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How To Counsel


Subordinate leadership development is one
of the most important responsibilities of
every Army leader. Developing the leaders
who will follow you should be one of your
highest priorities. Your legacy and the
Army’s future rests on the shoulders of
those prepared for greater responsibility.

Leadership development reviews are a means
to focus the growing of tomorrow’s
leaders. Think of them as after action
reviews (AAR) with a focus of making
leaders more effective every day. These
important reviews are not necessarily
limited to internal counseling sessions;
leadership feedback mechanisms apply in
operational settings such as the Combat
Training Centers.

Just as training includes AARs and
training strategies to fix shortcomings,
leadership development includes a review
of performance and agreement on a strategy
to build on strengths or methods to
improve upon weaknesses. Leaders conduct
reviews and create action plans during
developmental counseling.

Leadership development reviews are a
component of the broader concept of
developmental counseling. Developmental
counseling is subordinate-centered
communication that results in an outline
of actions necessary for subordinates to
achieve individual and organizational
goals and objectives. During developmental
counseling, subordinates are not merely
passive listeners; they are actively
involved in the process.

Developmental counseling normally results
in a plan of action that helps the
subordinate achieve individual goals and
objectives. Developmental counseling is a
two-person effort. The leader’s role is
to assist a subordinate in identifying
strengths and weaknesses, creating a plan
of action, and then support the
subordinate throughout the plan’s
implementation and assessment. The
subordinate must be forthright in his
commitment to improve and candid in his
own assessment and goal setting.


Leader’s Responsibilities


Leaders are responsible for developing
their subordinates. Unit readiness and
mission accomplishment depend on every
member’s ability to perform to
established standards. Supervisors must
mentor their subordinates through
teaching, coaching, and counseling.
Leaders coach subordinates the same way
any sports coach improves his team: by
identifying weaknesses, setting goals,
developing and implementing a plan of
action, and providing oversight and
motivation throughout the process. To be
effective coaches, leaders must thoroughly
understand the strengths, weaknesses, and
professional goals of their subordinates.

Although the TAPES system does not address
developmental counseling, the
Developmental Counseling Form (DA Form
4856, which is discussed at the end of
this appendix) can be used to counsel
civilians on their professional growth and
career goals. The Developmental Counseling
Form is not appropriate for documenting
counseling concerning DA civilian
misconduct or poor performance. The
servicing civilian personnel office can
provide guidance for such situations. The
Developmental Counseling Form does,
however, provide a useful framework to
prepare for almost any type of counseling
session. It can assist leaders in mentally
organizing issues and isolating important,
relevant items to cover in the session.

Soldiers and DA civilians often perceive
counseling as an adverse action. Effective
leaders who counsel properly can change
that perception. Leaders conduct
counseling to help subordinates become
better members of the team, maintain or
improve performance, and prepare for the
future. Just as no easy answers exist for
exactly what to do in all leadership
situations, no easy answers exist for
exactly what to do in all counseling
situations. However, to conduct effective
counseling, leaders should develop a
counseling style with the characteristics
listed in Figure C-1.

  • Purpose
    Clearly define the purpose of the

  • Flexibility
    Fit the counseling style to the
    character of each subordinate and to
    the relationship desired.

  • Respect
    View subordinates as unique, complex
    individuals, each with his own sets of
    values, beliefs, and attitudes.

  • Communication
    Establish open, two-way communication
    with subordinates using spoken
    language, nonverbal actions, gestures,
    and body language. Effective
    counselors listen more than they

  • Support
    Encourage subordinates through actions
    while guiding them through their

  • Motivation
    Get every subordinate to actively
    participate in counseling and
    understand its value.

Leader as a Counselor


Leaders must demonstrate certain qualities
to be effective counselors. These
qualities include respect for
subordinates, self-awareness and cultural
awareness, empathy, and credibility.


Leaders show respect for subordinates when
they allow them to take responsibility for
their own ideas and actions. Respecting
subordinates helps create mutual respect
in the leader-subordinate relationship.
Mutual respect improves the chances of
changing (or maintaining) behavior and
achieving goals.


Leaders must be fully aware of their own
values, needs, and biases prior to
counseling subordinates. Self-aware
leaders are less likely to project their
biases onto subordinates. Also, aware
leaders are more likely to act
consistently with their values and

Cultural awareness, as discussed in
Chapter 2, is a mental attribute. Leaders
need to be aware of the similarities and
differences between individuals of
different cultural backgrounds and how
these factors may influence values,
perspectives, and actions. Leaders should
not let unfamiliarity with cultural
backgrounds hinder them in addressing
cultural issues, especially if they
generate concerns within the unit or
hinder team-building. Cultural awareness
enhances a leader’s ability to display


Empathy is the action of being
understanding of and sensitive to the
feelings, thoughts, and experiences of
another person to the point that you can
almost feel or experience them yourself.
Leaders with empathy can put themselves in
their subordinate’s shoes; they can see
a situation from the other person’s
perspective. By understanding the
subordinate’s position, the empathetic
leader can help a subordinate develop a
plan of action that fits the
subordinate’s personality and needs, one
that works for the subordinate. If a
leader does not fully comprehend the
situation from the subordinate’s point
of view, the leader has less credibility
and influence and the subordinate is less
likely to commit to the agreed upon plan
of action.


