This blog post is the conclusion of the multi-part Company Command Series covering key aspects of my command experience that I feel other commanders (current and future) can benefit from. This post discloses my personal post-command regrets that I’ve reflected on since relinquishing command.
I feel it is appropriate to close out my (admittedly long) Company Command blog series with discussing my personal regrets since relinquishing company command. This post is not so much about the actual regrets themselves as much as it is about the importance to spend time and deliberately reflect, to be honest with yourself, understand you are not (and never will be) a perfect leader, and identify what you wish you were able to accomplish in your formal leadership role. My hope is to first, encourage leaders to be self-aware and willing to admit where they can improve, and second, prevent these below regrets from being on other leaders’ lists of regrets down the road. It’s not weak or unprofessional to assess your post-command regrets; it is a healthy and necessary step to continue your development as a leader.
- Reading program. I personally believe creating a reading program at the company level is not ideal. The audience is too small and the effort required places too much stress on company-level operations; there are other leader development methods that much better suit company-level formations with potentially higher returns. However, I do wish I informally encouraged my subordinates to read more for professional development. I had conversations with many about professional reading during command, but I regret not being more deliberate in my influence. With a second chance, I would create a “commander library” of personal books Soldiers could check out. I think Admiral (Ret.) Stavridis discusses this best in his War on the Rocks interview, asking, “does the commander walk around with a book? Does the commander bring up books?” He states that, “as the commander, bring up examples of what you’ve learned and what you’ve taken away from books that are applicable to tactics, war-fighting, ethics, leadership, and so on.” I couldn’t agree more and I wish I emphasized that more.
- More robust recognition and reward program. The development of my squads over my command and what they achieved during that time was beyond impressive and even unreal at times. Though addressed in my previous blog post about a formal recognition program in your company, I regret not following through with some aspects of the program as much as I should have. If you establish a recognition program in your unit, ensure that you establish the program standards and goals up front and that you personally see to the complete follow-through of creating that tangible program. I was not as deliberate in creating my programs and, in turn, they were not as effective as I wish. Make sure that you recognize your high performers.
- Expanded counseling system. I felt I had an effective counseling program for those I rated, focused on honest feedback aimed at developing their ability to execute their current job and preparing them for their next one(s). However, in hindsight (which is 20/20 of course), I wish I emphasized counseling more as a commander. My emphasis would naturally percolate down to the platoons and squads, and facilitate more one-on-one development with my subordinate leaders. With a second chance, I would: ensure all counseling was on the company training calendar (for SL and above), standardize a company counseling shell for performance and quarterly counseling, and conduct performance counseling for those I rated / senior rated more often than quarterly.
- Balance unit training and local school programs. I sent the company to the field for our squad culminating collective training during the same week local schools had spring break. Many of my Soldiers who were parents missed several days of their kids’ spring break because of that. It broke my heart when I realized that fact. However, it was too late to shift training due to extensive land and resourcing already secured. Not yet being a parent, ensuring training coincided with those type of family events never occurred to me during command. I believe I had enough “cash in my leader’s bank account” then, so that decision did not completely deplete my “leader funds” and I did not lose subordinate loyalty.
- More involved with PSG development. My leader development and counseling focused on my Lieutenants and squad leaders. Before and during command, I believed that my platoon sergeants, with extensively more time in service and experience than me, did not require focused development from me. I learned in time that they did, especially in regard to the more “graduate-level” art and sciences of combat engineering tasks. I senior rated them and I didn’t even establish a counseling program with them. If I took command tomorrow, I would add a leader development line of effort focused on platoon sergeants and include them in my commander counseling program. You as a commander have extensive knowledge from which platoon sergeants can still learn (assuming they are professional and maintain a learning attitude); don’t let their overmatch in service time and experience intimidate you.
- Materialize unit pride with apparel. My Soldiers took immense pride in our company and their platoons. I believe we had a special culture. I do wish we materialized that more with unit apparel. It may sound trivial, but I had many Soldiers and subordinate leaders interested in more items beyond our company PT shirt and coin.
- Leader development. I led a robust program in the company and my subordinate leaders still tell me how much they learned from our sessions. However, like most things at the company level, many sessions became overtaken by “urgent” issues and emergencies. Development sessions often were pushed to the right on the calendar and sometimes even canceled. I wish I was more rigid in those events and did not allow the things that were urgent to overshadow what was important. Remember “big rocks theory” leadership.
- Orders based operations. Every commander present and past agrees there is never enough time. However, I truly wish I made a bigger effort to make my company a more orders-based organization. It would require only minimal added time from me to write them and would easily apply to routine operations like ranges. Ultimately, the goal would be to improve my subordinate leaders’ proficiency with the operations process and their comfort with orders across different delivery means.
As I stated at the beginning of this long series, in Part I, company command was the greatest professional honor of my military career thus far. I wouldn’t trade my experiences and what my company achieved for anything. I pray my efforts can better prepare and enable the next generation of company-level leaders and ultimately make our Army better.
I highly encourage readers to share their experiences and thoughts in the comments to provide more ideas and options with others. If you desire to personally interact with me regarding anything from this series, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JoshuaBowen_100.