Advice On Platoon Command, A Decade On
By Chris Finbow
Earlier this year I left the British Army to seek a new challenge in joining the Canadian Army. As I prepared for my move I thought at length about my nine and a half years with the Royal Anglian Regiment. I found myself reflecting on platoon command. And reflecting on the people I had met more than the places I had been. I believe it is the relationships we foster that ultimately form the fibres of our institution.
As I left, I wanted to leave my thoughts from working with all three Royal Anglian Battalions to my fellow young officers. Since they were well received, I’ll share these same thoughts with you. Nothing I have found since joining the Canadian Army leads me to think they are wrong. Nevertheless they represent nothing more than my consolidated musings shaped by the countless interactions I have had since 2007. I hope they provide some initial advice to anyone starting their time as in platoon command.
In your roles as young infantry platoon commanders you receive a massive amount of information from a variety of sources. So please know that in sending this email I am not attempting to lecture, task or patronise you. But in taking leave from the British Army I have advice that I want to pass on with reference to your soldiers and what you as their commander owe them, both as a collective and as individuals.
I have thought a great deal about who I want to share these ideas with, but YOU as platoon commanders are the officers that matter to your men. Please take it as general advice and stimulus for your own thought. It is my hope that it generates discussion, and ultimately makes your soldiers more satisfied and more effective.
Achieve your mission using the skills of your people. They will feel valued and want to contribute to the team. That, in fact, is what belonging really is.
- You are the biggest retention tool in the Army. Never forget or underestimate your impact. Being a leader means your soldiers will look to you for a steer on how they should approach their work. Strive to be positive and innovative. Find ways that achieve your mission using the skills of your people. They will feel valued and want to contribute to the team. That, in fact, is what belonging really is.
- Foster your own tribal ethos and identity but know that you are all part of a bigger one. Teach your soldiers to contribute to your team. It should be inclusive and strive to better all within it. If you get this right they will take it with them, ensuring that this concept promulgates through the wider team. Your sections and platoons, indeed the Army, will only be stronger for it.
- Trust your team. Especially your NCOs. Do not get wrapped up in process, but judge results and foster excellence. This will ensure you, as an individual, are efficient and the success of your team is sustainable.
All too often you will encounter negativity and bitterness, often from those senior to you. It is your responsibility to never deal in it in front of your soldiers
- Enthuse and set the conditions to do so. You have chosen this path. All too often you will encounter negativity and bitterness, often from those senior to you. It is your responsibility to never deal in it in front of your soldiers. You must defeat it at every step. In doing so you will create an environment that makes achieving what I have described above easier.
- Be brothers. Communicate and listen. As subalterns, you need to stick together, and look and listen out for each other. You are not in competition with each other (not too much, anyway) and your loyalty as a group should be fierce. This is where you can be negative and share you whinges. But as a group don’t take what you are negative about and accept it. Find solutions. Know where to look. Be they Captains, Majors, the Commanding Officer or your NCOs, the experience and guidance is out there. Use it, but don’t be afraid to cut your own trail.
What I can’t do is tell you how to achieve all this. I still haven’t got it right and there are better officers than me amongst you. But I urge you to reflect on what I have learned over the past nine years, and always put your soldiers first … unless you are leading them into harm’s way. Then you should always be first.”
If you have just commissioned into the Army, or if you are still in your first few years, you will want to build trust with your new boss. For advice on how to do this, based on research from King’s College London, read Why Should I Trust the New Lt? What Platoon Commanders Need to Do to Be Trusted by Their Chain of Command