Leaders achieve credibility by being
honest and consistent in their statements
and actions. Credible leaders use a
straightforward style with their
subordinates. They behave in a manner that
subordinates respect and trust. Leaders
earn credibility by repeatedly
demonstrating their willingness to assist
a subordinate and being consistent in what
they say and do. Leaders who lack
credibility with their subordinates will
find it difficult to influence them.


Counseling Skills


One challenging aspect of counseling is
selecting the proper approach to a
specific situation. Effective
counseling techniques must fit the
situation, the leader’s capability, and
the subordinate’s expectations. In some
cases, a leader may only need to give
information or listen. A subordinate’s
improvement may call for just a brief
word of praise. Other situations may
require structured counseling followed by
definite actions.

All leaders should seek to develop and
improve their own counseling abilities.
You can improve your counseling techniques
by studying human behavior, learning the
kinds of problems that affect your
subordinates, and developing your
interpersonal skills. The techniques
needed to provide effective counseling
will vary from person to person and
session to session. However, general
skills that you will need in almost every
situation include active listening,
responding, and questioning.


During counseling, the leader must
actively listen to the subordinate. When
you are actively listening, you
communicate verbally and nonverbally that
you have received the subordinate’s
message. To fully understand a
subordinate’s message, you must listen
to the words and observe the
subordinate’s manners. Elements of
active listening you should consider

  • Eye
    Maintaining eye contact without
    staring helps show sincere interest.
    Occasional breaks of contact are
    normal and acceptable. Subordinates
    may perceive excessive breaks of eye
    contact, paper shuffling, and
    clock-watching as a lack of interest
    or concern. These are guidelines only.
    Based on cultural background,
    participants in a particular
    counseling session may have different
    ideas about what proper eye contact

  • Body
    . Being relaxed and
    comfortable will help put the
    subordinate at ease. However, a
    too-relaxed position or slouching may
    be interpreted as a lack of interest.

  • Head
    . Occasionally nodding your
    head shows you are paying attention
    and encourages the subordinate to

  • Facial
    . Keep your facial
    expressions natural and relaxed. A
    blank look or fixed expression may
    disturb the subordinate. Smiling too
    much or frowning may discourage the
    subordinate from continuing.

  • Verbal
    . Refrain from talking
    too much and avoid interrupting. Let
    the subordinate do the talking while
    keeping the discussion on the
    counseling subject. Speaking only when
    necessary reinforces the importance of
    what the subordinate is saying and
    encourages the subordinate to
    continue. Silence can also do this,
    but be careful. Occasional silence may
    indicate to the subordinate that it is
    okay to continue talking, but a long
    silence can sometimes be distracting
    and make the subordinate feel

Active listening also means listening
thoughtfully and deliberately to the way a
subordinate says things. Stay alert for
common themes. A subordinate’s opening
and closing statements as well as
recurring references may indicate his
priorities. Inconsistencies and gaps may
indicate a subordinate’s avoidance of
the real issue. This confusion and
uncertainty may suggest additional

While listening, pay attention to the
subordinate’s gestures. These actions
complete the total message. By watching
the subordinate’s actions, you can
"see" the feelings behind the
words. Not all actions are proof of a
subordinate’s feelings, but they should
be taken into consideration. Note
differences between what the subordinate
says and does. Nonverbal indicators of a
subordinate’s attitude include¾

  • Boredom
    drumming on the table, doodling,
    clicking a ballpoint pen, or resting
    the head in the palm of the hand.

  • Self-confidence
    standing tall, leaning back with
    hands behind the head, and maintaining
    steady eye contact.

  • Defensiveness
    pushing deeply into a chair,
    glaring at the leader, and making
    sarcastic comments as well as crossing
    or folding arms in front of the chest.

  • Frustration
    rubbing eyes, pulling on an ear,
    taking short breaths, wringing the
    hands, or frequently changing total
    body position.

  • Interest,
    friendliness, and openness
    toward the leader while sitting.
  • Openness
    or anxiety
    sitting on the edge of
    the chair with arms uncrossed and
    hands open.

Consider these indicators carefully.
Although each indicator may show something
about the subordinate, do not assume a
particular behavior absolutely means
something. Ask the subordinate about the
indicator so you can better understand the
behavior and allow the subordinate to take
responsibility for it.


Responding skills follow-up on active
listening skills. A leader responds to
communicate that the leader understands
the subordinate. From time to time, check
your understanding: clarify and confirm
what has been said. Respond to
subordinates both verbally and
nonverbally. Verbal responses consist of
summarizing, interpreting, and clarifying
the subordinate’s message. Nonverbal
responses include eye contact and
occasional gestures such as a head nod.


