Counseling is a basic responsibility of every leader and an important part of supporting individual team members. A person-to-person relationship recognizes and encourages good performance. Its principle objectives are improving well being, resolving problems, and developing the counselee.
Leaders at all levels have a responsibility to assist and develop team members through coaching and guidance. All leaders must be coaches, trainers and teachers. If leaders do not counsel their own team members, they are not doing what is necessary to grow individuals and teams.
If a leader fails to counsel, he has failed to fulfill a major leadership responsibility. When evaluating the performance of junior leaders, a leader must consider how often and how well the junior leader counsels his team members. People expect to be told how they are performing and have a right to seek assistance and guidance from their leaders, which, in turn, enables individuals to learn from the experience and knowledge of their leader. These one-on-one relationships foster individual growth and improved organization and team performance.
It is an absolute requirement that leaders regularly counsel the people they are responsible for leading.
Counseling requires that your actions demonstrate knowledge, understanding, judgment and ability. It involves learning and applying techniques for more effective counseling skills which show a caring attitude of sincere concern-the most effective characteristic for effective counseling. Moreover, your conduct must be consistent with that if you are to be an effective coach. Leaders must not just say they are concerned; they must do things to show concern for their people’s well-being.
To be an effective counselor, you must set a proper example and be ethical in all personal and professional actions. You must know your own duties, your team members job requirements, and your individual team members capabilities and limitations. You must understand what methods of counseling they are most comfortable with. Above all, you must demonstrate the standards of personal conduct and the performance expected of your team members.
In developing proper attitudes and behaviors, you should be aware of the particular aspects of effective counseling. These include:
Flexibility-Fitting the counseling style to the unique character of each team member and to the relationship desired.
Respect-Respecting individuals as unique compelling people with their own sets of beliefs, values, and norms.
Communication-Establishing an open, two-way communication with team members, using both spoken language and non-verbal actions, gestures and body language. Effective counselors listen more than they talk.
Support-Supporting and encouraging team members through actions and interest while guiding them through their problems.
Motivation-Getting every team member to actively participate in coaching/counseling and teaching team members the value of counseling. Team members will respond differently. Those who need and want counseling are more likely to profit from it, but your concern must also extend to those who need, but do not want, counseling.
Purpose-Seeking to develop responsible and self-reliant team members who can solve their own problems.
You must be aware that much of the information an individual gives during a coaching session is given in confidence. As a rule, this information should not be passed on without the individual’s consent. This may be overridden, however, by your responsibility to keep the others informed, especially with regard to ethics and safety.
There are as many approaches to counseling as there are counselors and counselees. Effective leaders approach each individual as an individual and probably never use the same approach with other team members.
The broad approaches used in counseling are:
During counseling sessions, you must be flexible in selecting your approach. The personality of the individual physical surroundings and the amount of time available will influence the approach you choose.
The directive approach to counseling is counselor-centered. It is a simple, quick approach to problem solving that provides short-term solutions. This approach assumes the leader has all the skills and knowledge to asses the situation and offer courses of action. It uses clear thinking and reason and combines suggesting, persuading, confronting and directing specific actions to obtain the results desired by the leader.
The leader does most of the talking – states the problem, identifies the causes, offers explanations, gives advice and offers a list of solution options available.
This approach may be appropriate if an individual’s problem solving skills are limited or if the team member is immature or insecure and needs guidance. Often, a team member prefers guidance and seeks this kind of counsel.
Sometimes, the directive approach is the only method that can be used, especially with an unresponsive team member or individuals who will not make a connection between their behavior and its’ consequences. This approach may also be the best way to correct a simple problem quickly. The final decision regarding a problem rests with the individual. When the counselor has selected a course of action, rather than assisting the individual to select one, the individual’s only decision is to accept or reject the solution.
