A Pathfinder ensures a rotary wing aircraft is on drop heading during a Verbally Initiated Release System (VIRS) airborne operation at Camp Dawson, West Virginia on September 20, 2017. Photo by Sgt. Mickey Miller of the 153rd Public Affairs Detachment.
By Jonathan Everiss
So much of officer training in the Army is assessing and evaluating an individual’s ability to lead, inspire, and take charge. When a new lieutenant finds himself or herself as a platoon leader, there is a tendency to want to involve themselves in every aspect of the platoon. This has sparked an endless stream of lieutenant memes, jokes, and hilarious anecdotes. Yet, when that same lieutenant assesses into Civil Affairs (CA) and lands on a Civil Affairs Team (CAT), it seems those previous growing pains are forgotten. Ostensibly, that officer grew, matured, and developed into a more competent and capable captain before joining the ranks of CA. At this point, they have twice been selected for leadership; first through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) process for a commission, and second through the Civil Affairs Qualification Course (CAQC) process. Hopefully this article provides some perspective and a simple rubric that can help CAT Leaders, Company Commanders, and Senior CA Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) in their roles as leaders.
This tendency to regress into micromanagement is a product of going from leading a platoon, company, or section down to essentially a squad. I know for me, this was the case. It was easy to see this as another version of the ROTC days when you were being evaluated on leading a squad through Battle Drill 1-A. But the reality is so vastly different. The majority of your team are also seasoned professionals. And even though the US Army Reserve (USAR) side of CA allows lower enlisted, these are still individuals who are concurrently pursuing academic degrees and those starting or progressing through careers. I have been fortunate to have amazing Soldiers, NCOs, and officers as colleagues during my CA career. What I have routinely witnessed is that the vast majority of these individuals do not need a CAT Leader (or company commander for that matter) to come in and reinvent every aspect of that team. What is really needed from the CAT Leader is course corrections, while sustaining forward momentum. These are subtle (in some cases maybe not so subtle) nudges that keep the individual or team on track toward whatever end goal that the CAT Leader established. The NCOs on the team will ensure that everything needed for a particular mission will be done and done to standard.
I did not start to fully embrace the idea of not being deep in the weeds until CA company command. At that point, there was simply too much for me to overanalyze in excruciating detail. My Soldiers were incredible, so I simply let them be incredible. I provided feedback and the course correction when it was needed. This provided two tangible results. First, I was able to focus much further down the road. Trusting that my subordinates knew what they were doing and letting them take action allowed me to look at longer term projects and deal with more complicated and nuanced issues. This is probably the most pronounced and positive benefit. Second, there was no need to worry about my performance. I knew what my company was doing, I trusted them to execute, and I removed obstacles the company encountered. This in turn made me as the company commander successful.
The course corrections though are meaningless without two essential principles: goal setting and timelines. Fundamentally, what your team needs to know is where the unit is going (goal setting) and when the unit is supposed to be there (timelines). By creating a reasonable goal or series of goals, subordinate leaders can begin planning and execute the necessary tasks to be successful. Similarly, timelines allow everyone in the unit to plan for their individual actions and their team responsibilities. This can be as simple as “we are conducting a key leader engagement on Friday morning at 0900 hours” or as complex as “the company needs to be trained and validated in collective tasks by the end of the training year calendar.” In both instances, subordinate Soldiers understand what must be accomplished and when. At this point, the CAT Leader or company commander should provide the course corrections when necessary. The size and scope of the task will dictate the frequency that the leader should check in on progress and provide corrections.
I won’t pretend that this simple formula will solve every leadership problem that a new CAT Leader or a new CA Company Commander will face. However, it should free up the bandwidth to address the more complex and challenging problems that the team / company faces, to help Soldiers through personal and professional issues, and to focus on long-term planning.
As a leader you are responsible for everything that happens in your unit, but don’t let that responsibility become an excuse to micromanage.
About the Author
MAJ Jonathan Everiss is currently a USAR Civil Affairs officer assigned to USASOC. Previously, he was the company commander for A Company, 450th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne). MAJ Everiss joined the CA Regiment in September 2011 after graduating from CAQC. He began his military career in the Virginia Army National Guard, and commissioned at the Virginia Military Institute. He served as the Civil Affairs Planning Officer for Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktika from 2012-2013, and as the Fire Support Officer for B/3-116th IN (VA ARNG) in Iraq from 2007-2008. He is a federal law enforcement officer in his civilian capacity.
The opinions, conclusions and recommendations expressed or implied above are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization or any entity of the U.S. government.