Leaders talk about trust as a component of team building and a requirement for Mission Command, but what are some of the elements that help build trust?
One of the most common and effective ways to build trust is to “lead from the front.” However, that means different things in different contexts. One of the easiest and most effective ways to lead from the front is to be present during training exercises by either participating or providing decisions and guidance as necessary. However, it is not practical to be present at all of these events, and doing so might actually be harmful. To build trust, leaders must balance supervision with autonomy and create opportunities for subordinates to exercise their initiative and operate independently.
A recent article on The Military Leader website offered a number of recommendations for establishing trust, including building personal and professional relationships, recognizing hard work, and counseling.
What effect does counseling have on trust? What about senior rater counseling? If done correctly, the counseling process builds trust and creates a positive command climate because it strengthens relationships. It is important to remember that building relationships is an art, though, with different solutions for each leader, organization and situation. Therefore, leaders must learn to calibrate their counseling style and leadership instead of seeking a one-size-fits-all solution.
Many leaders struggle to conduct routine, quality counseling. According to Field Manual 6-22, Army Leadership, and Army Techniques Publication 6-22.1, The Counseling Process, counseling is the process used by leaders to review with a subordinate the subordinate’s demonstrated performance and potential.
Counseling: Just Do It
Regardless of how leaders counsel, or how effective we are at counseling, the most important thing is to do it. According to Army Regulation 623-3 Evaluation Reporting System, all NCOs, warrant officers and chief warrant officer 2s, lieutenants and captains must receive initial counseling within 30 days of the beginning of the rating period, and quarterly thereafter. However, leaders should be careful to avoid making counseling a check-the-block exercise.
The time needed to conduct counseling has to compete with myriad mandatory and priority tasks. Combined with minimal training in counseling and the counseling process, leaders often lack the communication skills and experience to counsel effectively. These are not excuses; they are reality.
There is no question that counseling is important, evident by the fact that nearly half of Army leaders—46 percent of the active component, and 47 percent of the reserve component—indicate that they receive performance counseling too infrequently. Additionally, 39 percent of leaders say counseling has small, very little or no positive impact. If we honestly assessed our own performance in regards to counseling, most of us would admit that we have room to improve.
Uncovering Toxic Leadership
Considering our challenges with counseling, what should we think about senior rater counseling, something that happens even less frequently? Though there is no regulatory requirement to conduct senior rater counseling, it does have benefits. The most obvious one is the greater breadth of experience that a senior rater can share, but another potential benefit is uncovering and addressing toxic leadership.
For example, let’s say a company commander (rater) regularly counseled his or her platoon leaders (rated officers) to review their performance and potential. One platoon leader consistently performed above and beyond the commander’s expectations, so the commander rated this platoon leader as “most qualified.” However, the company commander did not have an accurate understanding of the platoon’s command climate, so this evaluation was based primarily on results. Unfortunately, and unknown to the commander, this platoon leader achieved these results at the expense of his or her soldiers, creating an oppressive and toxic command climate within the platoon.
How would this scenario change if the commander conducted senior rater counseling with the platoon sergeant? If that same company commander regularly conducted senior rater counseling with his or her platoon sergeants, this might have revealed the command climate issues. More importantly, if these issues are discovered early in the leader’s career and/or rated period, the chain of command can coach corrections to assist subordinates in learning and experimenting with leadership styles. The same concept applies at all levels of command with the realization that the earlier these potential issues are identified, the better.
Preventing and combating toxic leadership is a significant and complex challenge, similar to and related to the challenges of counseling and building trust. Senior rater counseling alone will not solve the problem of toxic leadership, but it is a benefit that leaders might not have considered previously.