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While the names of the companies have been changed, the following situations are drawn from real deployments and are real examples of the dynamic effect that proper, positive leadership of junior officers can have on a unit.
A Tale of Two Companies
Deployed to the Mediterranean for six months, the lieutenants of Zulu Company were a diverse lot. Two were augmented from the reserves; two were prior enlisted; one had a military school background. They had a wide range of differing opinions and personality conflicts; occasionally, vicious infighting occurred among the platoon commanders. The commanding officer (CO) was, from time to time, at odds with his executive officer (XO), and once had dressed him down in front of the entire company. The lieutenants did not have good relationships with either the XO or the CO; because of this
poor relationship the CO often relic his first sergeant and company Sunn^n|y run the company. The problems ^ grew worse with the tight quarters shipboard life. During the deployllie the company gradually fell apart.
The lieutenants of Yankee Compaq may have been an even more dt group than Zulu’s lieutenants. Each P ^ sessed a bullish personality, a mind, and a fair amount of tactical s^ Two were prior enlisted; two were g
Young lieutenants need training in independent thought and action. The ability to lead under pressure must be de' ’ oped by a tough CO who challenges and sharpens their skills while maintaining respect for them as individuals-
,.®s °f military schools. They had very , erent views on professionalism and eadership; this often led to heated “dis- tUssions” on these topics. To make mat- rs worse, there existed among these Ung officers several deep personality nmcts that sometimes threatened to .• Verely disrupt the daily working rela- nships of the company. However, de- . . these differences and the accompa- c^ln§ potential for problems, the ^ mPany commander brought home from c k ^Ployment a far stronger and more lar 6S'Ve un'1 than he had sailed with, ,e^e|y because he skillfully exercised
The problem that was faced by each tfpany commander in these two situa- rens was not how to lead the troops di- *y. but how to guide, direct, and insre each platoon commander to a[ ^essfully lead his own platoon, while
of Y°mPany as a whole. The commander •ankee Company realized that there I fundamental differences between
the same time ensuring the integrity of company as a whole. The commander are * an^ee Company realized that there |e fundamental differences between H . lng lieutenants and leading a small 1 uf enlisted Marines (e.g., a rifle pla-
This paper will investigate how the
Cessful commander understood and °Wed through on these differences.
is further compounded by the fact that the Marine Corps is losing some of its grip on its traditions and history. The result is a lessening sense of being a member of a corps, a unified body, and a greater sense of being a professional in the way a lawyer or doctor might view himself.
For the most part today’s young officer still retains a sense of idealism, even though much of the society he comes from has done away with ethics and heroes, in favor of getting ahead. The high ideals of the Marine Corps are precisely what attract many of our young officers. This makes it all the more important that the Corps, as viewed through the eyes of its junior officers, continue to live up to its ideals. Failure to do so results in a quickly disillusioned officer.
Generally today’s young lieutenant is acutely aware that he lacks experience, and he possesses a genuine desire to learn. He can be counted on to strongly resent any negative attitudes, such as “you’re just a second lieutenant.” He appreciates interest and direction from his seniors; he strongly resents handholding and micromanagement.
Life in Yankee Company
stay’s young officer comes from a jc ,lety that places great emphasis on crit- est k*nc* sheptical thought. While the anti- Dd l t;shment sentiments of the 1960s are stro °nger rampant, there still exists a n8 current of skepticism toward all Uutions—schools, government, busi- eejv’ even religion. This skepticism re-
■Ost^ .current °f skepticism toward all
ne^es constant reinforcement from the
crwS tuedia through daily accounts of yrrun*'
Ption, scandal, and misbehavior in lcets of society.
°ng with this mistrust, today’s society, Strori2'y emphasizes thinking for and t0^Ut oneself. The attitude is oriented getting ahead, doing well for one- of ’ a°d financial success. The tendency s?ny company-grade officers these a ls to v‘ew the Marine Corps more as ca„reer and less as a vocation's to a way of life, off- ls is not to say that today’s young
less proud to be a Marine than %e "ls Predecessors. The pride of being C* The few and the proud” is still lifar ^ ^ere. However the hold that the y()()ne Corps’s way of life has on its Was ® °fficers may not be as strong as it to b 'n 'Pc past. Many more officers seem Put "filing to hang up their utilities and $e]v°n "civvies” if they perceive themes as “being screwed.” The problem
The Yankee Company commander was able to recognize that there are differences between leading a rifle platoon and leading his platoon commanders. His successful leadership revolved around the following points:
Emphasis on officership—The company commander constantly reminded his lieutenants that they were now officers of Marines, and placed on them high expectations for both work and liberty hours. He set high standards of mannerly conduct, sobriety, decent dress, and moral behavior, and guided his officers to act accordingly. To this company commander, “an officer and a gentleman” was an actual way of life.
