What advice would you give to a future sub-unit commander?

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of the esteemed ARRSE community,

Please may I enlist your views and experience (both from serving and ex-serving Army personnel) to assist me in my preparation for sub-unit command.

From summer 2012 I will be taking command of a combat support sub-unit (in a close support role) and I could not think of better online community than ARRSE to request their support and advice to help my preparation.

From the outset, I passionately wish to be a 'good' commander, but what is a 'good' commander? I am aware that my own view of a 'good' sub-unit commander may be skewed by my own experience/opinion and that I may be wrong in some of the assumptions I have made about what is important and what isn't. What I need is some honest opinion about what it good (and should be done) and what is bad (thus be avoided) in order that I can hit the ground running in 2012 and be effective from the start.

I am aware that I will operate in a world of flux, continually shifting between the needs of the task and the needs of my team; aware that these rarely coincide! Often this situation is referred to as the balance between looking up and out, and down and in. In my experience too much of one way or the other is the main pitfall to avoid. I hope that some of the advice provided here will help me negotiate this see-saw position.

I would be grateful to anyone who could spend some time in answering any my questions listed below?

I would also be welcome to any general comments that anyone would like to put forward.

All views are welcome and are of value. Whilst the questions are written mostly in the present tense I would also like to hear from ex-serving personnel as their views no doubt remain applicable.

As a starter for comment I have 3 questions:

* What makes a good sub-unit commander?

* What mistakes/pitfalls should I avoid?

* What would you like changed at work so that you could be more effective and so work would be more satisfying?

Thanks in advance to anyone who provides a reply.



ps I am new to ARRSE if you think this would receive a better response in another forum please let me know.
A question - have you joined Vital Ground? If not, I wouldn't bother, the last post was in March!

Back to your point, as an RN Officer who is about to become a HoD, I can offer generic observations, but I'm not sure if they're the type of advice you're after.
Looked at VG but, like you, realised that it just has not been accepted by the wider sub-unit commander community and thus does not (yet) add much value.

All, and any, observations welcome!
When I asked (a long time ago" my boss said two words - follow me. My advice to you is also 2 words.........................................
**** off
Listen very carefully to your NCO's, observe without comment until you know exactly what is going on. Don't ask stupid questions of your guys e.g when they are changing a Track, don't ask "Whats going on, Chaps" Leave the running of the Unit to your SNCO's until THEY say you are ready. If your Guys fcuk up, kick arrse, if your Guys are right, back them to the hilt and beyond. No doubt you will receive more and better info from the other Members but remember this, when the Shit starts flying it will be you they look to, know ALL your Guys, both Wasters and Warriors, be firm but fair, be one of the Lads when called but also be an Officer when called for.Not bad for a Private in the Chunkies, eh!
Arters - thanks for your comments.

DarkNinja - err thanks for your comments too - not entirely sure how practical 'F**k off' will be, but I remain open to its usefulness.


in particular could you give some consideration to this question,

* What would you like changed at work so that you could be more effective and so work would be more satisfying?

Thanks again and I look forward to more comments, hopefully more in line with Arters' than Dark Ninja's!

At the risk of sounding cheesy, remember the Sandhurst motto, 'Serve to Lead'. When all else fails or seems confusing, ask yourself who is coming first....you, your blokes or the task (whatever that is)? This is classic 'Adair's balls' but it works....just remember....you come last...whether its your own comfort, sanity or looking good in front of the CO. Whether the blokes or the task takes preference is how you will be judged as a commander.

You will soon realise (I certainly did very quickly) that the Army works on respect as well as rank. Your SNCOs will be more prepared to respect you in view of your age/experience then they did when you were a Junior Commander....use that to your advantage....you will use it or lose it quickly.

Force yourself to use the chain of command...it is the responsibility of all those >30yrs old to encourage & mentor all those <30....this is especially true of your junior officers and junior NCOs (Tp/Plt Comd & Section Comd)....you will be tempted to use the 'Mgt team' (OC.2i/c, Sgt Maj & SNCOs) to get things done...and you can...at the expense of developing the future.

Make reporting (MS) a continuous process....setting goals at the start of the period, regular performance reviews, frequent notes, comprehensive mid-year reports will all make the end of period report writing so much easier. On that note, badger RHQ for the MS policy, but I would be surprised if there is any change from the 1/3rds rule...(top, middle, lower)... be honest with your team (SNCO's hate the notion of grading....force them to do it). Do it right and you may be able to score some victories when (for junior ranks such as Cpl) the grades are moderated across the Regt/Bn......by showing good practice you may be able to bump some of your lower 1/3 into the Regt-wide middle 1/3.

Finally...have fun...it this best job you will ever have.....get to know your team, lead from the front (esp on PT) and enjoy what will be a very quick tour.
Listen to your NCO's, junior and senior. Don't lock yourself away in your office, make sure your seen to be on the gun park and getting to know the lads and lasses. All ranks function might be a good way of starting things. Lead from the front, esp on PT.
HAve fun and be approachable.
Trust your Tp ldrs, and don't interfere by micro-mamaging their battle.