The non-directive approach to counseling is individual-centered. The counselor influences the individual to take responsibility for solving the problem and helps the team member become self-reliant. This approach is usually more relaxed and focuses on self-discovery, so it takes longer than the directive approach. In the non-directive approach, the counselee has the opportunity to work out solutions to the problem through personal insight, judgment and realization of facts. However, counselees must understand and fully accept two basic rules. First, defensive attitudes must not prevent discussing the problems openly and honestly. Second, individuals must understand that they will be responsible for the problem-solving process and for the resulting decisions.
This type of counseling session is partially structured by the counselor. It is necessary that the individual understands and accepts responsibility for selecting the topic of discussion, defining the problem and making all decisions. Structuring includes informing the counselee about the counseling process, what is expected, and allotting a certain amount of time for each session.
The non-directive approach provides sheltered situations in which team members can look inside themselves. They can realize a freedom to be what they want to be, feel as they want to feel and think as they want to think. The result is individuals who better understand themselves. This self-understanding usually comes gradually from their personal insight into problems and their attempts to solve these problems. For this reason, non-directive counseling is far more time consuming and can involve many counseling sessions.
The leader communicates to the individual that someone is interested in listening to his problem. The leader is not the decision maker or advice giver but rather a listener. He tries to clarify statements, cause the individual to bring out important points, understand the situation and summarize what was said. The leader should avoid giving solutions or opinions. He may, however, provide certain facts when the individual requests or needs them to continue.
In the combined approach to counseling, the leader uses part of the directive and non-directive approaches. This allows the leader to adjust the technique to emphasize what is best for the team member. There isn’t one single-best approach for all situations. The combined approach, which blends the leader’s ability and personality to fit the situation, is the most frequent choice.
The combined approach assumes that the individual must eventually be responsible for planning and decision-making. The individual will take charge of solving the problem but may need some help along the way. This approach allows both the leader and the team member to participate in defining, analyzing and solving the problem. Still, the purpose is to develop self-reliant team members who can solve their own problems. The leader can be directive, however, when a team member seems unable to make decisions or to solve a particular problem. In counseling an individual for poor performance, it may be best to switch to a non-directive approach.
The technique involved in the combined approach often follows the problem-solving process. While the individual is talking, the counselor should listen for information to define the problem. This will help form a basis for suggesting solutions. He may suggest all the possible courses of action, or he may suggest just a few and then encourage the individual to suggest the others. The counselor helps analyze each possible solution to determine its’ good and bad points and its’ possible side effects. The counselor then helps the individual decide which solution is best for him and the particular situation. The team member is enabled and encouraged to assume as much responsibility as possible. The decision whether or not to implement a solution is the individuals.
The most difficult part of counseling is applying the proper techniques to specific situations. To be effective the technique must fit the situation, your capabilities, and the individual’s expectations. In some cases, a problem may call for a brief word of praise. In other situations, structured counseling followed by definite action may be appropriate.
A leader may learn one or two techniques but still may lack the skills necessary to be an effective counselor.
All leaders should seek to develop and improve their counseling skills. Counseling skills are developed by studying human behavior, knowing the kinds of problems that affect individuals, and becoming good at dealing with people. These skills, acquired through study and through practical application of counseling techniques, vary with each session.
They can generally be grouped as:
- Listening and Watching
Listening and Watching
Listening and watching skills involve the counselor concentrating on what the individual says and does. Thus, the counselor can tell whether or not the individual accepts what is said, understands what is important and understands what the counselor is trying to communicate.
Spoken words by themselves are only part of the message. For example, the leader must recognize the amount and type of emotion used by an individual when describing his concerns or problems. The emotion provides a clue to determine whether the individual is a symptom or the problem itself. The tone of voice, the inflection, the pauses, the speed, the look on the individual’s face, are all parts of the total message.
One important skill is active listening. Part of active listening is concentrating on what the individual is saying. Another part is letting the individual know the counselor is understanding what is said. Elements of active listening that the counselor should consider include:
posture / attentive silence
head nod / one-word responses
in / out note taking
Active listening also means listening thoughtfully and deliberately to the way an individual says things and being alert for common themes of discussion. Opening and closing statements, as well as recurring references, may indicate the ranking of his or her priorities. Inconsistencies and gaps may indicate that the individual is not discussing the real problem or is hiding something. Often, an individual who comes to the leader with a problem is not seeking help for that problem; rather he is looking for a way to get help with another, more threatening problem. Confusion and uncertainty may indicate where questions need to be asked.
