Leaders Fear Performance Counseling

By | March 8, 2018

[March 8, 2018]  This is a pretty bold statement to make since it is based only on conversations with senior leaders in the military.  Sadly, however, it’s too true that leaders fear it.  Because of the fear, I discovered that performance counseling of subordinates is just one of those things that is allowed to slip past without anyone raising a voice of concern.

Leaders are busy people and there are tendencies to let the real needs of the organization supplant leader responsibility to provide quality counseling to subordinates.  But do senior leaders fear performance counseling of their bosses?  They crave and demand that their boss counsel them.  So why do we fear counseling subordinates or is it just laziness or is it too low on the priority list?

I propose that leaders fear counseling of their subordinates because they don’t want to tell their subordinates that the job being done is inadequate, establish a plan to fix it, and then oversee the job being done right.  In short, it takes too much time and too many resources to do counseling correctly.

Personally, during my 40 years in the U.S. Army, only three of my commanders ever gave me counseling and only one of them did a good job.  The one time it was done well was in a combat zone during one of the most difficult times of our lives.  Yet he still took the time to bring me in and spend time going over his expectations and also what I wanted to get out of the job I had.

When leaders allow demands on their time to dominate and not conduct counseling, the harm is in the long term.  Like many of my peers, I’ve counseled mid-grade officers who tell me they have never been counseled and, at the same time, tell me they are confused about why their career has lagged behind.  We often refer to these soldiers as being “adrift” because they have no guidepost by which to navigate their time in the service.

My intent here is not to show how to give good performance counseling.  I will leave that for another time.  A good read on this from an Army officer can be found here (see link).  I recommend a quick read as Colonel (Retired) Rob Campbell explains what it takes to counsel properly.

Performance counseling ultimately focuses on the growth of the subordinate being counseled.  This is a slow process (explains why often not done) that takes dedication, focus, and intellect.  Doing it properly is the opposite of intellectual laziness.  Great leaders care about their people more and counseling is one of the best ways to show it.

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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.

8 thoughts on “Leaders Fear Performance Counseling

  1. Shawn C Stolarz

    I initially laughed at this article but then realized that people are fearful of many things, so why be fearful of giving performance counseling? I got to thinking it was perhaps they lacked the training or motivation. But no, more likely they are fearful of meeting one-on-one with their subordinates. That may be true but some of the leaders are more interested in making themselves look better so by not giving counseling they are setting up their subordinates to ultimately fail. Sad state of affairs.

  2. Joey Holmes

    Thanks Mr. Satterfield for giving me some things to think about. Fear is scary.

  3. Jonathan B.

    Fear has that effect on people whether they are leaders, managers, or ordinary individuals and from all walks of life. Fear is debilitating and therein lies the problem here.
    A good article to read on the Power of Fear by Evelyn Pelczar is worth your time.

  4. Janna Faulkner

    “If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Fine words written by Dale Carnegie.

  5. William L. Anthony

    Excellent points made here by Satterfield. Research into the subject of fear has only begun and the more we understand it the more we can overcome it. Leaders who express fear have increased their chances of failure ten fold.

  6. Edward Kennedy III

    In the scheme of leader needs and wants, this one stands out as necessary for the good of the individual and organization.

  7. Jesse

    I’ve seen the same thing too many times. Cousneling is considered taboo (informally anyway) by leaders that should know better. Bringing this to light in a board meeting or among the staff brings derision heaped upon the poor soul that bothers to show the need.


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