Although a necessary skill, questioning
must be used with caution. Too many
questions can aggravate the power
differential between the leader and the
subordinate and place the subordinate in a
passive mode. The subordinate may also
react to excessive questioning as an
intrusion of privacy and become defensive.
During a leadership development review,
ask questions to obtain information or to
get the subordinate to think about a
particular situation. Generally, the
questions should be open-ended to require
more than a yes or no answer. Well-posed
questions may help to verify
understanding, encourage further
explanation, or help the subordinate move
through the stages of the counseling


Effective leaders avoid common counseling
mistakes. Dominating the counseling by
talking too much, giving unnecessary or
inappropriate "advice," not
truly listening, and projecting personal
likes, dislikes, biases, and prejudices
all interfere with effective counseling.
Leaders should also avoid other common
mistakes such as rash judgements,
stereotypes, loss of emotional control,
inflexible methods of counseling and
improper follow-up. To improve your
counseling skills, follow the guidelines
in Figure C-2. 

  • Determine the
    subordinate’s role in the situation
    and what has he done to resolve the
    problem or improve performance.

  • Draw
    conclusions based on more than a
    subordinate’s statement.

  • Try to
    understand what the subordinate says
    and feels; listen to what the
    subordinate says and how he says it.

  • Show empathy
    when discussing the problem.

  • When asking
    questions, be sure that the
    information is needed.

  • Keep the
    conversation open-ended; avoid

  • Give the
    subordinate your full attention.

  • Be receptive to
    a subordinate’s feelings without
    feeling responsible to save him from

  • Encourage the
    subordinate to take the initiative and
    to say what he wants to say.

  • Avoid

  • Keep your
    personal experiences out of the
    counseling session unless you believe
    experiences will really help.

  • Listen more;
    talk less.

  • Remain

  • Avoid
    confirming a subordinate’s

  • Help the
    subordinate help himself.

  • Know what
    information to keep confidential and
    what to present to the chain of

Leaders cannot help everyone in every
situation. Even professional counselors
cannot provide all the help that a person
might need. Leaders must recognize their
limitations and, when the situation calls
for it, refer a subordinate to a person or
agency more qualified to help. (Figure C-3
lists many of the available referral

These agencies can help leaders resolve
problems. Although it is generally in an
individual’s best interest to seek help
first from their first line leaders,
leaders must always respect an
individual’s right to contact most of
these agencies on their own.




personnel and administrative
services support such as orders,
ID cards, retirement assistance,
deferments, and in/out processing.

Red Cross

communications support between
soldiers and families and
assistance during or after
emergency or compassionate

Community Service

military families through their
information and referral services,
budget and indebtedness
counseling, household item loan
closet, information on other
military posts, and welcome
packets for new arrivals.

Substance Abuse Program

alcohol and drug abuse prevention
and control programs for DA


as a liaison between upper levels
of command on the installation and
single soldiers.

Education Center

services for continuing education
and individual learning services

Emergency Relief

financial assistance, and personal
budget counseling; coordinates
student loans through Army
Emergency Relief education loan


reenlistment options and provides
current information on
prerequisites for reenlistment and
selective reenlistment bonuses.


spiritual and humanitarian
counseling to soldiers and DA

Section, SJA

claims for and against the
government, most often those for
the loss and damage of household

Assistance Office

legal information or assistance on
matters of contracts, citizenship,
adoption, martial problems, taxes,
wills, and powers of attorney.

Counseling Center

alcohol and drug abuse prevention
and control programs for soldiers.

Health Nurse

preventive health care services.

Mental Health Service

assistance and counseling for
mental health problems.

Assistance Program

community Health Nurse, Community
Mental Health Service, and Social
Work Office services for DA

Opportunity Staff Office and Equal
Employment Opportunity Office

assistance for matters involving
discrimination in race, color,
national origin, gender, and
religion. Provide information on
procedures for initiating
complaints and resolving
complaints informally.

Advocacy Officer

programs supporting children and
families including abuse and
neglect investigation, counseling,
and educational programs.

and Accounting Office

inquiries for pay, allowances, and

Referral Office

assistance with housing on and off


assistance to soldiers and DA
civilians. Corrects injustices
affecting individuals, and
eliminates conditions determined
to be detrimental to the
efficiency, economy, morale, and
reputation of the Army.
Investigates matters involving
fraud, waste, and abuse.

Work Office

services dealing with social
problems to include crisis
intervention, family therapy,
marital counseling, and parent or
child management assistance.


assistance and information on
separation from the Army.

of Developmental Counseling


You can often categorize developmental
counseling based on the topic of the
session. The two major categories of
counseling are event-oriented and
performance/professional growth.


Event-oriented counseling involves a
specific event or situation. It may
precede events, such as going to a
promotion board or attending a school; or
it may follow events, such as a noteworthy
duty performance, a problem with
performance or mission accomplishment, or
a personal problem. Examples of
event-oriented counseling include, but are
not limited to¾

  • Specific
    instances of superior or substandard

  • Reception
    and integration counseling.

  • Crisis

  • Referral

  • Promotion

  • Separation

for Specific Instances

Sometimes counseling is tied to
specific instances of superior or
substandard duty performance. You tell
your subordinate whether or not the
performance met the standard and what the
subordinate did right or wrong. The key to
successful counseling for specific
performance is to conduct it as close to
the event as possible.

