maintain a profound curiosity to learn as much as you can about leadership and the profession. Don’t limit your leader interactions to the battalion commander. The headquarters is full of tried and tested officers and non-commissioned officers. Identify those who can help you grow as a leader and converse with them frequently as they will provide insight and direction in areas where you lack experience. When I was in the cavalry squadron, I constantly sought guidance from the command sergeant major (CSM). A good CSM can give candid, relevant advice on any issue regarding Soldiers and will humble you with their knowledge and experience. While you will only seek leadership council from a few individuals, it is necessary to build professional relationships and effectively communicate with the other leaders in the battalion. Having strong relationships throughout the staff will allow everyone to quickly get past frustrations and moments of confusion as you work towards resolutions that are in the best interest of the entire unit.
Don’t let company command be a lonely job. Relationship building is not exclusive to your higher headquarters and the partnerships you build with your fellow commanders are just as important as the ones you create with the staff. Make it a regular occurrence to collaborate with the four or five other company commanders in the battalion as the ability for companies to effectively work together is vital for the success of the organization. If a fellow commander has a product, system, or training idea that you like don’t be stubborn…take it, adjust it, and make it your own. Just be willing and ready to reciprocate when the time comes. It is a real detriment to the unit if any commander is struggling. A selfless leader will jump at the opportunity to help when needed. Keep in mind, that within the span of a few training exercises, you will move from rookie to seasoned commander. Further, the urge to compete with your fellow commanders is healthy and necessary but make sure you are competing for the right reasons. It is extremely short sighted to go into command with the attitude that you are battling against your fellow commanders for OER bullets and rankings. Compete to make the other commanders around you better, as it will ultimately make you and the battalion better.
Focus on solutions instead of problems. During your tenure as a commander, there will be times when you become aggravated and upset with the decisions or actions of your higher headquarters. Although you may feel compelled to argue or protest in a public setting to prove a point and highlight the perceived injustice, don’t. This is usually ineffective and you or your company may have inadvertently contributed to the problem. Not only is calling out the operations officer during the training meeting or yelling at the S1 at command and staff counterproductive for a multitude of reasons, but it exacerbates the dilemma while failing to solve the original grievance. However frustrating these situations can be, they serve as great opportunities for you to learn and grow as a commander. Having a legitimate concern is fine and discussing them in the proper forum expected, but proposing a viable solution is as equally important as exposing a problem. After all, the Army is a learning organization with a high level of turnover, so it should not be a shock when problems or inefficiencies are uncovered within your organization. You can earn a lot of credibility and increase your sphere of influence within the battalion by collaborating with the larger organization to solve complex problems instead of merely complaining about issues.
Assuming command is a tremendous individual accomplishment but how you contribute to the larger organization will be a significant measurement of your success. By making a concentrated effort to connect with your higher headquarters and ensuring your decisions contribute to the larger effort, you will be on the right path to making both your company and the battalion great organizations!