While listening, the counselor must also be aware of the individual’s non-verbal behavior. These actions are part of the total message being sent. Many situations involve strong personal feelings. The individual’s actions can demonstrate the feelings behind the words. Not all actions are proof of an individual’s feelings, but they must be watched. It is important to note differences between what the individual is saying and doing.
Responding skills are a follow-up to listening and watching skills. From time to time the leader needs to check his understanding of what the individual is saying. The counselor’s response to the individual should clarify what has been said. Responses should also encourage the individual to continue. As part of active listening, responding skills allow a leader to react to nonverbal clues that the individual is giving. Responding can be done by questioning, paraphrasing, interpreting and informing.
Questioning – this is the key to the counseling process. The what, when, who, where and how questions fit most counseling situations. When used properly, well-thought-out questions can actively involve the individual in his own problem. But a leader who asks a constant stream of questions is saying, “I’ll ask the questions, you give the information, then I’ll tell you what to do.”
Paraphrasing – this pulls together all the information that an individual has given. It is also a way for the counselor to check his understanding of what the individual has said. Paraphrasing is done by restating the message in the counselor’s own words and watching the individual’s reaction. This prevents the individual from rambling on once a topic has been thoroughly discussed. It clarifies what has been said and stimulates further discussion.
Interpreting – this is giving information that may help or change the individual’s views. The information may have come from what the individual has just said. The individual can also be confronted with information provided by the counselor. The information may be needed by the individual to continue or may be in answer to something he has asked the leader. Informing can also be used to show the individual how his behavior may lead to further conflicts, trouble and confusion.
Guiding – Guiding skills can add structure and organization to counseling. A leader uses problem-solving and decision-making skills to help the individual reach a solution. It is relatively simple to use these skills when using the directive approach. It is not so simple to guide the individual throughout the process of examining the situation, setting the goal, and then, determining how to reach it. The individual should be led through the steps in such a way that he determines what needs to be done.
The Counseling Process
Preparation is the key to a successful coaching session. Sometimes, however, planning is not possible. This is the case when an individual asks for immediate help or when you give a pat on the back or make an on-the-spot correction. In such situations, however, knowing the individuals and their roles/responsibilities mentally prepares you to respond to their needs. This allows you to always provide effective and timely guidance.
In preparation for scheduled counseling sessions, you should consider the following points:
Notify the individual
Schedule the best time
Choose a suitable place
Decide the right atmosphere
Plan the discussion
Performance counseling informs the individuals about their jobs and the expected performance standards and provides feedback on actual performance. Individual performance includes appearance, conduct, goal accomplishment and the way responsibilities are carried out. The purpose of counseling may be to help an individual maintain or improve a satisfactory level of performance or improve performance that is below standards. Good leaders issue clear guidance and then give honest feedback to let individuals know how they have performed.
Honest feedback is essential for motivating individuals and controlling a team’s performance. You must first observe the individuals performance of duty, his ability to complete an assignment and his approach to accomplishing a task/goal. Those things that have been done well or that show improvement must be praised. The contribution that the individual’s performance has made to the Team should also be noted. This reinforces the importance of his duties and helps to foster team cohesion. Feedback should also include ways to improve performance.
Performance counseling needs to be done continuously as part of your roles as teacher and coach.
Note to the Leader:
Counseling is what will help you develop cohesive teams and cultivate mature team members. Performance counseling is all about growing others around you. It should be done on a consistent basis;monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly at a minimum. Problem-solving counseling should be done as often as needed. Counseling is especially helpful with driving and leading change. Additionally, counseling should be used to reinforce desired behavior and redirect non-desired behavior of individuals and Teams. On the business battlefield people are the only competitive advantage, so use coaching/counseling to grow your team members, one by one and lead your team to success.
Lead the way!