Many leaders focus counseling for specific
instances on poor performance and miss, or
at least fail to acknowledge, excellent
performance. You should counsel
subordinates for specific examples of
superior as well as substandard duty
performance. To measure your own
performance and counseling emphasis, you
can note how often you document counseling
for superior versus substandard

Leaders should counsel subordinates
who do not meet the standard. If the
subordinate’s performance is
unsatisfactory because of a lack of
knowledge or ability, the leader and
subordinate should develop a plan to
improve the subordinate’s skills.
Corrective training may be required at
times to ensure the subordinate knows and
achieves the standard. Once the
subordinate can achieve the standard, the
leader should end the corrective training.

When counseling a subordinate for specific
performance, take the following actions:

  • Tell
    the subordinate the purpose of the
    counseling, what was expected, and how
    he failed to meet the standard.

  • Address
    the specific unacceptable behavior or
    action, not the person’s character.

  • Tell
    the subordinate the effect of the
    behavior, actions, or performance on
    the rest of the unit.

  • Actively
    listen to the subordinate’s

  • Remain

  • Teach
    the subordinate how to meet the

  • Be
    prepared to do some personal
    counseling since the lack of
    performance may be related to or the
    result of an unresolved personal

  • Explain
    to the subordinate what will be done
    to improve performance (plan of
    action). Identify your
    responsibilities in implementing the
    plan of action; continue to assess and
    follow-up on the subordinate’s
    progress. Adjust the plan of action as

and Integration Counseling

Leaders must counsel new team members when
they report in. This reception and
integration counseling serves two
purposes. First, it identifies and helps
fix any problems or concerns that new
members have, especially any issues
resulting from the new duty assignment.
Second, it lets them know the unit
standards and how they fit into the team.
It clarifies job titles and sends the
message that the chain of command cares.
Reception and integration counseling
should begin immediately upon arrival so
new team members can quickly become
integrated into the organization. (Figure
C-4 gives some possible discussion

  • Unit

  • Chain
    of command.

  • NCO
    support channel (who and how used).

  • On and
    off duty conduct.

  • Personnel/personal
    affairs/initial clothing issue.

  • Unit
    history, organization, and mission.

  • Soldier
    programs within the unit, such as
    soldier of the month/quarter/year and
    Audie Murphy.

  • Off
    limits and danger areas.

  • Functions
    and locations of support activities.
    See Figure C-2.

  • On-
    and off-post recreational,
    educational, cultural, and historical

  • Foreign
    nation or host nation orientation.

  • Other
    areas the individual should be aware
    of, as determined by the rater.


You may conduct crisis counseling to get a
subordinate through the initial shock
after receiving negative news, such as
notification of the death of a loved one.
You may assist the subordinate by
listening and, as appropriate, providing
assistance. Assistance may include
referring the subordinate to a support
activity or coordinating external agency
support. Crisis counseling focuses on the
subordinate’s immediate, short-term


Referral counseling helps subordinates
work through a personal situation and may
or may not follow crisis counseling.
Referral counseling may also act as
preventative counseling before the
situation becomes a problem. Usually, the
leader assists the subordinate in
identifying the problem and refers the
subordinate to the appropriate resource,
such as Army Community Services, a
chaplain, or an alcohol and drug
counselor. (Figure C-3 lists support


Leaders must conduct promotion counseling
for all specialists and sergeants who are
eligible for advancement without waivers
but not recommended for promotion to the
next higher grade. Army regulations
require that soldiers within this category
receive initial (event-oriented)
counseling when they attain full
eligibility and then periodic
(performance/personal growth) counseling
at least quarterly.

Separation Counseling

Adverse separation counseling may involve
informing the soldier of the
administrative actions available to the
commander in the event substandard
performance continues and of the
consequences associated with those
administrative actions. (See AR 635-200,
paragraph 1-18.)

Developmental counseling may not apply
when a soldier has engaged in more serious
acts of misconduct. In those situations,
the leader should refer the matter to the
commander and the servicing staff judge
advocate. When the leader’s
rehabilitative efforts fail, counseling
with a view towards separation fills an
administrative prerequisite to many
administrative discharges and serves as a
final warning to the soldier to improve
performance or face discharge. In many
situations, it may be beneficial to
involve the chain of command as soon as
you determine that adverse separation
counseling might be required. A unit first
sergeant or commander should be the person
who informs the soldier of the
notification requirements outlined in AR



During performance counseling, the leader
conducts a review of the subordinate’s
duty performance during a certain period.
The leader and subordinate jointly
establish performance objectives and
standards for the next period. Rather than
dwelling on the past, leaders should focus
the session on the subordinate’s
strengths, areas needing improvement, and

Performance counseling is required for the
officer, noncommissioned officer, and
civilian evaluation systems. The OER
process requires periodic performance
counseling as part of the OER support form
requirements. Mandatory, face-to-face
performance counseling between the rater
and the rated NCO is required under the
NCOER system. The TAPES system integrates
a combination of both of these

Counseling at the beginning of and during
the evaluation period facilitates the
subordinate’s involvement in the
evaluation process. Performance counseling
communicates standards and is an
opportunity for leaders to establish and
clarify the expected values, attributes,
skills, and actions. Part IVb (Leader
Attributes/Skills/Actions) of the OER
Support Form (DA Form 67-9-1) serves as an
excellent tool for leaders doing
performance counseling. These points are
also outlined in Appendix B. For
lieutenants and warrant officers one, the
major performance objectives on the OER
Support Form are used as the basis for
determining the developmental tasks on the
Junior Officer Developmental Support Form.
Quarterly face-to-face performance and
developmental counseling is required for
these junior officers as outlined in AR

Leaders must ensure they have tied their
expectations to performance objectives and
appropriate standards. Leaders must
establish standards that subordinates can
work towards and must teach subordinates
how to achieve the standard in order for
further subordinate development.


Growth Counseling

Professional growth counseling includes
planning for the accomplishment of
individual and professional goals. A
leader conducts this counseling to assist
subordinates in achieving organizational
and individual goals. During the
counseling, the leader and subordinate
conduct a review to identify and discuss
the subordinate’s strengths and
weaknesses and create a plan of action to
build upon strengths and overcome
weaknesses. This counseling is not
normally event-driven.

As part of professional growth counseling,
a leader may choose to discuss and develop
a "pathway to success" with the
subordinate. This future-oriented
counseling establishes near- and long-term
goals and objectives. The discussion may
include opportunities for civilian or
military schooling, future duty
assignments, special programs, and
reenlistment options. Every person’s
needs are different, and leaders must
apply specific courses of action tailored
to each soldier.

Career field counseling is required
for lieutenants and captains prior to
attending the majors board. Raters and
senior raters, in conjunction with the
rated officer, need to determine where the
officer’s skill best fits the needs of
the Army. During career field counseling,
consideration must be given to the rated
officer’s preference and his abilities
(both performance and academic). The rater
and senior rater should discuss career
field designation with the officer prior
to making a recommendation on the rated
officer’s OER.

While these categories help leaders to
organize and focus counseling sessions,
they should not be viewed as separate,
distinct, or exhaustive. For example, a
counseling session that focuses on
resolving a problem may also address
improving duty performance. A session
focused on performance may also include a
discussion on opportunities for
professional growth. Regardless of the
topic of the counseling session, leaders
should follow the same basic format to
prepare for and conduct it.


To Counseling


An effective leader approaches each
subordinate as an individual. Three
approaches to counseling include
nondirective, directive, and combined.
These approaches differ in the techniques
used, but they all maintain the overall
purpose and definition of counseling. The
major difference is the degree to which
the subordinate participates and interacts
during the counseling session. Figure C-5
summarizes the advantages and
disadvantages to each approach.


The nondirective approach to counseling is
preferred for most counseling sessions.
Leaders use their experienced insight and
judgment to assist subordinates in
developing solutions. The leader partially
structures this type of counseling by
telling the subordinate about the
counseling process and explaining what is

During the counseling session, listen
rather than make decisions or give advice.
Clarify what is said. Cause the
subordinate to bring out important points,
so as to better understand the situation.
When appropriate, summarize the
discussion. Avoid providing solutions or
rendering opinions; instead, maintain a
focus on individual and organizational
goals and objectives. Ensure the
subordinate’s plan of action supports
those goals and objectives.


The directive approach works best to
correct a simple problem, make on-the-spot
corrections, and correct aspects of duty
performance. The leader using the
directive style does most of the talking
and tells the subordinate what to do and
when to do it. In contrast to the
nondirective approach, the leader directs
a course of action for the subordinate.

Choose this approach when time is short,
when you alone know what to do, or if a
subordinate has limited problem-solving
skills. It is also appropriate when a
subordinate needs guidance, is immature,
or is insecure.


In the combined approach, the leader uses
techniques from both the directive and
nondirective approaches, adjusting them to
articulate what is best for the
subordinate. The combined approach
emphasizes the subordinate’s planning
and decision-making responsibilities.

With your assistance, the subordinate
develops his own plan of action. You
should listen, suggest possible courses,
and help analyze each possible solution to
determine its good and bad points. You
should then help the subordinate fully
understand all aspects of the situation
and encourage the subordinate to decide
which solution is best.  





  • Encourages

  • Encourages
    open communication.

  • Develops
    personal responsibility.
  • More
    time consuming.

  • Requires
    greatest counselor skill.


  • Quickest

  • Good
    for people who need clear,
    concise direction.

  • Allows
    counselor to actively use his
  • Does
    not encourage subordinates to
    be part of the solution.

  • Tends
    to treat symptoms, not

  • Tends
    to discourage subordinates
    from talking freely.

  • Solution
    is the counselor’s, not the


  • Moderately

  • Encourages

  • Encourages
    open communication.

  • Allows
    counselor to actively use his
  • May
    take too much time for some



A leader may select from a variety of
techniques when counseling subordinates.
These counseling techniques, when
appropriately used, cause subordinates to
do things or improve upon their
performance. A leader can use these
methods during scheduled counseling
sessions or while simply coaching a
subordinate. The counseling techniques
used during nondirective or the combined
approach to counseling include-

  • Suggesting
    The leader discusses alternative
    actions that the subordinate may take,
    but both the subordinate and the
    leader decide which course of action
    is most appropriate.

