The most common question I get from young Lieutenants is what specific actions to do when you become a Platoon Leader. You’re probably very well versed in building teams and establishing trust from the arduous pipeline to get you where you are today. Whether it was ROTC, West Point, or OCS, you have likely have a strong grasp on the requisite “soft skills” to lead a Platoon. Where I see young leaders fail is their lack of experience in establishing process, or what I call “hard skills”.
1. Do an initial assessment. There is a common expression in the Army that “you should do nothing and only observe in your first month.” While I do believe you should have an initial observation period, I don’t believe it takes 30 days. In actuality, you’re only a Platoon Leader for 12-18 months, so I wouldn’t recommend wasting a month being a wall flower. But I do believe it takes at least a week if you do it right. If doing an assessment seems nebulous, that’s because no one has ever told you how to do an initial assessment.
The whole key to an observation is that it should be active – not passive. In other words, you must have deliberate plan. If this is the stage where you are gathering all your information, shouldn’t you plan what information you want to gather? Here are some questions to consider:
- What does your Platoon do on a daily and weekly basis? What are their hard times, and what is the battle rhythm?
- Who has what authorities in your Platoon? Who releases for the day? Who dictates the tasks your Platoon works on? Who prioritizes their efforts?
- What is your Company Mission Essential Task List? What are your Platoon Critical Collective Tasks List (CCTL)? What is the Battalion and Company Commander’s priorities? How is your Platoon currently executing the aforementioned, and how can they improve?
- Who are the influential people in the Company, and Platoon?
Spend some time brainstorming questions to answer so that you can understand your Platoon, your Company, and your Battalion. You should spend the entire week engaged and asking questions.
2. Set Nested Goals. Once you understand your Commanders goals, and the current status of your Platoon, set Platoon Goals that are nested with your Commander’s priorities and Company METL. The biggest mistake young leaders make making goals too complicated, not nesting them, and keeping them relevant. Keep it simple. For example, let’s assume that you are in an Infantry Company and your Commander’s top priorities are: Fitness, Marksmanship, and Medical.
For the first priority of Fitness, you can assume that at a minimum your Platoon will be measured on the Army Physical Fitness Test, and the Infantry standard for ruck marching (12 miles in 3 hours). Those are two anchors to measure to set goals against, and if you choose to only have two goals, those are enough unless your Commander has stated otherwise. Trust me, improving the PT score of a 30 person Platoon is a difficult task in itself. If you can show improvement in your Platoon’s PT and keep everyone healthy, you will certainly stand out among the other Officers.
For Marksmanship, each soldier must qualify on their weapon individual weapon system as either Marksman, Sharpshooter, or Expert. Pull the range cards from the last qualification, and set a goal to improve. To see how to create an effective Platoon Marksmanship plan click here.
For Medical, it’s likely that your unit has a Combat Life Saver (CLS) program in which a soldier is certified or not certified. Plan a course, identify the NCOs who are certified to teach, and get a classroom. Maximize the number of CLS certified individuals in your Platoon.
If I bring these together, you should have something like this representing your establish your goals:
3. Get Buy In. You should have been doing this from Day 1 in getting to know your Platoon. Don’t create the above goals in a vacuum. Ask your NCOs questions. We’re talking basic stuff, they will come to the same outcome that you came to. It’s important that you get the buy in from your NCOs, and it’s best if you make them believe its their idea. They will own it. Be open if they want to add another goal or adjust the percentages, the most important thing is that everyone is moving in a consolidated direction moving towards your Commander’s priorities. Why is Self Awareness Important?
4. Create a Plan. Once you have goals, create a 6 months strategy with an action plan to get to those goals. Schedule diagnostic tests (PT and Ruck Marching) at the 3 month mark, and a for record at the 6 month mark. Look at the data at 3 months, you may need to adjust your plan.
Fitness. If a 270 PT score is a goal, then your PT plan should prioritize making soldiers better at pushups, sit ups, and running. Yes, there are other components. The workout must be comprehensive, and there must be active warm ups and long stretch cool downs so you are keeping them healthy. You also need to educate Soldiers on nutrition. The devil in is the details on this, and your NCOs will help you. To see how to create an effective Platoon PT plan click here.
Marksmanship. Most of your ranges will be planned at the company level, but there are many drills you can do without going to a range. To see how to create an effective Platoon Marksmanship plan click here.
Make sure you take into account the Company training plan, and let your Commander know your intentions so you can validate that you are meeting your Commander’s Intent.
5. Establish Weekly Platoon Training Meetings. Once a week, have a formal sit down meeting with your Platoon Sergeant and Squad Leaders. Come to the meeting prepared to discuss future training events, and conduct an After Action Review from the previous week’s training. Have an agenda, and use the Company Training Meeting information as a feeder into this meeting. Your NCOs will respect the time that you took to understand the Company training plan, and you are discussing with them ways to improve the Platoon. You will have a Company Training schedule for each week – use that to make a Platoon training schedule. Get your NCOs feedback, and use that in the plan. After all, they will be leading the training. The Platoon Training Meeting should address all of the 5 Ws for at least the next two weeks, and should be cover wave top events out as far as your Commander has planned.
6. Establish Daily Synchronization Meetings. Establish a routine of a daily meeting to discuss that day’s activities, and keep everyone included on any changes. My recommendation is to do this every morning at 0600hrs before PT. If your Commander has a sync meeting at 0600hrs, then meet with your NCOs immediately following PT, or before work call.
7. Understand your Company METL, and your Company training plan. Once you understand your Commander’s training strategy, you can develop your own training strategy and your Platoon Critical Tasks List to accomplish your Commander’s intent. Training management is a series of individual events that leads up to small collective events, and eventually culminates in a larger collective event. If Conduct a Squad Attack is a Company task, there are a lot of sub tasks that go into that larger collective task. Each soldier must be trained on their individual weapon system, and team leaders should be able to maneuver and give commands to their teams. There are so many things that go into this, and you will need to hash this out with your Platoon. This preparation should be done at the Platoon level in the weeks leading up to the training event. It will likely be on the Platoon leader to plan. When you show up to a Company training make sure you have done the proper preparation at your level. How does my Company Commander manage priorities?
8. Assess and Adjust. The best way to understand if your PT plan is working is to conduct a diagnostic PT test. If your Platoon improved or got worse will give you indicators on where you need to adjust. If pushups increased and running decreased, spend less time in the gym and more time on the pavement. Do this with all your Platoons goals, and constantly look for ways to improve your Platoon.
You’ve been chosen to lead this Platoon and you are legally responsible. America’s mothers and fathers have put their trust in you. The best you can give back to them is to make sure that their sons and daughters are trained. Remember, “A pint of sweat in training, will save a gallon of blood in war.”