Leadership for Company Commanders
Introduction: This is the third in a series of talks designed to provide SCA melee combat leaders with skills and tools to effective lead fighters on and off the field. These talks were put together as a collaborative effort by the instructors. All of whom are founding members of the Pentamere Free Company and have a long history of melee experience. Each brings unique skills and perspective from mundane military and business leadership background to the series. Each of these talks stands on its own, however each does borrow concepts from the predecessors in the series. All previous material is available on line at the Pentamere Free Company website www.pentamerefreecompany.com
The specific purpose of this lecture is to outline the duties and responsibilities inherent to company level command and to provide some specific tools to accomplish them. These responsibilities include organization, motivation, training and field command of the unit.
Instructors: Lord William Campion (Keith Larson)
THL Sgt. Iain Ruadh MacFhionnghain (Tony Craft)
Sgt. Renaude Delunay (David Denomme)
Lord William has been fighting as an SCA melee fighter since 1987 and has fought in 11 Pennsic wars and numerous smaller melee events. He has held positions ranging from new shieldman to Company commander, with unit sizes ranging from 2 to 24 heavy fighters. In his mundane life, Keith Larson P.A.-C., has for 6 years helped train and lead code teams for the Cardiac Cath Lab at Harper University Hospital in Detroit, MI.
Sgt. Iain has been fighting as an SCA melee fighter since 1986 and has lived in and fought for five kingdoms in numerous wars, ranging from Pennsic to An Tir/West War. He has held positions ranging from new shieldman to Baronial Militia Commander with units sizes ranging from 2 to 30 heavy fighters. In his mundane life, Tony Craft spent 12 years with the U.S. Army and held positions ranging from Platoon Sergeant to Drug Suppression Team Chief. As a Military Police NCO, he has had real world melee combat experience during the 1994 Cuban Refugee Riots in Panama and numerous bar brawls throughout his military career.
Sergeant Renaude has been an authorized fighter in the SCA since 1987 and has fought in 13 Pennsic wars as well as numerous smaller melee events. Renaude remains active by training melee fighters and teaching at the Royal University of the Midrealm sessions. Recognized for his battlefield contributions to the Midrealm Army he was appointed to the Order of the Red Company during the reign of Dag Thorgrimsson and Elayna Lilley. In his mundane life David Denomme is a student completing a Master of Business degree at the University of Michigan. He interested in adapting the principles of business communication, leadership, and organization to SCA melee combat in order to strengthen the Army of the Middle Kingdom.
I: What is a company?
A Company for the purpose of this talk is any unit that becomes large enough that it must be divided into sub-units to be managed effectively. This usually occurs at around 6 fighters. On the field, a commander can generally control 3-5 fighters effectively depending on the commander’s experience. Once you exceed this number you officially or unofficially begin to divide the command to accomplish goals. Even if this is just breaking off part of the unit to do a flanking maneuver. At this level, a company is born. A Company’s maximum size is then about 25 fighters (5 lances of 5 fighters each) before additional layers of command are needed.
II: What is a Company Commander?
The company commander is the person who sets the tone, goals, direction and pace of the company's efforts both on and off the field. It is the job of the company commander to train his sub units to work together as teams and fight effectively as part of a larger unit. To achieve this, the company commander must be able to identify and understand the company’s goals and organization. He must be able clearly and concisely communicate the goals and directions on how to achieve these goals to his company. He must be able to motivate himself and his companions to work towards these goals productively. He must be able to fight his company on the field. He must have an understanding of training and battle drills so his unit can practice for success on the field. He must also be able to train his sub-commanders to lead their own units and, perhaps one-day, lead the company as well. As you can see, actually leading the company on the field is a rather small part of what a company commander does. The majority of your time and effort will be spent off the field getting your unit to work effectively on the field.
What you should know as a leader: These are long term goal for the individual leader to continuously work on.
¨ Know your self. What are your own strengths, weaknesses and motivations?
¨ Know your troops. What are their strengths, weaknesses and motivations?
¨ Know your job. Strive to be competent in your weapon style. Study and learn melee tactics and leadership skills. Be able to communicate effectively.
¨ Know human nature. Know what you can and cannot expect from yourself and your troops. Know what people's motivations are and how that effects your leadership and the unit as a whole. How can you motivate your troops?
Do I want this job? Before you take or accept command, you should first assess your own command ability. Do you have, or can you acquire the skills needed to do the job? You should understand the source of your authority and assess your relationship with both your troops and the other commanders. Know your sources of power and leadership styles, and understand the strengths and weaknesses inherent with each. (See “Concepts in SCA Combat Leadership” for details). Being a commander is a responsibility not a perk or a reward and you owe it to yourself and your troops to seriously consider if this is something for which you have the time, temperament and skills to excel at.