  • Recommending
    The leader recommends one course of
    action, but the decision to accept the
    recommended action is left to the

  • Persuading
    The leader persuades the subordinate
    that a given course of action is best,
    but the subordinate makes the
    decision. Successful persuasion
    depends on the leader’s credibility,
    the subordinate’s willingness to
    listen, and their mutual trust.

  • Advising
    The leader advises the subordinate
    that a given course of action is best.
    This is the strongest form of
    influence not involving a command or

Some techniques used during the directive
approach to counseling include:

  • Corrective
    The leader teaches and assists the
    subordinate in attaining and
    maintaining the standards. The
    subordinate completes corrective
    training when he attains the standard.

  • Commanding
    The leader orders the subordinate to
    take a given course of action in
    clear, exact words. The subordinate
    understands that he has been given a
    command and will face the consequences
    for failing to carry it out.

Counseling Process


Effective leaders use the counseling
process. It consists of four stages:

  • Identify
    the need for counseling.

  • Prepare
    for counseling.

  • Conduct

  • Follow


Quite often organizational policies, such
as counseling associated with an
evaluation or counseling required by
command or unit policy, focus the session.
However, a leader may conduct
developmental counseling whenever the need
arises for focused, two-way communication
aimed at subordinate development.
Developing subordinates consists of
observing the subordinate’s performance,
comparing it to the standard, and then
providing feedback to the subordinate in
the form of counseling.


Successful counseling requires
preparation. To prepare for counseling, do
the following:

  • Select
    a suitable place.

  • Schedule
    the time.

  • Notify
    the subordinate well in advance.

  • Organize

  • Outline
    the counseling session components.

  • Plan
    your counseling strategy.

  • Establish
    the right atmosphere.

a Suitable Place

Schedule counseling in an environment
that minimizes distractions and is free
from distracting sights and sounds.

the Time

When possible, counsel the subordinate
during the duty day. Counseling after duty
hours may be rushed or perceived as
unfavorable. The length of time required
for counseling depends on the complexity
of the issue. Generally a counseling
session should last less than an hour. If
you need more time, schedule a second
session. Additionally, select a time free
from competition with other activities and
consider what has been planned after the
counseling session. Important events can
distract a subordinate from concentrating
on the counseling.

the Subordinate Well in Advance

For a counseling session to be a
subordinate-centered, two-person effort,
the subordinate must have time to prepare
for it. The subordinate should know why,
where, and when the counseling will take
place. Counseling following a specific
event should happen as close to the event
as possible. However, for performance or
professional development counseling,
subordinates may need a week or more to
prepare or review specific products, such
as support forms or counseling records.


Solid preparation is essential to
effective counseling. Review all pertinent
information. This includes the purpose of
the counseling, facts and observations
about the subordinate, identification of
possible problems, main points of
discussion, and the development of a plan
of action. Focus on specific and objective
behaviors that the subordinate must
maintain or improve on as well as a plan
of action with clear and obtainable goals.

the Components of the Counseling Session

Using the information obtained,
determine what to discuss during the
counseling session. If you use an outline
format, you can then note what prompted
the counseling, what you aim to achieve,
and what your role as a counselor is. You
can also identify possible comments or
questions that will help the counseling
session remain subordinate-centered and
help the subordinate progress through the
various stages of the session. Although
you never know exactly what the
subordinate will say or do during
counseling, a written outline helps to
organize the session and greatly enhances
the chance of positive results. (Figure
C-6 illustrates an example of a counseling
outline prepared by a platoon leader about
to conduct an initial NCOER counseling
session with a platoon sergeant.)

of counseling
Initial NCOER counseling for SFC Taylor, a
recently promoted new arrival to the unit.

Place and
The platoon office, 1500 hours, 9 October.

Time to
notify the subordinate
Notify SFC Taylor one week in advance of
the scheduled counseling session.

Have SFC Taylor put together a list of
goals and objectives he would like to
complete over the next 90 to 180 days.
Review the values, attributes, skills, and
actions from FM 22-100.


  • Review
    the NCO Counseling Checklist/Record

  • Update
    or review SFC Taylor’s duty
    description and fill out the rating
    chain and duty description on the
    working copy of the NCOER (Parts II
    and III).

  • Review
    each of the values/responsibilities in
    Part IV of the NCOER and the values,
    attributes, skills and actions in FM
    22-100. Think how each applies to SFC
    Taylor and the platoon sergeant

  • Review
    the actions you consider necessary for
    a success or excellence in each

notes in blank spaces in Part IV of the
NCOER to help when counseling.

Role as
Help SFC Taylor to understand the
expectations and standards associated with
the platoon sergeant position. Assist SFC
Taylor in developing the values,
attributes, skills, and actions that will
enable him to achieve his performance
objectives, consistent with those of the
platoon and company. Resolve any aspects
of the job that are not clearly

Complete an outline after the draft duty
description on the NCOER, ideally at least
two to three days prior to the actual
counseling session.

the Session

  • Establish
    a relaxed environment. Explain that
    the more one discusses and understands
    the doctrinal values, attributes,
    skills, and actions, the easier it is
    to develop and incorporate them into
    an individual leadership style.

