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“I Want to Develop My Lieutenants, But….”



In the numerous conversations I have had with current and former company commanders, the phrase “I want(ed) to develop my lieutenants, but…” comes up a lot.  As always, the intention is always there.  Most company commanders want to set time aside on a recurring basis, but the burdens of command gets in the way.  Many feel that there are so many competing requirements that there is never enough time to develop a quality program or session that young officers will feel is valuable.  To help current and future commanders avoid the word “but” in conversations about leader development, the team behind Company Command and Platoon Leader professional forums has created mini-digital LPDs that commanders can quickly incorporate into their development programs with little effort.  Here is a quick explanation from their website:

The CC/PL Team has developed a “Hip pocket” digital LPD to support leader development programs at the company/platoon level. The concept is to provide a ready to go, mobile friendly LPD that can be executed anywhere providing the user has a smartphone or tablet, and has wifi access or a data plan.

Using a file hosting service, we provide content for discussion that includes a short video, related article and some recommended questions for discussion. This is designed for mobile platforms, though it can be used on a regular computer.”

I have used several of these quick vignettes to keep my boots close to the ground while studying at the Naval War College. It’s very easy to become enamored with Clausewitz, and forget about the daily problems that tactical leaders face.  The questions provided with each video enables commanders to engage in quality conversations that will aid in not only in the development of subordinates, but also in furthering trust-the cornerstone of mission command.  If I would have had a product like this in command, I  definitely would have used it on a regular basis.

Click here to find out how to get a mini-digital LPD!

10 thoughts on ““I Want to Develop My Lieutenants, But….””

  1. Joe, think I need to throw the BS flag. Developing subordinates is not about handy-dandy digital hip pocket lessons – its about priorities and discipline. The legacy of your command is not how your company does in gunnery, maintenance or even combat. Your legacy is how your lieutenants and buck Sergeants lead the Army after you are gone. To succeed at developing subordinates is actually quite simple. You make it your #1 priority. Every day when you are shaving or putting on make-up you look in the mirror and vow “at the end of today my subordinates will be better leaders than they are right now.” Then, you realize that everything you do, even all those directed unwanted tasks from higher, is a leader development opportunity. Get creative in finding the embedded opportunity in each task and drawing it out, usually without even any additional resources. Next, make the time for one-on-one or small group coaching, teaching and mentoring. Turn your unit over to your senior NCO or XO periodically to run while you spend time personally developing your subordinate leaders. Take them out on terrain walks – costs nothing and takes little preparation. Lastly, discipline yourself to a standard of periodic performance counseling in person and in writing. Nothing promotes leader development more than a discussion about what can be improved and how you will help them improve. Generally, when I hear someone say, ” I want to develop my Lieutenants, but…” what I’m thinking is he/she really doesn’t care about it that much or isn’t disciplined or innovative enough to carry it out. JKG
    P.S. Start by reading “Small Unit Leadership,: by Col (Ret) Dandridge (Mike) Malone together.
    P.P.S. You have to know your job inside and out, technical and tactical competence, before you can develop your subordinates. many are uncertain of their own competence and this inhibits their development of their subordinates. if you are uncertain, its OK. if we are honest with ourselves we all are sometimes. Just get someone to teach you (usually an NCO or warrant) privately and then go teach your folks.

    • Jim,
      The resources referenced in Joe’s blog are exactly what is needed in the force right now with all the competing requirements leaders face. They provide content for discussion (Just like the great book you referenced) and are simple and easy to execute.

      The digital LPDs include real stories told by the leaders that experienced them. People remember stories. Storytelling is a powerful catalyst for learning, and likely has been since the beginning of time. Telling and hearing stories enables participants to reflect on their own, and others’ experiences and abstract knowledge. It is an effective way for catalyzing learning in any organization, be it an infantry fire team, a platoon of fuelers, or a tank company. As company level leaders are engaged in conversation about content in context they will take away key insights and apply them later in a similar situation. They will be better equipped to teach, coach and mentor. The professional discussions started around the content provided will achieve the outcomes you mentioned.

