Thoughts On Small-Unit Leadership From An Old Infantry NCO

A WRSA reader sends:

CA, here’s my take on small unit leadership. There’s nothing high
speed or low drag here. It’s just the basics. Above all, leadership
at the small unit level is very personal.

(Disclaimer: this is just one old infantry NCO’s perspective, YMMV.
If, gentle reader, you think it’s bullshit, well, you get what you pay

Lead by example. You can’t expect to inspire confidence or expect
your people to follow you if you can’t do the things you ask of them.
That means you need to be physically and mentally tough as well as
technically and tactically competent. Strive to outshoot, outrun,
outruck, and most of all, outthink your people. When your people want to know how something should be done it should be as simple as looking at you to see how it’s done.

Lead from the front. Be fearless. Never let them see that you’re
afraid even when you are – and you will be. Sometimes this means
taking risks that might cause you to ask yourself later, WTF was I
thinking?? Suffer with your boys. That means you dig your own
fighting position, make sure you’re included in the duty roster, and
sleep in the same mud and eat the same chow (after your boys are fed – leaders always eat last – and go without if necessary). Be the first to get up each morning and last to go to bed at night.

Respect is earned. Yes, you do have to prove yourself to your people
and it’s a continuous process. This also means you have to treat your
people with respect, especially your junior leaders. For example,
it’s leadership 101 not to dress your NCOs down in front of their
people. But that doesn’t mean you’re afraid to be a dick when you
have to be. Sometimes people will need a kick in the ass and there
are always slackers who need constant supervision, which leads to mynext point…

Hold your subordinates accountable, but get the hell out of their way. Tell your junior leaders WHAT you want but don’t tell them HOW to do it. Let them figure it out. But by God, make them do their jobs. If they can’t or won’t, there is always another hard dick eager for the chance.

Talent is everything. Cultivate it. Don’t fucking micromanage!

There are no stupid questions, but that doesn’t mean people don’t feel stupid for asking. Make them backbrief you when you give orders so you are confident they understand what you want.

Always accept and ask for input from your subordinates. You will
never have all the answers and your way isn’t always the best way. In
fact, sometimes your ideas may be downright stupid. Get feedback from your people. Just make sure they understand that you make the final call.

11 responses to “Thoughts On Small-Unit Leadership From An Old Infantry NCO

  1. Solid Gold. That is exactly how I was raised in the Corps and that is how I left my platoon upon retirement. One extra point. REWARD your stellar performers and do it in front of the shitbirds, i.e., ops in Thailand, and then tell the shitbirds WHY they’re getting left behind.

    • Semper Fi, 0321

      I look back to the best NCO’s I served under; they were real people. No bragging, no bullshit, many very quietly wore their VN combat medals, but above all else, they taught and led by example. And we would’ve followed them anywhere, because we trusted them with our lives. Teamwork!
      And the worst ones; they bragged, got us lost, were usually clueless assholes who somehow weaseled their way up the promotion ladder and into the unit, and were not around very long, because bullshit walks.
      SSgt William Boyd, Recon Marine and BUD/S graduate, was my greatest mentor, and will never be forgotten.

  2. Mt Top Patriot

    Just the rifle can win a battle or change the course of a war, if your taking on the most powerful state in the history of the world, this leadership and the effect it creates on the ability to win against all odds is incomparable to any weapon or force of arms.

    This is how you win.

  3. Music to my ears….
    Ah, and the backbrief! Probably the most underutilized, yet crucial, tool available when executing an OPORD.

  4. Pearls of wisdom….great post!

  5. Thats money right there, pure money.

  6. Good post SSG. Every VETERAN knows and understands this simple basic wisdom. The problem lies in the other 300+ million amerikins who are more concerned about bar night, tv, or chasing suzy rotten crotch, than standing up for FREEDOM.

  7. Yup.


  8. Ten ring.

  9. Yessir.

    During Desert Storm our platoon commander was a worthless POS warrant officer…lazy, shiftless, selfish, and punching his time-card waiting for retirement….absolutely the worst “leader” I ever encountered during my brief time dabbling in all things Marine Corps-ish.

    We NCOs figured him out real quick, and we actually discussed what we would do if we had to follow him into a firefight.

    Let’s just say the chances were better than average that he would probably maybe accidentally catch a round in the back of his grape just as we stepped off.

    Lucky for him we were a communications unit and not likely to see much fighting.

  10. Outstanding!

    The only small thing that I have to add is that when doing a group AAR with all your people around, have the lowest ranking guy speak first.