Commander for a Day

[July 2, 2020]  It’s familiar practice for senior military leaders to provide a day for junior enlisted men or women to step into the Commanders’ role.  Being “Commander for a Day” is an opportunity to open one’s eyes to leadership responsibilities, hard work, and effort necessary to shoulder such a position.1  It also allows a Commander to walk in the shoes of junior military members.

It may be difficult for Commanders with so much on their plate to put their own duties on hold while they experiment with a lower-ranking person’s job.  It’s still a great way to bridge the gap between different ranks.

There are many variations in the Commander for a Day.  In some cases, the Commander switches places with a junior military member.  In other cases, the Commander mentors the junior individual.  Either way, it provides people with the opportunity to experience the day-to-day activities of a senior military leader.  As the temporary commander, their authority also varies, but the idea is proven to be a real winner.  It’s a win-win.

When a junior person walks away from that day as “Commander,” they have acquired an understanding of why certain things are done.  Many believe that senior military leaders don’t work much and spend a lot of time away on boondoggle missions.  The program sets junior folks up to see what a jam-packed day is for a commander.  It also allows them to appreciate the difficult thinking – based on relevant experiences – required to make the right decision.

Such programs have an additional benefit.  It can be a mentoring springboard for those inspiring to serve in leadership positions. From the experiences, they walk away with insight into the challenges senior leaders face daily while balancing mission requirements and needs of personnel.2

Most important is that the program offers an excellent platform for learning about leadership.  For example, while many aspects of leader roles change from location to location and within the various military ranks, the facets of leadership remain the same.  Yet, with the increasing scope of responsibility, it is impossible to lead all those under you.  Leading from the top is more of a challenge than most of us might imagine.  This program helps overcome this issue.


  1. The program goes by several names. Another name is the Commander’s Shadow Program.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “Commander for a Day

  1. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Interesting and educational. While I have heard of this before, I never really gave it much thought or the value that could be derived from implementing it in the workplace. Thanks. I wonder how it would work in a High School classroom setting. Maybe I could get one of my brighter students to take my place. Now, that is a great idea.

    1. Xavier Bordon

      Great thinking, Mr. TJ. Let us know how that works out …… ha ha ha ha

  2. Shawn C. Stolarz

    FYI, not all those chosen to be the “acting” Commander for a Day program are junior enlisted. Some are junior officers. Keep up the great work on your articles, Gen. Satterfield. Another great resource for those looking to improve their leadership skills and knowledge. Learn from others is my motto.

    1. Darryl Sitterly

      Right and the airman wrote an article for the Nellis Air Force Base news feature. Now everyone can get an idea of what happens at the leader level. Good idea. Thanks Otto for bringing this to our attention.

  3. Stacey Borden

    Are you an ant or a grasshopper? In other words, do you tend to finish all your work, and then relax, or do you relax first and procrastinate about work? After being commander for a day, I believe that person now realizes the importance of this.

  4. Tomas C. Clooney

    Excellent article. I’ll be mentioning this to my boss at work (whenever I get back to work). We are not struggling as a family yet anyway. My wife and I have savings but I discovered that many of our neighbors never saved a penny and were living paycheck to paycheck. How risky? Well, now they cannot pay their mortgage, etc.

      1. Willie Shrumburger


  5. Kenny Foster

    Good point that the Commander for a Day allows others to see that the senior leadership is not just sitting around all day, smoking cigars and drinking whiskey but that they are actually working damn hard. I would suggest that every workplace implement something along these lines. There are many additional benefits.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      One additional benefit is that the junior person goes back to tell his buddies how great it was but more importantly that the senior leaders are working hard and it takes a lot of dedication, smarts, and hard work too. It dispels the n notion that leaders have it easy.

  6. Doug Smith

    I like the idea of mentoring which is obviously a big factor and bigger payoff in the long run.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Doug, I do think you are right. But I would also suggest that the junior person who does this is not just some random person but chosen, consciously who has some potential for future greater assignments and responsibilities. That way, it’s like planting the seed of leadership and watching it grow.

      1. Lady Hawk

        Good point Dennis. Yes, I also believe the person should be selected but not by that Senior Commander but by someone with authority at a much lower level or even voted on by his/her peers.

        1. Valkerie

          Yeah! Good point. General Satterfield has again shown us another leadership tool for the toolbox.

    2. Fred Weber

      Mentoring, coaching, and teaching is what this is all about. It informs. It also helps adjust attitudes. I like the idea.

  7. Georgie B.

    An interesting piece today, Gen. Satterfield. I never heard of this before in the military. But I can also see how it would be useful elsewhere and not just in big organizations.

    1. Linux Man

      Yes, even small businesses and volunteer organizations could have their members try out any of the leadership postilions. They could accomplish some of the leader tasks and find out that it’s not so easy but they can also experience the feeling of satisfaction after being successful at it.

    2. ARay Pittman

      Same here, Georgie. I’ll be trying it out sometime.

      1. Benny

        I love this website. Excellent articles and let’s not forget about the “daily favorites” which are articles that General Satterfield thinks we should read. I’ve gained a lot of exceptional knowledge from being a regular on this leadership website. Pass it along to those you know.

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