by Kyle Trottier and William Branch
Upon being selected to serve as the BCT Executive Officer (XO) and BCT Operations Officer (S3), William Branch and I held a series of sensing sessions with each Battalion Commander and Battalion Command Sergeant Major (CSM), peer battalion field grade officers, the brigade staff, key leaders on the division staff, and finally the brigade commander and CSM. Our intention was to understand each command team and their staff leaders to inform how we would best be able to enable the success of each battalion and the brigade as a whole throughout the duration of our time in these positions. Will and I developed a simple rubric to visualize and understand the experiences of commanders using Personnel, Supply, Equipment Readiness, Training (P, S, R, T) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to understand personality characteristics. These two products allowed us to understand the previous experiences of each leader and ourselves, and inform where and how we as the brigade XO and S3 could best communicate with and enable that command team. This methodology also informed how we could best lead the brigade staff and our coordination with the division staff.
This article aims to share these lessons with field grade officers soon to assume Key Developmental (KD) positions and assist them by providing a way to quickly understand themselves and their commander. Ultimately, these lessons can help Soldiers prepare to lead their formations both effectively and adaptively.
Leaders continually strive to provide purpose, direction, and motivation while working to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. Within every organization, each leader plays a unique and vital role in mission accomplishment. Commanders guide the operations process and provide vision and direction for the organization. Field Grade officers take the commander’s intent and, through the operations process, coordinate for resources and synchronize tactical actions within time, space, and purpose in pursuit of unit goals. Company-level leaders, properly resourced with time, equipment, and guidance, then execute the operations process yielding the desired effect of the commander.
As field grade leaders begin new assignments, they must conduct their own intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). Just as one would be ill-advised to initiate course of action development (COADEV) without first understanding the respective friendly and enemy situation, a field grade officer must understand the background and history that shapes the way a commander leads. The rubric below offers a framework for assessing your future commander’s experience (Knowledge) and personality (Skills/Attributes). Moreover, accurately assessing this blend of knowledge, skills, and attributes will help field grade officers contextualize their commander’s intent and how they approach tasks.
Figure 1. Understand Your Commander Thru the Lens of Readiness
One way to visualize the prior experiences/ assignments of a commander is to think about the breadth and depth of experience they may have with regard to the lines of readiness: Personnel, Supply, Equipment Readiness, and Training (PSRT) (See Figure 1). PSRT is the common language of readiness that commanders will reference regularly from Unit Status Reports (USR) to Quarterly Training Briefs (QTBs). Each commander, based upon their knowledge, skills, and experiences will have varying levels of proficiency within each of these categories. When considering breadth of experience, it is important to examine their previous duty assignments as an indicator of familiarity in each category.
For depth of experience, a leader should not only look at assignments held across Personnel, Supply, Readiness, and Training, but also at what echelon. This is an important factor. With each increasing level an officer works, they gain a greater perspective as to how tactical actions contribute to the pursuit of national goals.
In Figure 1, Example 1, “Balanced” shows a leader whose previous assignments allowed them to have a good breadth of experience across Personnel, Supply, Equipment Readiness and Training up to the division level. Example 2, “The Trainer,” demonstrates a leader with extensive assignment history in tactical/ training roles up through the division level but minimal exposure to personnel, supply, or equipment readiness lines of effort throughout their career. Example 3, “Trainer Plus,” is a leader who held HR/ Personnel positions at an enterprise level and possesses experience with training and operations through the division level. However, this leader lacks experience in supply and maintenance fields. Example 4, “Balance Plus,” displays a leader who has assignments at both a combat training center and a combatant command J3/5/7 (Operations, Plans, and Training). This individual also has experience with personnel, supply, and equipment readiness lines up to the brigade and division levels.
This model helps an incoming field grade officer understand their commander’s areas of expertise and lack of experience, which suggest where the commander will operate with comfort or have less familiarity. With this information officers must be prepared to complement their commander – to amplify their strengths and adapt to fill the commanders ’shortfalls. Secondly, by understanding the duty position you are filling and your own experience levels, this chart helps identify knowledge gaps and where self-study may be required. Equally important is for new field grades to seek out knowledge from senior field grades like the brigade S3 and XO as they will have a greater understanding of areas and should be able to assist in overcoming knowledge gaps.
Figure 2. Personality Types
Just as assessing experience provides one dimension of understanding your commander, personality impacts the application of said experience. Firstly, as the incoming field grade, you should seek to understand your commander’s temperament. Where does the commander stand in times of emergency? Pressure? Uncertainty? Ambiguity? The table above references the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and can help provide context to your commander and subordinate leader responses in everyday Army life. This is important because people routinely act in a predictable manner to certain stimuli. Observing and understanding these tendencies in both others and ourselves not only heightens emotional intelligence, but also develops the ability to adjust the human environment that better supports your commander.
For example, if your commander is introverted in nature their natural inclination may be to defer opportunities to address larger formations and to conduct ad hoc engagements. But, your awareness of the commander’s tendencies enables you to shape such engagements. In this situation, you may recommend a calendar adjustment to provide the commander time to re-energize after such engagements. In the event of the commander with the ‘Judger’ attribute, you may be sensitive to providing last-minute changes.
While many people have personalities that are blends of the depicted MBTI styles, maintaining a rudimentary understanding of the personality attributes will help you observe, and with time, anticipate what situations and actions are less beneficial to your commander and organization. Your organization relies on your ability as a field grade to set the commander up for success. Understanding a commander’s personality and how to put them in situations they are comfortable with will reduce organizational friction and increase the effectiveness of your unit.
Upon assuming brigade field grade positions, Will and I – with the assistance of the brigade Behavioral Health team – took the MBTI assessment and discussed the results. This provided all of us a more nuanced and actionable understanding of ourselves and how our varying personality types interact positively and negatively. We then discussed how our personality types interact with the commander and command sergeant major. This awareness guided how we managed the calendar and when key events like battlefield circulation or briefings took place. It informed the format and venue of meetings and influenced the execution of MDMP (Military Decision Making Process) so as to best enable the commander to understand, visualize, and describe.
Similarly, understanding each member of the brigade staff informed how Will and I led the staff and guided our engagements with field grade officers at both the battalion and division levels. Understanding personality assessments and the roles and responsibilities of each staff member helped Will and I identify potential friction points – areas where the assigned task and nature of an individual might clash with another. Will and I would sync daily, review the calendar, and deliberately work to ensure we framed all significant communication. Accordingly, we cultivated different environments to support our own engagements with the staff and those between the staff and commander.
To this end, we learned the Operations Sergeant Major (SGM) and Command Sergeant Major are key enablers to facilitating success. The brigade CSM talked with the commander multiple times per day; therefore,we regularly sought his input and guidance as he understood the commander’s thoughts and priorities. The CSM could then also initiate topics with the commander ahead of briefings/meetings, which would give him time to better understand and visualize what the staff would present. This indispensable lead time enabled the commander to provide better guidance. Similarly the brigade operations SGM interacted with the BCT staff section NCOs, division and battalion senior NCOs on a frequent basis. Thus, he too provided invaluable insight on the impact of actions and could positively shape future decisions across formations to enable success.
As field grade leaders prepare to assume KD responsibilities, it is important they understand the commander they will work for, themselves, and the members of the staff they will lead. The PSRT rubric is a way to better understand the experiences of leaders and the MBTI is a way to more fully understand the personality of leaders. Together this informs where a field grade officer should invest in self-development, guides where and how they can best enable their respective staff to support their command, and how they can incorporate senior NCOs to gain the trust of leaders at echelon.
LTC Kyle Trottier is currently the Armor Lieutenant Colonel Career Manager at HRC. His previous experiences include BCT XO and BN XO in 1ABCT 3ID and G35 Chief of Future Operations, 3ID.
MAJ(P) William Branch is currently the Outreach/Trip Planner to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. His previous experiences include BCT S3 and BN S3 in 1ABCT 3ID and G5 Chief of Plans, 3ID.