4 Steps to Conquer the Impossible

Have you ever taken on a project that seemed overwhelmingly complex or even impossible?  Or wanted to accomplish an audacious goal, but procrastinated due to the feeling you were in over your head and had no idea where to start?


“Impossible” Request

When my kids were younger, they asked me if I could build them a treehouse.  The question seemed ludicrous to me as I barely owned any tools.  The fact that I never had a father, meant that I didn’t have any experience in carpentry or woodworking. I had no skill in fixing things let alone building them from scratch.  The project seemed impossible as I didn’t think I could do it.  Someone else might be able to tackle this, not me.

I also didn’t want to let my kids down, so I said I would give it a shot.  When I asked the kids what they wanted the treehouse to look like, they asked for the world.  They wanted a treehouse with:

  • a ladder
  • a slide
  • a trap door
  • a bucket pulley system
  • a fireman pole
  • a zip line
  • and a bridge (which likely meant adding a second treehouse)

Before I could get the kids to tell me what the bridge would connect to, my son said he even wanted a zip line that would take him from his second-floor bedroom window to the bridge on the treehouse. I knew I was in over my head, even before zip line idea.

4 Simple Steps

We built the treehouse within a couple of months, despite having no clue where to start, nor any confidence in my ability to use power tools.  I took the following steps to get to go from crazy idea to reality.

  1. Visualize success.  Picture the goal and what it would look like. Don’t be afraid to make this a big goal that makes you feel uncomfortable. Michael Hyatt calls this “imagining the possibilities.”  I imagined the joy in my kids’ faces while playing on the treehouse. After consulting with the kids, I drew a concept sketch. We went big. The sketch included two tree houses with crisscrossing slides.
  2. Make a plan. A plan is crucial to outlining the steps to be taken.  You don’t need to figure out the entire plan right away.  Identifying the next couple of actions can help you get started, which will eventually provide insight to the rest of the path.
    • It’s ok to get help. I got some outside help in the form of a couple different treehouse design books and took notes at park and school playgrounds. I also had help from my neighbors and some of their tools when it came time to start building.
  3. Make it manageable.  Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, I broke the project down into phases. I decided that I would just build a single treehouse with a balcony, ladder, and bucket the first year. The rest would wait until the next year.   I wanted to start small and gain momentum to avoid getting overwhelmed and stuck with an unfinished project.  The books also gave me some practical step-by-step instructions along with a starting point for the wood and hardware required.
  4. Take action. With a plan and list of materials needed in hand, we just had to go to the home improvement store and get to work. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The next best time is today.”


We built the first treehouse in less than 2 months. The following year I built the second treehouse and the bridge after seeing that building a treehouse wasn’t impossible. Each subsequent year, we added the slides, a fireman pole, zip line etc. to keep things interesting. You won’t find out treehouse on the show Treehouse Masters, but that doesn’t matter as our family built it together.

In case you were wondering, the zip line did not run from my son’s bedroom window. It went from the treehouse to our neighbor’s tree instead.  Apparently, my wife (who has better judgment) and our insurance company found that idea problematic.

We made mistakes, which required multiple trips to the store, but we learned lessons along the way.  My kids also enjoyed helping their old man in the building phases.


While the treehouse project seemed impossible at first, it proved to be achievable, even for a person with no experience.  All it took was visualizing success, making a plan, tackling the project in manageable parts, and taking action.

What seemingly impossible goals have you tackled in your life?


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Learn to Be Brief

Get Your Message Across By Saying Less

Have you ever suffered through a long-winded and confusing presentation or sales pitch? While the speaker is rambling on, you find yourself wondering what point the speaker is trying to make or lost in other thoughts.

brief communication

Nearly all of us have found ourselves in this situation before. Have you ever wondered if your audience feels the same way when you are presenting an idea? Why do we find ourselves in this situation more often?

While email and the Internet have given us the ability to find information and make purchases much faster, the downside to these tools is information overload. The average office employee in 2015 received over 100 emails each day. This number is expected to increase by 5% every year for the foreseeable future.

So how do we avoid being “that speaker” that meanders through a discussion with no identifiable purpose?

Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less

Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less is a book, written by Joe McCormack, that can make you an effective and “lean communicator” in very little time.

The book explains not only why it’s important to be Brief, but also gives you the tools to communicate clearly and concisely. Joe even helps you determine when and where to be Brief. The book is easy to read and provides readers with an action plan to put the principles into practice.

How to Become Brief

You can get your own copy of Brief from Amazon, which can also be found on our resources page. I have also attended the Brief course and workshops and highly recommend them to those in the military and executives alike. Check out Joe’s website at http://thebrieflab.com or follow The Brief Lab on LinkedIn.


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Check Out Our New Leader Development Resources Page

Have you ever wished you had a quick reference page of leader development tools and resources?