Socialization—The skipper held a hard-and-fast rule that all officers be part of a corps; he required attendance at the Marine Corps ball, hail-and-farewells, dinners, and other such functions. While often initially resented by his lieutenants, such functions did much to take the edge off the personality conflicts that would have otherwise set his platoon commanders at odds. Further, they served to reinforce his lessons on gentlemanly behavior and helped smooth out some rough edges.
Extreme personal interest—The captain made a special effort to get to know his platoon commanders on an individual basis, not just as “bodies in formation.” This enabled him to effectively advise his
lieutenants in both personal and professional matters, and they came to realize that he genuinely cared for their total well-being. It also gave him insight about which individuals were best suited for assignments, and how his platoon commanders could be expected to act in the absence of guidance or orders.
Professional development—The skipper continually emphasized professional development. He strongly encouraged all officers to enroll in Marine Corps Institute extension courses. The platoon commanders regularly participated in tactical exercises without troops. An administrative jeep ride or canteen cup of coffee over the fire often led to a discussion on leadership or tactics. While many commanders talk about professional development, this CO actually implemented it.
Emphasis on independent thought and action—More than any other single quality, this is what separated the two company commanders. The Yankee Company commander went to great lengths to encourage his lieutenants to think and act in the absence of supervision. This reinforced the emphasis on professionalism, and gave the lieutenants room to develop. The lieutenants of Zulu Company, on the other hand, were constantly ridden like cattle. Independence of thought, asking questions, and alternate suggestions were not encouraged; carrying out the plan was all that was required. In the end Zulu Company’s commander got what he had bargained for: lieutenants who did not know how to think for themselves.
Professional respect and lack of derision—All of the above was based on a solid foundation of professional respect and protocol. When Yankee Company’s CO was upset, he made it perfectly clear that things were not in accordance with his desires; but even the worst “chew out” always had a professional quality to it. There never was a raised voice or a tone of personal derision, and counseling always ended on a positive note. More important, correction was always conducted in private and with only the necessary individuals present.
Leading the Leaders
The Marine Corps goes to great efforts to foster leadership and clear, analytical thinking in its officer corps. This emphasis starts at the beginning of the officer’s career: Officer Candidate School (OCS) screens and evaluates, among other things, the ability to think and lead under pressure. The young lieutenant comes to the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) expecting challenges that test and sharpen his abilities as a thinker and leader. When, as in
lings / July 1989
we pay vast amounts of lip service t
the case of Zulu Company, he finds himself unchallenged or stunted, he becomes quickly and thoroughly demoralized.
The Yankee Company commander recognized—and openly stated—that his main goal as a company commander was to “develop his lieutenants.” He successfully made a critical adjustment in his style of leadership, moving from the direct leadership exercised by platoon commanders to an approach, as he called it, of “leading the leaders.” The skipper possessed the maturity and backbone to allow his lieutenants enough latitude to develop without sacrificing supervision. He realized that bringing along his subordinates was not an overnight affair, but rather a gradual and continual process of guidance and instruction. Thus he gave them more and more latitude, and the need for detailed and specific instruction decreased.
Through all levels of leadership, from squad leader to division commander, time-tested traits and principles still apply. Leading lieutenants does not require a new set of concepts. What is required is that the senior officer focus on his personnel, and then apply some com- monsense rules of thumb:
► Always treat lieutenants as officers. Whether or not you may personally think that Lieutenant Banotz is the most fouled-up human being you have ever had the misfortune to meet, the fact remains that he is a commissioned officer. Take care to observe proper protocol, especially when counseling him on his performance and shortcomings. Failure to adhere to this principle will not only destroy the individual’s status as an officer, but will eventually erode the authority of the officer corps as a whole.