  • State
    the purpose of the counseling session.
    Explain that the initial counseling is
    based on leader actions (what SFC
    Taylor needs to do to be a successful
    platoon sergeant) and not on
    professional developmental needs (what
    SFC Taylor needs to do to develop
    further as an NCO).

  • Come
    to an agreement on the duty
    description, the meaning of each
    value/responsibility, and the
    standards for success and excellence
    for each value/responsibility. Explain
    that subsequent counseling will focus
    on SFC Taylor’s developmental needs
    as well as how well SFC Taylor is
    meeting the jointly agreed upon
    performance objectives. Instruct SFC
    Taylor to perform a self-assessment
    during the next quarter to identify
    his developmental needs.

  • Ensure
    SFC Taylor knows the rating chain.
    Resolve any questions that SFC Taylor
    has about his job. Discuss the team
    relationship that exists between a
    platoon leader and a platoon sergeant
    and the importance of their two-way

the Issue

  • Jointly
    review the duty description on the
    NCOER, including the maintenance,
    training, and taking care of soldiers
    responsibilities. Mention that the
    duty description can be revised as
    necessary. Highlight areas of special
    emphasis and appointed duties.

  • Discuss
    the meaning of each
    value/responsibility on the NCOER.
    Discuss the values, attributes,
    skills, and actions outlined in FM
    22-100. Ask open-ended questions to
    see if SFC Taylor can relate these
    items to his role as a platoon

  • Explain
    that even though the developmental
    tasks focus on the development of
    leader actions, character development
    forms the basis for leadership
    development. Character and actions
    cannot be viewed as separate; they are
    closely linked. In formulating the
    plan of action to accomplish major
    performance objectives, the proper
    values, attributes, and skills form
    the basis for the plan. As such,
    character development must be
    incorporated into the plan of action.

in Developing a Plan of Action (During the
Counseling Session)

  • Ask
    SFC Taylor to identify actions that
    will facilitate the accomplishment of
    the major performance objectives.
    Categorize each action into one of the
    values/responsibilities listed on the

  • Discuss
    how each value/responsibility applies
    to the platoon sergeant position.
    Discuss specific examples of success
    and excellence in each
    value/responsibility block. Ask SFC
    Taylor for suggestions to make the
    goals more objective, specific, and

  • Ensure
    that SFC Taylor has at least one
    example of a success or excellence
    bullet listed under each

  • Discuss
    SFC Taylor’s promotion goals and ask
    him what he considers to be his
    strengths and weakness. Obtain a copy
    of the last two MSG board results and
    match his goals and objectives to

the Session

  • Check
    SFC Taylor’s understanding of the
    duty description and performance

  • Stress
    the importance of teamwork and two-way

  • Ensure
    SFC Taylor understands that you expect
    him to assist in your development as a
    platoon leader. This means that both
    of you have roles as a teacher and

  • Remind
    SFC Taylor to perform a
    self-assessment during the next

  • Set a
    tentative date during the next quarter
    for the routinely scheduled follow-up

on Strategy

  • Facilitate
    the answering of questions that
    require responses.

  • Expect
    discomfort with the terms and the
    developmental process and respond in
    such a way that encourages
    participation throughout the

  • Do not
    overwhelm SFC Taylor with a mastery of
    doctrine and the leader development

  • View
    the initial counseling session as
    setting the precedent for open
    communications with a focus on leader
    development (both the counselor and
    the counseled).

Counseling Strategy

As many approaches to counseling exist as
there are leaders. The directive,
nondirective, and combined approaches to
counseling were addressed earlier. Use a
strategy that suits your subordinates and
the situation.

the Right Atmosphere

The right atmosphere promotes two-way
communication between a leader and
subordinate. To establish a relaxed
atmosphere, you may offer the subordinate
a seat or a cup of coffee. You may want to
sit in a chair facing the subordinate
since a desk can act as a barrier

Some situations make an informal
atmosphere inappropriate. For example,
during counseling to correct substandard
performance, you may direct the
subordinate to remain standing while you
remain seated behind a desk. This formal
atmosphere, normally used to give specific
guidance, reinforces the leader’s rank,
position in the chain of command, and


Be flexible when conducting a counseling
session. Often counseling for a specific
incident occurs spontaneously as leaders
encounter subordinates in their daily
activities. Such counseling can occur in
the field, motor pool, barracks¾ wherever
subordinates perform their duties. Good
leaders take advantage of naturally
occurring events to provide subordinates
with feedback.

Even when you have not prepared for formal
counseling, you should address the four
basic components of a counseling session.
Their purpose is to guide effective
counseling rather than mandate a series of
rigid steps. Counseling sessions consist

  • Opening
    the session.

  • Discussing
    the issues.

  • Developing
    the plan of action.

