Lights On: The Best Way to Transition Unit Commanders

Each commander has their own style, priorities and management philosophy. When first taking command of a new unit, it is not uncommon to feel a need to make your mark and thus make the unit your own. However, sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing.

Some new commanders prefer to arrive with a splash. They immediately apply a heavy hand when it comes to uniform regulations, report deadlines and other SOP style issues before they even get a chance to learn how that unit functions, its strengths and more importantly its weaknesses. Others choose to sit back and learn their men, determine what is currently working and what might require adjustment.

Both methods have their place, and each can be effective when properly utilized. However, in my experience, I have learned that an early heavy-handed introduction can often be the result of something more than making an improvement- it is sometimes more personal, a desire to set yourself apart rather than an attempt to improve the unit.

Police PatchUnless you have been specifically assigned to a unit for the purpose of cleaning up what your superiors see as problems, then there is an assumption that the previous commander was doing what was required. When you first walk into the Ops Center you might meet a team member with hair on the longer side of regulation or with an open distain for writing reports. You could immediately send one to the barber and sit the other behind a desk until the end of time – or you could sit back and take a moment to learn one is a genius at acquiring impossible to find supplies while the other is a master tactician.

It is natural for a commander to want to succeed in a new assignment, and it is also true that any commander is judged by not only their own actions but those of their unit as a whole. However, the difference between a leader and a manager is that the leader realizes it is often results that matter most and not necessarily how those results are achieved. If the methods your predecessor put in place work then there is no shame, nor does it detract from your own position, in allowing them to continue. Doing so is by itself a symbol of your leadership.

In time you will learn what already works, what needs to be changed and what simply needs a little tweaking to fit within your personal style. You may even learn that major overhauls are necessary, but even that requires some preliminary evaluation if it is to be successful. Regardless of your eventual findings, a successful transition will benefit from a period of introductions and simply keeping the lights on.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *