By Brig. Gen. James Bonner
Special to GUIDON
One of the most flexible, effective and important tools to develop our people is counseling.
An effective counseling session provides a unique opportunity for a leader and subordinate to work together one-on-one to get to know one another, to clarify expectations, and, if needed, to improve performance.
Many leaders struggle to utilize the full potential of counseling within their formations. As leaders, we must show our teammates that we care; ensure that the sessions are deliberately planned and executed as a discussion, and find ways to recognize excellence. Gen. Paul Funk, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command commanding general, has Fundamental No. 39, which says, “Leadership is a contact sport; it requires daily interaction.”
Counseling is part of that interaction at every level. Every person — junior, mid-grade and senior; military and civilian — has room to improve and can benefit from thoughtful and engaged counseling.
Show you care
Bottom line, we have to show our people that we care about them as members of our Profession. Although frequent, recurring and informal feedback are part of leadership and relationships, we must also set dedicated time on the calendar for counseling. Incorporate it into the battle rhythm, and protect that time from outside engagements. These steps ensure that we prioritize subordinates for a block of time. In my career, I have found that we need to focus counseling sessions on more than just performance. Counseling sessions provide us a valuable opportunity to truly know what is going on in one another’s lives.
Take the time to know your teammates on a deeper level, which includes asking questions, actively listening, and learning about families, hobbies, living and financial circumstances or challenges. A caring conversation creates an environment more conducive to inclusion, compassion and cohesion.
Make it a discussion
Counseling sessions should not be one-sided conversations. The counselor and counselee are a two-person team with individual roles. As a team, they must work together to develop and execute the session’s plan of action. If the plan development falls solely on either person, the plan is less likely to be effective, and less likely to be followed.
We must be good listeners. Ask open-ended questions that provoke thought and that make the counselee part of the conversation. Pay attention to the verbiage, body language and tone of the other person and make adjustments or ask clarifying questions as needed.
If done well, the counselee will do a lot of the talking, and they will actively contribute to a plan of action that achieves individual and organizational goals.
Recognize excellence, too
By falling into the trap of only counseling when things go wrong, we limit our opportunities to develop our subordinates. As leaders, we have a duty to recognize superior performance.
So when individuals go above and beyond in their duties and responsibilities, let them know, both on the spot, and in their next scheduled counseling session. It will increase morale, encourage similar actions in the future and drive others to follow their example; because excellence is
When event-oriented counseling for periods of substandard performance is required, leaders must remain positive, ensure common understanding of expectations and the way-ahead, and strive to inspire change.
To find additional information on counseling techniques to maximize the time you spend with your team, visit the Center for the Army Profession and Leadership’s website at https://capl.army.mil/ and read Army Techniques Publication 6-22.1, The Counseling Process.
(Editor’s note: Bonner is the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general.)