III: Company Goals and Organization:
Company goals are basic statements of just why you are organized as a company. What are you here to do and whom do you plan on fighting for? How will you decide company matters, make decisions or, for that matter, decide who is company commander? Is it a permanent assignment or will you rotate command? There are also more specific short-term goals that fall under the larger company goals. For example, you may have decided to form a line company for your barony and your first short-term goal is to build a shield press so you can outfit your fighters with war heaters. Your basic company goals are very important. They are the essential core that makes up the identity of your unit. They serve as guides for commanders to look to and as a banner to attract fighters to your side. Think carefully about them and once decided, advertise them widely, then live up to them.
If you are just starting out with a brand new company or rebuilding an existing company you will have to figure out how you will organize your sub-units and how they will fit together to form the company. The organization of your company is based on a few factors. (Also see “Leadership for Lance Commanders”, section on Assuming Command.)
¨ How many people do you have? The more people you have the greater the need for a clear organizational structure to get things done effectively. Using the 3-5 fighters per sub-unit rule will help you figure out what number of sub-units you can divide into. Fewer but larger sub-units are easier for the company commander to control, but more, smaller sub-units provide added flexibility. Which is best for your company?
¨ How will your company fight on the field and as part of a larger army? Are you going to be a front line shield wall unit, skirmishers, support, combat archers or will you combine all of these within your company? Line units generally do better with larger sub-units, faster moving and support units benefit from the added flexibility of smaller sub-units
¨ How many sub-commanders do you have available? If you are just starting out, you may have to consider how many of your fighters are willing and/or able to command your sub-units. This may limit your organizational options a bit. You may also have many worthy sub-commanders and wish to use smaller sub-units to give all of them a chance. This may also provide individual sub-commanders the opportunity to go out and recruit new fighters to their own sub-units to fill out your ranks.
¨ How will you treat feudal obligations and/or knight-squire relations in your company? How will your company handle members who have feudal or knight-squire obligations outside of the company? Will a knight in your company insist his squires fight only for him or do SCA order of precedence ranks only exist off the battlefield? You may also have a situation where your company commander doesn’t have SCA “rank”. How will this effect your interactions with regional / kingdom level command or commanding someone within the company of higher “rank”?
It doesn’t do you any good to have the best ideas if you can’t tell anyone else about them. You must be able to articulate what it is that you are trying to convey in a clear and concise manner both on and off the field. Communication as a company commander often adds a new dimension that many find daunting, public speaking. Fear of public speaking is one of the most common fears known to us. Many of us are uncomfortable speaking to a large group let alone give them orders. As a company commander you will need to become comfortable talking to your own company, other commanders, superiors in command meetings etc. For many this may not be an easy ability to acquire, but without it you will fail as a company commander.
Communication off the field will often come in the form of speaking to individuals or small groups. It is important to remember to praise in public and criticize in private. Praise from a commander in front of your own peers is valuable indeed. Criticism in front of them can be crippling, even if it is fair criticism. Keep you directions clear and concise; don’t ramble on with NSTIW stories that do not serve a specific purpose.
Communication on the field or in briefing your unit before a battle is best given in the 5 part field order format whenever possible. Practice using it will allow you to formulate clear concise orders and deliver them rapidly to sub-commanders to carry out.
¨ Who? Who is doing what? At the lance level, this is typically "We are going to...." However, as a company commander "you or we” are going alone, as part of a line, the whole company, re-enforced company, or regional unit? All this information needs to be given to your troops.
¨ What? What is the action desire of the lance? Move, attack, defend, or what?
¨ Where? Where is the action directed? A specific direction, location or target.
¨ When? When do we execute this action? Now, in 5 minutes, on receiving a command, when something else happens?
¨ Why? What is the intended outcome of this action? In order to utilize local initiative, troops need to know what the commander intended to achieve by ordering this action. How does this action fit into a larger picture?
Communication goes both ways though. Part of being an effective communicator is to be able to listen to what others have to say and sometime to help them to clarify and articulate their own ideas and feelings. You need to listen to your troops, to make sure that they are hearing and understanding what you are saying. Troops have ideas, concerns, and questions and may see things you haven’t yet. Their input in many ways is just as valid as your own on company matters. It is also a good practice to have people repeat orders back to you, right after you give them. This serves a dual purpose of imprinting them into the receiver’s memory and gives you some immediate feedback on your own ability to give clear concise instructions. If your subordinates consistently have trouble repeating your orders back, its time to go back to the 5 part order and start again.
