[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.