Counseling Leaders to Cultivate Influence

A Guest Post by Major Kyle Trottier

Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization (ADRP 6-22, 1-1).

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erin Piazza

In a 2010 New York Time OpEd titled The Unsentimental Warrior, Lucian Truscott, grandson of his namesake, a famous WWII general, argued that Army leaders must be willing and able to give deadly serious orders to accomplish the mission they are given, that men die for a cause and not for their generals, and if leaders are unable to influence Soldiers they may as well pack up their stuff and go home. Carl Von Clausewitz argues the nature of war is a human endeavor, it is brutal and violent, and it is uncertain. As leaders, we must develop our organization to maneuver through the fog of war and win against a competent and determined foe and we cannot do that without developing our organization’s leaders’ ability to cultivate and exercise influence judiciously. By understanding what it means to counsel, coach, and mentor, leaders will be better prepared to influence people to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. To empower subordinates, execute mission command, and accomplish the mission, leaders must develop their own organization through counseling, coaching and mentoring. This approach directly supports General Robert Abram’s FY18 FORSCOM Command Training Guidance which emphasizes “mastering the fundamentals, strengthening leader development, caring for soldiers and their families, and informing the future force.”

“Competent leaders know the best way to create a solid organization is to empower subordinates (ADRP 6-22, 1-25).”

Effective leaders strive to leave an organization better than they found it and expect other leaders to do the same. “Developing people and the organization with a long-term perspective requires leaders who: 1) create a positive work environment that fosters teamwork, promotes cohesion, and encourages initiative and acceptance of responsibility; 2) seek self-improvement; 3) invest adequate time and effort to develop individual subordinates and build effective teams; 4) act as stewards of the profession, making choices and taking actions that ensure that leaders in the future sustain an Army capable of performing its core tasks (ADRP 6-22, 7-4).” We have a responsibility to ourselves, to our subordinates, and to the future of the Army to continually improve. We improve others and the organization through counseling, coaching, and mentoring.

Many people have a bias about what counseling is or should be. “Counseling is the process used by leaders to guide subordinates to improve performance and develop their potential (ADRP 6-22, 7-62).” Counseling focuses on the subordinate’s past and plans solutions for continued growth and improvement. To begin the counseling process, reach out to peers and mentors, and obtain some counseling documents that you can adjust to describe your standards and expectations of each subordinate. Give it to them along with your goals to reflect upon and provide them some basic questions like: what would you like to accomplish (personally and professionally) during this given period of time, what would you like to accomplish in the next five years, what is your self-development plan, what can I do to help you meet your goals. The point of the counseling is not for you to go in with all the answers, but to establish the standards of conduct and then have a dialogue. Ensure the subordinate understands you, how you operate, why you do things a certain way, and then listen to them and understand them personally and professionally. From this conversation, develop outputs such as “CPT X, in the next 30 days I want you to develop your command philosophy and then we will meet again to discuss as a way to prepare a young pre-command captain for their next assignment.”

When a leader conducts counseling, they must demonstrate a genuine interest in the counselee. Dale Carnegie, in his classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, emphasizes three points that directly apply to counseling: 1) become genuinely interested in other people; 2) be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves; 3) make the other person feel important and do it sincerely. Carnegie states “It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others (Carnegie, 53).” If you ask about the person’s personal and professional goals, you must genuinely care about them, provide feedback, and help guide them toward the attainment of that objective. If not, then why even conduct the counseling.

Carnegie reminds us “the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems. So if you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. Be interested. Ask questions. Encourage them to talk about themselves (88).” During counseling, leaders must listen. You are trying to understand your subordinate so you can more effectively develop them as an individual to make your organization function at a higher level.

Finally, Carnegie puts forth the idea that we must always strive to make the other person feel important. “The desire to be important is the deepest urge in human nature. The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated (95).” By conducting counseling regularly, whether monthly or quarterly, being genuinely interested in other people, being a good listener, and making the person feel important, we deliberately guide the counselee to a desired emotional state, wherein they will be more willing to buy into the plan of action and invest themselves in the process of growth and development. Through this process, leaders cultivate influence over subordinates vice authority.

Coaching and counseling are complementary. Counseling should include performance benchmarks each subordinate must accomplish in support of these team efforts to enable effective mission command of the unit. “Coaching relies primarily on teaching and guiding to bring out and enhance the capabilities already present (ADRP 6-22, 7-62).” Coaching enables mission command by building cohesive teams through mutual trust. Field grade leaders must coach subordinates to operate the tactical operations center (TOC), to run TOC battle drills, to conduct the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), to employ mission command systems. We coach through relentless rehearsals and the conduct of drills until the unit achieves Prussian like precision; it is at this point that a commander may trust the unit’s field grade to exercise disciplined initiative.

Mentoring can happen during counseling, coaching, or during daily interactions. A mentor can take advantage of moments like the recent release of the new FM 3-0 Operations and create deliberate sessions to cover all eight chapters with mentees to grow highly competent leaders. “Mentorship is the voluntary developmental relationship that exists between a person of greater experience and a person of lesser experience that is characterized by mutual trust and respect (ADRP 6-22, 7-67).” Mentoring takes place when the mentor provides a less experienced leader with advice and counsel over time to help with professional and personal growth and helps the Army maintain a highly competent set of leaders. It is through mentoring that the points of personal and professional development covered in counseling, and drilled during coaching sessions take root within the individual. This is how they can reflect and make sense of their experiences and make meaningful efforts towards becoming masters of their profession.

General Mark Milley, the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army, believes leadership is the most important element of combat power, and that leadership is the most important element to ensure we win in the crucible of ground combat (Army Times, April 22, 2016).  Field grade leaders can have a profound positive impact on Soldiers personal lives and professional success by investing in leader development. Through the process of counseling, coaching and mentoring field grade leaders enable mission command, which results in individuals and units capable of winning in the brutal, violent, and uncertain crucible of war. Leader development is not optional, and by understanding what it means to counsel, coach and mentor leaders will be better prepared to influence people to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.

Major Kyle Trottier is an armor officer, a graduate of Texas Christian University and holds a master’s degree in Organizational and Business Security Management from Webster University and a Masters in Military Art and Science (Theater Operations) from the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). MAJ Trottier is currently serving as the 3ID FUOPS Chief.

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