First you need to be motivated and enthusiastic yourself about melee to be a company commander, to build and strengthen your company, and to make yourself a better leader. You will set the tone of enthusiasm and participation for your company. Your consistent presence and participation are needed to provide a stable base for your company to build on. You need to know within yourself what motivates you to be a company commander and then look to others to see why they want to be part of a company. Each person has their own set of personal needs and desires that bring them to the SCA and to melee combat in particular. In general though, there are a few things that all of us seek in one way or another.
People want to feel like they are part of the group. We want to belong. Go out of your way to make sure your troops know that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, a lance, a company, an army and a kingdom. Doing things together off the field will also help build a sense of unity. That could be gathering together to do unit related projects, having a meal, or watching a movie. People join the SCA to be social. If your unit provides opportunity for this you will gain more motivated troops.
People want to be respected and needed by their peers. Why do you think we have awards? Public displays of praise and recognition from leaders are great forms of positive reinforcement and motivation. Thank your troops for their efforts and let them know you appreciate them being an important part of your unit. It tells troops that they did their job well (you are competent) and worthy from the people whose opinion and respect they most respect and desire. This can be anything from simple complements from lance mates or "no shit" stories, being commended by lance or company commanders, to local, baronial or kingdom awards. Praise and recognition from other units is also a powerful source of these feelings. Public criticism, mockery or even just failing to give acknowledgement at all can be devastating to a person's motivation to participate, if originates from someone the person has great respect or reverence for.
People want to do things they like. Troops all have preferences for how they like to fight. Trying to force a fast moving skirmisher type into the shield wall is bound to cause dissatisfaction. As a leader you need to help troopers discover just how they really enjoy fighting and then figure out how you can work that into your unit. Many people are willing to take a temporary assignment to a position that they really don't enjoy all that much "for the good of the company". If that assignment becomes permanent or if they fail to receive sufficient recognition for the sacrifice they made to everyone else's "fun" by playing a less "fun" role them selves, troops will experience a decline in their level of motivation to participate. Make it your goal to discover what it really is about melee that your troopers like and then figure out how to provide opportunities for them to get it.
People want to feel they have a voice in decision making. Troops want to know that their ideas and concerns are being listened to. This does not mean that every thing has to be endlessly debated and voted on. Your troops do need to be able to come to you with ideas or issues and feel that you will actually listen to them and consider what they say. They may not be running things, but in a voluntary organization like ours, if someone feels that they are not being appreciated or that their voice is not being heard, it is very easy for them to pick up and go somewhere else or stop participating all together. Having a voice in the unit’s affairs will also help promote a sense of ownership and belonging in the company among troopers.
VI: What troops expect from a Company Commander.
There is also a set of expectations that people look for in their leaders. These are specific qualities, traits or actions that are sort of unwritten or understood things that a leader will provide for us in exchange for our service to them. Because they are generally assumed or unspoken it is very important that you as a new leader are aware of them.
Be Fair. Above all else, what people look for in their leaders is fairness. Do they treat me justly? Do you give praise when earned? Do you give undeserved criticism? Do you do what you say you will? The most common single trait desired by workers in a supervisor is fairness.
Provide Direction. As a leader, people will look to you to provide a direction for their common efforts. You will need to plan, set goals, make decisions, solve problems and help train to move in the chosen direction. You will sometimes, especially on the field, have to make quick decisions with limited information. Make the best choice you can with the information you have and do it. Remember that it’s just a game and we all get up when we’re done. Any long-term fighter will gladly tell you stories of how many lame things he’s been ordered to do on the field. Its OK. Any decision, even a bad one, is better than none sometimes. Good judgement is based on experience. Experience is based on bad judgements.
You are the model for behavior within your unit. Your troops will take their cues on how to act, react and behave from you as their leader. You must set the tone and the ethical standard for how you would like others to treat you and each other. If you are constantly ripping on others and complaining about things, chances are your troops will do the same. If you are loud and boisterous, so will your troops be. If you are courageous, courteous, chivalrous, fair, honest and open, so too will your troops be. People generally want to follow someone they feel is somehow “better” than themselves. We want our leaders to be someone we aspire to emulate and be like. So keep in mind that your actions are being watched and in many ways judged, sometimes unfairly, by those you lead. Keeping good communication within your group, and allowing your subordinates the opportunity to privately voice their disappointment in something you did lets them get things out and not fester and it gives you a chance to explain your actions or even to apologize for them. None of us will be perfect all the time and being in the spotlight of leadership we need to be able to forgive and be forgiven for our actions. But as a leader you must be able to own up to your actions and make up for them when needed. The actions of your company will reflect on you as their commander and yours will reflect on them as well.