If you're worried they might not be up to task today, it is your job to ensure they are tomorrow - but remember to ask yourself the question "Are they doing it 'wrong', or are they just not doing it my way?"
Arters - thanks for your comments.

DarkNinja - err thanks for your comments too - not entirely sure how practical 'F**k off' will be, but I remain open to its usefulness.


in particular could you give some consideration to this question,

* What would you like changed at work so that you could be more effective and so work would be more satisfying?

Thanks again and I look forward to more comments, hopefully more in line with Arters' than Dark Ninja's!

Command is a lonely position. Dont have favorites. Listen to all. Deal with people as you would like to be dealt with. Remember that not all are as clever as you .... and a minority will be much cleverer. But whatever, you are in charge and the only way to get respect is to earn it by being fair, approachable, humorous and genuine. Above all, if you promise or agree something, DO IT. Take an interest in your men and wimmin. Learn their names and their wives names if appropriate. And .... support them to the hilt.
As others have said, and i totally agree with them, listen to your SNCO's and let them run things,whilst you keep an overview on things, they are the ones who have bags of experience, and are close enough to the coal face to know who are the good and bad soldiers under them.
The worst thing you could possibly do is arrive and piss everyone off by stating " Im in charge and I know best".
At unit socials, mix with and listen to the junior ranks, whilst it will come as no suprise that even the lowliest tom will have his opinion about how things could be run better, and how they could do it. Occasionally there will be a golden nugget amoungst all the shit.
My advice - make a big effort to be consistent.

Don't come in one day and start picking everyone up for everything and then a couple of days later let a few things slide because you are in a better mood.

Fair or foul - pick a line and stick to it.
Napoleon once made a comment about the advantage of lucky generals, and I think Monty also said something to that effect in terms of leadership.

That being the case, you could always ensure that your troops get a lucky commander by indulging in a quick game of Russian roulette in the mess...
You can't do it all - in fact, don't even try to. Decide what you're three biggest priorities are and attend to them...ruthlessly. Oh, and keep on top of your MS; after all, if your guys and gals are to work for you, then you need to work hard for them and deliver those career courses and promotions. Finally, the Officer's Mess will follow you almost without question - they are your peers; but is the Sergeant's Mess where you will have your work cut out - if you can convince them, they in turn will convince the juniors.


From the position of sub unit command (v):

The enjoyable bits, commanding your soldiers on operations/exercises, will be the most rewarding but in most cases also the easiest bit. You will do what you have trained for for the whole of your career to date, and everyone should be similarly focussed on the job in hand.

Where you will lose your name (and hence bring the wrath of the CO/QM et al down on your sub unit) is MS and EC.

For MS - hammer the subbies on the quality and timeliness of their report writing and then do your bit on time too. It is well worth keeping an MS diary throughout the year making notes for key issues (good and bad) to prompt your memory come report writing time. It will help fight your soldier's corner come grading board time.

For EC - Support the G4 chain for LSI/ECI but do not let it run riot. Given half a chance, they would shut up shop for 6 months prior to an inspection and have the whole sub unit on parade to polish every last nut and bolt. The key is in the paperwork (which is very much your concern) not in painting Bty/Rgt coloured squares onto every last tent pole and canvas.

As said before, consistency. Tempting as it is for all of us, try to avoid the Jekyl and Hide approach to man management - particularly when dealing with the unit village.
The Duke, History Man, Gassing Badger, Flaggie, oarkid, gorilla, armadillo, eodmatt, swannee kazoo, 06FA56Paderborn, Micawber


Thanks very much for those comments. Whilst some of the advice provided may be obvious there was certainly a few good points for me to take away.

I regret to say, however, that my own long haired CO vetoed the Labrador option!

Focus on G1/G4 is a common theme that's been repeated a few times and so I duly take note. It was certainly my intention to make MS the highest priority of my time but I appreciate the reiteration of its importance. I know from my own experience the negative impact on morale that can result from poor handling of MS. One piece of advice recently given to me was to let G3 sort itself out (after all it is mostly the SNCOs who really deliver this) but it was G1/G4 that you will lose your career over.

Winning over the SNCOs, or more importantly not alienating them, is something I learned from my time as a junior officer, but I do very much appreciate how important this is. It seems a key theme is to listen and it is certainly my intention to have an 'open door' policy, that is I will open it and get out around the team, rather than sticking to the Gaddafi school of leadership! In my experience this is something that previous OCs have not achieved very well.

Thanks to all for those who took time to respond. I hope this thread will remain open and I look forward to hearing more comments from anyone who would like to share their experience.

If there is an overwhelming demand that I must get a labrador please do repeat and I'll book an appointment with the domestic CO to raise the request again!




Apologies for any statements of the blindingly obvious, but one further one: Enjoy yourself!

PS. If you have any joy with the labrador bit, please let me know how. I have been trying for years with no success!

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