► Enforce officership. Like Yankee Company’s commander, impress and enforce the standards of the officer and gentleman upon your young lieutenants. While The Basic School (TBS) attempts to stamp these qualities on its graduates, it is only a start. It is the lieutenant’s experience in that first command that either will or will not reinforce these lessons.
► Know your lieutenant. You will not know your young lieutenant merely through an occasional chat in the passageway. Many young officers are uncomfortable around senior officers, and put on their official face around the old man. It takes time and effort to get to really know people, and this will include time outside work. Further, as you get to know your subordinates they will get to know you. Hopefully you are not an ogre, and they will discover that you are approachable for both professional and personal advice. As time goes by, they should be better able to interpret your intent with fewer words, knowing what you would want even in your absence.
► Have the courage to be honest. No one likes to think about it, but eventually we all “screw up royally.” If you make a bad call, your subordinates will probably know about it sooner or later. The old adage “It takes a big man to admit his mistakes” is still good advice. You will earn far more respect by owning up to your mistakes than by trying to hide them or pass them off elsewhere. One way to make the best of such a situation is to pull your subordinates in, tell them what went wrong, why it went bad, and what lessons can be learned from it. In that way, with one swat you can inform them of the situation, pass on lessons learned, and set a new course of action.
► Issue clear guidance. While necessary at all levels, this is especially important when dealing with young lieutenants. Generally, the less experienced an individual is, the more guidance and direction required. If you are not sure if the message was received, ask for a “read back.” Make certain that your ideas on what constitutes “a suggestion” and “guidance” are thoroughly understood. It is extremely frustrating to have a senior give advice only to find out later that you took it as just a suggestion but the boss meant it as a command. Be sure to include a list of priorities if there are numerous tasks, and whether or not there are factors such as time and format.
► Provide periodic counseling. Although
_____ Hard to Be Humble__
, to this.
periodic counseling falls by the waysid^ far too often. Performance counselor should focus both on strong points an ^ areas that need improvement. As guidance, counseling is necessary at levels. Again, the less experienced o ^ cers are, the stronger the need for dir^ tion. Ambitious and anxious to sUCC^ ’ lieutenants want desperately to know they are doing but they are usually he ^ tant to ask. There is nothing more disco certing than to find out after the fact while you thought you were doing w the boss thought you were doing P°° We preach the need for perform ^ counseling; we need to make a conce effort to practice what we preach.
The Future Generals
Leading lieutenants is an awesonie ^ sponsibility: the young officer is t e ture of the Marine Corps. During year or so, the newly minted TBS ^ ate tests the value of his schooling ^ Quantico and gains some first less0 the school of hard knocks. Consider j our lecture halls and officer clubs res ^ with the war stories of crusty old grade and general officers who a
their tales with, “Once, when I s
lieutenant ...” Along with hUIT1 stories, the new officer gains a wen ■ experience during his first years, ^or
ence that serves as a reference p° many years. a„d
A final note on the importan ^.flr impact of proper leadership ^oTJ„ny.ee officers: In time, all the reserve ^ ^ Company lieutenants augmented i ^ regular Marine Corps. In Zulu Cow^ none of the reserve lieutenants bo to apply for augmentation.
. e fourth
Captain Shea is currently serving will1 t ^ w*s Marine Expeditionary Brigade. Previous ^ainp IS' assigned to the Second Marine Division jnn cof1' jeune, where he served as infantry P 3fantry *’al mander, weapons platoon commander, w sc^ot trillion antiarmor platoon commander, control and management platoon comma
Several years ago during a visit by the Commandant of the Marine Corps to our aircraft group, a question-and-answer period was set up for the sole benefit of the more junior aviators. The dialogue was progressing nicely when the Commandant decided it was fair game to turn the tables on his enthusiastic audience. Deciding to single out a somewhat shy, introspective-looking helicopter pilot sitting amidst more cocky fighter pilots, the Commandant asked him what kind of a pilot he was.
Without hesitation the young officer replied: “Well, General, there are really only three great helicopter pilots in the Marine Corps, and I got Christmas cards from the other two this year!”
Lieutenant Colonel Greg Johnson, U. S. Marine Corps
(The Naval Institute will pay $25.00 for each anecdote published in the Proceedings.)