The Value of Sergeants to Lieutenants

Reading Time: 3 minutes

You may have heard during Officer training to quickly build a relationship with your Sergeant (SGT), take in their perspective and respect their level of experience as a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO). Reflecting on my time as a Lieutenant (LT) so far, noting this is only one perspective, the aim of this article is twofold: to provide Officer Cadets with the perspective of someone in the rank they’re going hold to complement what they learn during the Commissioning continuum, and to challenge current serving LTs to reflect on their command relationship. I want to encourage you to consider whether you are maximising and building a command relationship with the SGT you work with and if you are taking full advantage of the knowledge your SGT brings to the team. 

As a newly commissioned LT, you are faced with a fresh set of problems. You need to command in real time, learn concepts on the move and, most importantly, understand the people within your team.

One key relationship to establish and navigate is with your SGT. The role of the SGT is to support your command, manage the administration of the troop/platoon, develop the Lance Corporals, and provide key insight into your team and the capability you can generate. They contribute to the overall performance of the troop/platoon. As part of the command team, they help build culture, team and re-team when new people join your troop/platoon and ready Corporals for their next promotion.

A common mistake new LTs make is misunderstanding the relationship with their SGT’s. This may lead to a poor team culture, misalignment in the commander’s (your) intent and, at worst, failed missions/outcomes.

Quite simply, a SGT has served longer than a new LT, has usually spent more time with the team to understand the relationships/personalities and can describe the team dynamic. They are a valuable ally that can meaningfully contribute to the planning and execution of tasks and you should be using their previous knowledge to maximise success. They are not a ‘resource’ to task; rather a person to establish one of your most important relationships with.

Planning must never be completed in isolation, and advice and consultation must be included for the best plan to be formed. From my experience, I found that planning for a mission with your SGT is most easily done through the following process:

Listen

If possible and appropriate, include your SGT in the Company Orders Group (O-Group). They can receive the same information as you and begin to proactively craft an administrative plan while you construct the tactical plan. They can begin to formulate resupply plans, understand what resources are required and how to sustain the mission. 

Whilst you are the commander, the SGT can contribute tactical considerations from previous missions with similar goals. Listen closely to their experience, and ask what were the key points that they took from your Officer Commanding’s (OC) orders; their perspective may influence your planning.

Plan

Conduct a Military Appreciation Process (MAP). Conduct planning as you have been instructed and use the Individual MAP to structure your thoughts. Analyse the mission, enemy and terrain and consider the initial advice your SGT has given. Holding all considerations and analysis in your mind, develop courses of action and ensure they are FASSD (feasible, achievable, suitable, sustainable, distinguishable); meeting the higher commander’s intent.

Seek Guidance

Once you have created some courses of action, brief your SGT. 

This gets their buy-in to your plan and also checks the logic of your plan ‘behind closed doors’ with someone who is as invested in the platoon/troop’s success as you are. It gives your SGT an opportunity to express their concerns, identify issues with your plan, provide contributory dissent and explain why in a private environment where they aren’t observed by soldiers contradicting you. This means you can have frank conversations that do not undermine your command or your SGT’s credibility within your team.

Decide

You are the commander and leader. You decide the course of action and scheme of manoeuvre. You compile orders and communicate the plan to your subordinates to execute. You should deliver your final plan to your SGT (this can be done when you rehearse your orders). This assures they are not blindsided by your plan during the O-Group and allows them to ask questions relevant to their responsibilities. It shows a level of respect to your SGT and gains their support so you are approaching your subordinates as a unified team. 

When you commission as an LT you are eager to command and lead. However, upon the completion of officer training, you step into a much larger world of unknowns. You are surrounded by those that have a vast amount of experience and you have to lead them. By creating space for them to influence you, you are granted the opportunity to make informed decisions, manage risk effectively, assume uncontested command and create a culture where your team can collaboratively problem-solve. 

During your first years of command, it is important to reflect each day, journal your experience and ponder the possibilities you have within your grasp – often instilled within your team surrounding you.

About the Author: Lieutenant Emma Watson is a junior officer of the 11th Engineer Regiment. Follow her on Twitter. 

Cover Image Credit: Defence Image Gallery, PTE Olivia Cameron