      • Jonathon, I will go find the digital LPDs. Not against them, think every resource should be explored and used in support of a proactive approach to developing subordinate leaders. My point was absent determination and innovation in executing a company level leader development program the existence of such resources is irrelevant. The guy or gal who is overwhelmed by their job and can’t make the time or opportunities for leader development won’t be aided by the narratives. Another TTP is to use every unit maintenance period, whether motor pool for vehicles, maintenance of unit or personal equipment or weapons, as an opportunity for the company commander to personally teach the LTs some aspect of maintenance. A quick 15-30 minute class on a single topic increases their technical competence a little, done repeatedly over time it increases it a lot, without taking the LTs away from their platoon/section for the majority of the maintenance period. JKG

      • Jonathan, wanted to access the mini-LPD to see how they work, but don’t have a .mil account. Is there another option? JKG

      • Jon, had an opportunity to look at the “Dealing with the initial Shock of Casualties” mini-LPD. Great product I think and one that can be integrated easily into a company or battalion commander’s program. It strikes me that two often in the laser tag world of home station or even CTC training we don’t realize the impact of casualties on leaders and Soldiers. This mini-LPD would be great not only as a stand alone, but also integrated into an AAR after STX lanes or a training battle/engagement. JKG

  2. Sir,
    Your comment on the mini-LPD made me think about some of the potential benefits of these packages going forward. History provides us with numerous examples of military training that no longer reflected the realities of war the further it was removed from the last conflict. Packaging these interviews with combat leaders may help keep that experience alive and ensure that training continues to reflect the realities of combat.

    To your original point of chunking the B.S. flag at me: I believe that if lieutenants aren’t exposed to leaders who take the time to deliberately develop subordinates, then most will enter command with warped views of leader development. I think tools like the ones Jon is working on, help to lower the bar to starting this behavior. My hope is that someone who grew up with a commander who was more worried about property accountability than developing his subordinates, will get a taste of the professional satisfaction that comes from investing time/energy in others with this activity and be hooked.

    • Joe, your last was my point exactly. Its easy to complain that “I/we don’t have the time or resources to develop my Lieutenants.” Its hard, but absolutely necessary to make the time and find the resources. To your first point, many of the TTP from OIF and OEF will rapidly become OBE, but challenges of war such as a leader’s initiation to having casualties in your unit are timeless. imparting those timeless lessons, earned in blood, is the sacred duty of those of us who have experienced war for those who have not yet done so. That said, teaching your LTs about property accountability will enable them to be successful FGs and future commanders. Its not sexy, but it is necessary regardless of branch. A good LPD program for LTs and NCOs balances tactics and technical expertise with the necessary administration and logistics systems. My belief anyway. JKG

      • Joe, I can’t remember if you were in the Battalion then, but when we weren’t deployed we used to conduct weekly brown bags at lunch in the DFAC for all the officers. Each was on a specific topic and most important to this thread, was led by a lieutenant. For example, if the topic was crossing danger areas in urban terrain the LT would spend about ten minutes covering the doctrine and our unit SOPs. then would lead the rest of the time in discussion (and drawing on the white board). These fall into the “if you teach a man to fish” analogy. We all know that preparing a class you learn more than receiving the class. we also know that LTs have to build their expertise and this was a forcing function for that. It also developed the LTs confidence in making a presentation in a situation when many of the audience knew more than they did. Just another TTP for developing LTs (and making use of available time). JKG

  3. This is a marvelous idea, the linked materiel is great, and finding ways to facilitate professional development among our subordinates (officer AND enlisted) is always to be lauded. But there is a mistaken premise underlying the excellent post and the professional development efforts it is trying to disseminate. Here’s a surprising thought … For the most part, you don’t need extra time to conduct professional development. A “program” isn’t necessarily a class; it is fundamentally nothing more than a deliberate effort at influence and that opens the aperture enormously.

    Do you have staff meetings? How about spending a few minutes discussing the latest article/issue in some common publication or discussing the latest leadership challenge you or the folks in your command are facing? How about having a book on your desk all the time (that you are actually reading) and, since you’re excited about it, asking your folks if they’ve read it when they come to see you about something? How about pausing on the way to the coffee maker to ask one of your folks what they thought of the article you emailed to them a few days prior? How about talking with your folks about the reasons for a given decision you’ve made and with which they will someday be faced? Each of these puts an appropriate burden of responsibility for development on the one to be developed–where it belongs–and makes the “developer” a Socratic rather than an expository participant (with valuable outcomes for the audience). Classes and seminars are a fine option, but they can turn into “sage on the stage” events rather than “guide on the side” development, and this is an easy way to ensure the audience has less ownership over the process and results.


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