Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

For many of us, Spring Cleaning is beginning early this year. 50, 60, and even, 70 degree weather has dominated the month of February—much to the sadness of some of our more energy focused clients who were hoping for a long, cold winter.

Given this unusually warm end to winter, getting a jump on Spring Cleaning, and starting the dreadful preps for tax season, we came across an old favorite of ours. Buried below stacks of paperwork and other books, we found the U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 22-101 first published in June of 1985. The title of this Army manual is Leadership Counseling. This was a lucky find for us, as we’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about Quarterly Performance Reviews with some of our clients. That’s what this FM is about, the tactics, traits, and skills that allow a leader to conduct and deliver effective performance coaching and counseling.

So, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. In previous correspondence, we talked about the importance of conducing quarterly performance reviews. The CliffsNotes version of our previous argument is that providing annual, year-end performance evaluations is wrong-headed and disrespectful. Notably, at the end of the performance evaluation period, people don’t have the opportunity to change or course correct. It is, by its very nature, unfair. Written, documented, quarterly feedback provides the promise of change. All leaders should do it—period. We like, or rather love, regular, documented performance counseling because it demonstrates that leaders care. Also, it provides the leader an opportunity to recognize improvement and accomplishment. Nobody ever said that all documented performance counseling/coaching had to be negative and disciplinary in its focus—just the opposite. Performance counseling/coaching can be positive and can reinforce desired behaviors.

This 30 year old Field Manual offers some additional insight, though, worth repeating. There are some common principles that should be ‘baked into’ every performance coaching episode. We highlight just a couple now.

  • Flexibility — This is where leaders get paid the big bucks. Not every performance situation is the same, and not every individual is the same. That means that the leader should try to remain flexible and adaptable as the performance coaching interaction unfolds. Nothing can be worse than blindly and stubbornly holding a position in spite of contradictory information. Employees and subordinate leaders want to see their leaders as listeners while recognizing their uniqueness and individuality. This doesn’t mean lowering standards. It means listening to information as it is shared and not holding fixed judgements. Quite simply, keep your mind open to possibilities.
  • Respect — Performance coaching and counseling is a tricky endeavor. Especially in dealing with individuals that are performing poorly, conflict is likely to arise. That’s why many managers and leaders shun documented performance coaching/counseling. It isn’t that they’re too busy. That’s a superficial excuse. Unfortunately, it is a bit more sinister than that. Rather, it is because they lack the courage to confront conflict. Heeding to a Respect First mantra can help win the day. We know of one leader who begins the performance coaching session with a set of guiding principles. He begins by giving voice to the maxim — disagreement should never mean disrespect.
  • Support — It’s hard to believe that in the midst of the Cold War, an Army FM could be so soft and kind. Somehow, back then and even while emphasizing individual accountability, the leader must be open to feedback. Specifically, leaders can directly and meaningfully impact performance by providing support. One of our prior clients who was also a favorite of ours focused leader support with two questions: 1) What obstacles can I help remove to improve your or your team’s performance? 2) What resources (financial, staffing, or otherwise) can I provide to improve your or your team’s performance? When framed this way, it makes the formal, documented performance counseling/coaching more of a partnership.

We know that many of you aren’t going to hold written, quarterly feedback sessions with members of your team. We wish you would. Even if you don’t, the principles outlined above and first spoken to us over three decades ago in the Field Manual are attractive principles even in day-to-day, informal coaching. Remaining flexible, treating others with respect, and offering support to meet objectives is part and parcel of leadership, in general—not just in performance coaching/counseling.

To learn more about our Quarterly FAST FEEDBACK system that will reduce the time of eval delivery while still offering potency, contact principal and co-founder, Dr. Evan Offstein at 240.727.5965. Or drop him a line at