Will you be my mentor! This is a request you do not hear too often from Senior NCOs in my unit and frankly in many other units that I have worked with throughout my 27 years in the Army National Guard. I feel that my unit’s leadership has missed the mark when it comes to passing on their vital leadership experience. There seems to be a link in the Army Leadership Requirements Model that needs attention.
Professional Military Education (PME) schools provide basic leader skills and knowledge of regulations, but cannot cover every facet of day-to-day duties and responsibilities that junior leaders need to learn to become successful. During assignments, unit members learn the operational skills needed to adapt in the ever-changing tactical environment by putting training into practice. Distance learning sustains and enhances training gained from assignments, but that too is missing the human interactions needed to influence young leaders. The Noncommissioned Officer Development Program (NCODP) and Sergeants Time Training (STT) have taking a backseat and so have become minimized compared to multitude of AR 350-1 required training. The three domains of the Army Leader development model are missing something and in my opinion, counseling, coaching, and mentoring should play a bigger part in leader development within the leadership model for NCOs.
First Main Point
We all have experienced a new assignment and the initial counseling that was supposed to follow but if you did not get it, do not worry, you are not alone. I have not received initial counseling for most of my assignments during the last 10 years, nor have I received quarterly or even yearly from my platoon sergeants, first sergeants, or commanders. AR 623-3 and AR 600-400 contain the requirements for counseling for soldiers, but all too often these important events fail to happen and this leaves the subordinate lost without a plan to achieve their fullest potential. Another issue facing counseling is that personnel frequently transfer units and duty positions within the unit for promotion leaving behind their unfinished plan and counseling. Soldiers often have to carve out their value in a unit and prove themselves to new superiors when the past counseling would paint a better picture of that incoming Soldier.
Professional growth counseling is a helpful tool for motivating Soldiers to reach their potential as leaders. According to TC 7-22.7, professional growth counseling is a deliberate, continuous, sequential, and progressive process grounded in character and Army Values.3 This process can be challenging, which is why it is essential to have an approach that provides assistance and ensures purpose and productivity. (Love, 2018)
Counseling use correctly for leader development will have a huge impact just as much as negative counseling does during Army Body Composition Program (ABCP) induction or the failure of the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). We need to use counseling to help assess, guide, and support Soldiers at every level. A formulated plan of action is assigned to a Soldier based on their performance and their leaders support expectations; they will be more accepting for coaching by their leaders and understand requirements from them.
Second Main Point
Our leaders have the experience to train our Soldiers, but coaching every person is the squad or platoon is just impossible, right? I remember when I first starting flying as a crew chief on Blackhawk helicopters and my instructor was a salty old staff sergeant who seemingly smoked every second and always seemed angry right up to take off. Once in the air, he personality changed into a thought invoking NCO that required my critical thinking every second of the flight. I rehearsed the regulations and standard operating procedures of the unit, but he identified my shortcomings and enhanced my knowledge with his experience. I did not know it at the time, but he was coaching me to a better crewmember and a better leader that I later used this to teach others. This skill of coaching has a powerful effect if used correctly and systematically. I have taken this approach with my units junior NCOs to help them understand what they should be doing at their current level of leadership and how to gain the experience to meet their next level for promotion.
Coaching is a current activity of observation and feedback and the rater or supervisor “walks with” subordinates, sometimes providing specific feedback and other times using a mission command model of allowing the soldier to learn from failure or negative outcome. Coaching is a balancing act of knowing when to remain silent, when to provide feedback, when to intervene, and when to take over the activity or give it to someone else. Coaching can be hands-on, from a distance, via video conferencing, by telephone, or email. Important is understanding that coaching is real-time, with dynamic interaction, and expectation of observable changes or outcomes. (Wagner, 2008)
I have experienced multiple coaches in my career and each has helped me in ways that schools could never cover nor the levels of detail in my profession. I have enjoyed coaching others in my unit while being a flight instructor or teaching my peers about the complexities of crosswalk collective tasks. I am thankful for the leaders that coached me as an integral role in my professional growth and even more grateful for the few outstanding senior leaders that provided major guidance outside of my chain of command and even outside my battalion, mentorship!
Third Main Point
Our superiors must infuse their experience and guidance into the development of their junior leaders person-to-person. This cycle must start early in a career and as we progress up our careers; we should be passed on to our subordinates. One of the fundamental parts of leadership is passing down knowledge of failures so others can learn from mistakes made in the decision process. Another method is by allowing a subordinate the latitude to lead without judgement in front of the troops but to lead before you get in front of the formation.
Becoming a mentor is more than just leadership. Sure, you must be a leader in order to be a mentor, either a formal or an informal leader, but you may not necessarily be a mentor based solely on the fact that you are a leader. Becoming a mentor is determined by your success as a leader and a Soldier’s desire to follow in your path, through your guidance and counsel. Human dynamics plays a role in our development. As we grow and learn throughout our military career, naturally we tend to want to follow and emulate those people we identify as strong leaders who will guide us in the right direction and who we view as being successful. (Renken, 2015)
I have had two mentors in my career, CSM Myron Creecy and CW5 Kevin Dares, and they have left lasting memories in my personal life and professional life in different parts of my career. They gave me the faith and confidence as a leader to ensure that I emulate positive leadership qualities to my subordinates and give them productive influences throughout their careers. I still discuss topics with my mentors when we meet at various events and discuss past and present issues facing young Soldiers and the best way to overcome shortcomings in training or experience.
I believe that by reinforcing leaders to step up and follow the counseling, coaching, and mentoring process that will result in more involved leadership for our future fighting force. A simple investment of time by leaders by doing counseling will guide the weary and enforce the focused. Peers and leaders need to use coaching next to propel their subordinate’s determination to excel in their profession with the feeling of encouragement. The final step of guidance would be the mentorship by leaders, which would, accelerate the learning of leaders in their roles and responsibility for future generations. It is a large demand to add these three steps into an already packed training schedule and an overloaded operational plan, but I believe it will benefit everyone and produce a streamlined leadership skill set.
- Love, Stephen J. (2018, April) Leader Development Through Professional Growth Counseling. NCO Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/NCO-Journal/Archives/2018/April/Professional-Growth-Counseling/
- Renken, Leslie (2015) Mentorship: understanding a Leader’s Investment. NCO Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/NCO-Journal/Archives/2017/December/Mentorship/
- Wagner, Dwayne (2008, June) Retrieved from: https://militarymentors.org/coach-counselor-mentor-coaching-counseling-mentor-separate-and-distinct/