Be Competent. People want their leaders to actually be good at their job. Ideally, they want to feel that their leader is much better at doing the job than they are, but this is not necessary. As long as your troops feel you perform your duties competently and consistently they will continue to place their faith and trust in you as their leader. To this end you must undertake to understand just what your job is and acquire the skills and knowledge to do that job well.
VII: Battle Drills.
As a company commander you are responsible for the training of your company, its sub-units, its individual fighters and your own sub-commanders. Individual training is the job of your sub-commanders. They need to make sure that the individuals in their units know what their own job is, how to do it and how to blend their actions with their unit to form a team. You need to make sure that is happening. Training your sub-units to work together is where your training responsibilities really start. You need to get your sub-units to blend their actions together to fight as a company. The best tool for this is the battle drill. A battle drill is an ordered exercise that seeks to improve the ability of a group of fighters to work together in a specified situation. Battle drills are developed from the information and insight gained during the After Action Review discussed in the next section.
¨ Identify the particular situation you would like to work on.
¨ Identify standards, what is the desired outcome. How will you know when you have actually achieved competency in the drill?
¨ Develop the steps/procedure/process needed to execute the drill.
¨ Develop variations on the situation.
¨ Write it down.
During battle drills it is important that you observe and assess the skills of individuals within the unit. Deficits should be privately pointed out to sub-commanders so that they can be addressed during individual training. Good performance should be praised immediately. You must also observe your own sub-commanders skills and performance to identify areas to improve on during leadership training.
Do not spend all day on a single battle drill. Run a drill a few times and then move on. Constant repetition of the same drill quickly becomes boring and counterproductive. For example, if you constantly drill a shield wall in dislodging shield hooks from spears, they will probably stand and dislodge shield hooks when faced with a line of spears. That is what you practiced the most, so they will fall into that pattern. You also do not have to run every battle drill at every practice. Setting aside a specific amount of time at the beginning of practice for battle drills is useful. When the time is up, move on.
VIII: Leadership Training.
One of the added responsibilities of the company commander is to train new leaders within the company and to help improve the sub-commanders. You and they need to understand exactly what their job is within the company. Then you make sure you provide your sub-commanders with the proper tools and skills to do their job. Along the way, you need to give them guidance and direction for their efforts, praise them when they do well and correct them privately when needed. Your sub-commanders will look to you to set training goals for their sub-unit, and as an example for leadership. You may also need to identify those within your company who may make good leaders or who want to become leaders. You will need to be able to clearly verbalize to them what you expect them to do and the standards they must meet. Ultimately you must be prepared to remove someone from command if they repeatedly fail to meet those standards and expectations.
The tool to use for leadership training is the After Action Review. When doing this for leadership training specifically you should limit the participants to sub-commanders and yourself. This allows the company commander to provide input and correction to a sub-commander during the session without having to do it in front of his own subordinates.
¨ Have the troops describe what happened.
¨ Have the troops explain what they felt went wrong with the action.
¨ Have the troop explain what they felt went right.
¨ Have troops explain how to do it correctly next time.
¨ Perform the task again as soon as possible
During the process of discussing the engagement you can give insight into how sub-commanders and their units performed. The review session can be used to identify areas where the company needs work and to develop new battle drills for the next practice. During an “officer’s” after action review session it is important that the participants feel free to express their honest opinions of the engagement. However, abusive, harshly accusatory or derogatory statements should not be tolerated. People voicing descenting opinions need to be given time to speak and their words respected. This is important so that you as the commander get accurate data to make decisions on how to train and fight your company. It is also important that people can feel free to voice new ideas within the company without fear of being excluded from the company. Lack of this kind of atmosphere will lead to a “group think” mentality, stagnation, isolation and eventual failure of the company.
Last and probably least of the skills needed to be a company commander is individual fighting prowess. As a company commander, your company is your weapon and you need to seek to become skilled at wielding it and not a sword on the battlefield. Fight your company not your weapon style. You should, however, be competent in all melee weapon styles and skilled in one or two, for the sake of individual training needs. You need to be good enough to show others the proper techniques and to recognize when your fighters are doing something right or wrong.
In general, I would recommend against a company commander using a spear, combat archery or a very large war shield. These weapons either limit your visibility and mobility or make it very tempting for you to go looking for targets to kill rather than targets for your company to kill. Pole arm, great sword or weapon and an oversized tourney shield are better choices. They allow you to move, see and defend yourself adequately when you really need to.
Bibliography and Recommended Reading:
FM 22-100 Military Leadership, U.S. Army
Robert E. Lee on Leadership: Executive Lessons in Character, Courage, and Vision, H.W. Crocker III
Small Unit Leadership, A Commonsense Approach, Col. Dandridge M. Malone, U.S.A. (Ret.)
Social Psychology, 7th Edition, David G. Myers