  • Recording
    and Closing the session.

a counseling session results in a
subordinate’s commitment to a plan of
action. Assessment of the plan of action
(discussed below) becomes the starting
point for follow-up counseling.

the Session

In the session opening, state the purpose
of the session and establish a
subordinate-centered setting. Establish
the preferred setting early in the session
by inviting the subordinate to speak. The
best way to open a counseling session is
to clearly state its purpose. For example,
an appropriate purpose statement might be,
"The purpose of this counseling is to
discuss your duty performance over the
past month and to create a plan to enhance
performance and attain performance
goals." If applicable, start the
counseling session by reviewing the status
of the previous plan of action with the

the Issues

The leader and subordinate should attempt
to develop a mutual understanding of the
issues. You can best develop this by
letting the subordinate do most of the
talking. Use active listening; respond,
and question without dominating the
conversation. Aim to help the subordinate
better understand the subject of the
counseling, for example, duty performance,
a problem situation and its impact, or
potential areas for growth

Both the leader and the subordinate should
provide examples or cite specific
observations to reduce the perception that
either is unnecessarily biased or
judgmental. However, when the issue is
substandard performance, the leader should
make clear how the performance did not
meet the standard. The conversation, which
should be two-way, then addresses what the
subordinate needs to do to meet the
standard. It is important that the leader
defines the issue as substandard
performance and does not allow the
subordinate to define the issue as an
unreasonable standard¾ unless the leader
considers the standard negotiable or is
willing to alter the conditions under
which the standard must be met.

a Plan of Action

A plan of action identifies a method for
achieving a desired result. It specifies
what the subordinate must do to reach the
goals set during the session. The plan of
action must be specific: it should show
the subordinate how to modify or maintain
his behavior. It should avoid vague
intentions such as "Next month I want
you to improve your land navigation
skills." The plan must use concrete
and direct terms. For example, you might
say, "Next week you will attend the
map reading class with 1st Platoon. After
the class, SGT Dixon will coach you
through the land navigation course. He
will help you develop your skill with the
compass. I will observe you going through
the course with SGT Dixon, and then I will
talk to you again and determine where and
if you still need additional
training." A specific and achievable
plan of action sets the stage for
successful development.

the Session

To close the session, summarize its key
points and ask if the subordinate
understands the plan of action. Invite the
subordinate to review the plan of action
and what is expected of you, the leader.
With the subordinate, establish any
follow-up measures necessary to support
the successful implementation of the plan
of action. These may include providing the
subordinate with resources and time,
periodically assessing the plan, and
following through on referrals. Schedule
any future meetings, at least tentatively,
before dismissing the subordinate.


Although requirements to record counseling
sessions vary, the leader always benefits
by documenting the main points of a
counseling session. Documentation serves
as a reference to the agreed upon plan of
action and the subordinate’s
accomplishments, improvements, personal
preferences, or problems. A complete
record of counseling aids in making
recommendations for professional
development, schools, promotions, and
evaluation reports.

Additionally, Army regulations require
written records of counseling for certain
personnel actions, such as a barring a
soldier from reenlisting, processing a
soldier for administrative separation, or
placing a soldier in the overweight
program. When a soldier faces involuntary
separation, the leader must take special
care to maintain accurate counseling
records. Documentation of substandard
actions conveys a strong corrective
message to the subordinate.



The counseling process does not end with
the counseling session. It continues
through implementation of the plan of
action and evaluation of results. After
counseling, you must support subordinates
while they implement their plans of
action. Support may include teaching,
coaching, or providing time and resources.
You must observe and assess this process
and possibly modify the plan to meet its
goals. Appropriate measures after
counseling include follow-up counseling,
making referrals, informing the chain of
command, and taking corrective measures.

the Plan of Action

The purpose of counseling is to develop
subordinates who are better able to
achieve personal, professional, and
organizational goals. During the
assessment, review the plan of action with
the subordinate to determine if the
desired results were achieved. The leader
and subordinate should determine the date
for this assessment during the initial
counseling session. The assessment of the
plan of action provides useful information
for future follow-up counseling sessions.


This appendix has discussed developmental
counseling. Developmental counseling is
subordinate-centered communication that
outlines actions necessary for
subordinates to achieve individual and
organizational goals and objectives. It
can be either event oriented or focused on
personal and professional development.
Figure C-7 summarizes the major aspects of
developmental counseling and the
counseling process.


must demonstrate certain
qualities to counsel

    • Respect
      for subordinates.

    • Self
      and cultural awareness.

    • Credibility.

    • Empathy.

must possess certain counseling

    • Active

    • Responding.

    • Questioning.

leaders avoid common counseling
mistakes. Leaders should avoid
the influence of¾

    • Personal

    • Rash

    • Stereotyping.

    • The
      loss of emotional control.

    • Inflexible
      methods of counseling.

    • Improper
Counseling Process:

      Identify the need for

      Prepare for counseling:

    • Select
      a suitable place.

    • Schedule
      the time.

    • Notify
      the subordinate well in

    • Organize

    • Outline
      the components of the
      counseling session.

    • Plan
      counseling strategy.

    • Establish
      the right atmosphere.

      Conduct the counseling
      session :

    • Open
      the session.

    • Discuss
      the issue.

    • Develop
      a plan of action (to
      include the leader’s

    • Record
      and Close the session.

      Follow up.


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