New Resources Page

After the positive feedback and comments you provided from the 2016 Book Review, we decided to add a Leader Development Resources page. The page contains useful tools for leaders that include podcasts, books, and more.

A friend of mine provided me with a quick reference sheet which influenced this page.  Thanks, Aaron!

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Improve Your 2017 Without Making Resolutions

How many times have you made resolutions in the past that didn’t stick? Studies show that most people give up on their resolutions within a few weeks.


Best Year Ever

Two years ago I wanted to make a change in my life but had failed at resolutions in the past. That’s when I came across Michal Hyatt’s Best Year Ever. Best Year Ever is a five-day course that provides you with an alternative to resolutions.

I tried it out and accomplished goals over the year that, in hindsight, improved my relationship with my family and church.

  • Marital Goals: These goals included going on regular dates and taking four-weekend getaways with my wife.
  • Parental Goals: I also wanted to spend intentional one-on-one time with each of my children. That year I took each kid on a father-son/father-daughter weekend.
  • Spiritual Goals: I joined a couple of small groups at my church and conducted two ministries that year.

The methodology behind Best Year Ever can also work for you. Registration for Best Year Ever is closed right now, but I’ll provide you with a quick summary below.

Goals Not Resolutions

The difference maker with Best Year Ever is that you create goals and make a plan with a deadline. Resolutions made without a plan or a deadline are merely aspirations. Michael walks you through determining the Next Actions required to get started and gain momentum.


Many of you have heard of making SMART goals. Best Year Ever takes it one step further and has you make SMARTER goals. SMARTER goals are spelled out below.

  • Specific. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 3% body fat by June 1st is specific.
  • Measurable. There should be a metric to identify when the goal is attained.
  • Actionable. The goal should start with an action verb.
  • Realistic. Attaining a personal record on a triathlon is realistic for all. Winning a gold medal in the Olympics will be realistic for a select group.
  • Time-bound.  Assign a deadline to your goal.
  • Exciting. The goal should be compelling and stretch you outside your comfort zone.
  • Relevant. As Michael says, we are all in different seasons in our lives. Some goals will be relevant at only certain points of our lives.

Additional Considerations

In addition to making your goals SMARTER, there are a few other steps to ensuring you achieve your goals.

  • Identify your Why. Identifying your motivations or reasons behind making your goals will help you when the going gets tough.
  • Limit yourself to 7-10 goals maximum for the year.
  • Share goals with a select group to help you with accountability.
  • Not having everything planned out is OK. Identifying a couple Next Actions required is good enough to get started. The path will become clear as you gain momentum.
  • Schedule time for your goals and put them on your calendar.
  • Regularly review your goals. Weekly is recommended.
  • Keep your goals visible to avoid the old adage “out of sight is out of mind.” Your computer, fridge, or bathroom mirror are good spots to keep your goals visible.
  • Getting help is completely OK.

Some of My 2017 Goals

Despite going through the course a couple years ago, I use 5 days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to go through the Best Year Ever process. My goals this year include starting a Venture Crew (co-ed Boy Scout organization focused on high adventure activities), taking my family on a European vacation to visit our extended family, and increasing subscribers and reach for this website.


Make 2017 a productive year by setting goals instead of resolutions. Make your goals SMART or SMARTER and start with the next actions required in order to gain momentum. Maintain momentum in achieving your goals by staying connected with your key motivations. I encourage you to give this process a shot as it can improve your year. It definitely improved mine.


Question: What goals will you set for yourself in 2017?


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2016 Best Seller Leadership Book Review

As 2016 comes to a close, it is a natural time to reflect on the past year. Our reflection can cover not only what we did and what we didn’t do in 2016, but also what we’ve consumed. The following list of organizational leadership books can be found on Amazon’s Best Seller list for Management and Leadership that I have read and highly recommend to you. Hopefully, you’ll find this list useful with its short summary and key takeaways from each book under the title.


Some of the books listed below were consumed through audiobook format using Audible. I listen to audiobooks to make use of my lengthy commute to work each day. Audible has a 30-day free trial that you can feel free to try.

Full transparency: I am an affiliate for Amazon, which means Developing Your Team receives a small commission if anyone purchases a book or audiobook through these links with no additional cost to you. Any earnings will be used to offset the costs of administering the Developing Your Team website. I only list products or services that are I personally use and highly recommend to others.

Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath

  • Summary: This book aims to help you uncover your strengths and talents by providing you with an assessment (similar to Myers-Briggs or DISC). The book also provides actionable strategies to apply your strengths.
  • Key Takeaway: After reading this book and taking the Strength Finder’s test, I became more self-aware of my strengths and that of my direct reports. I started looking at projects and delegation through a different lens. My team and I found more passion in our work as we focused on things that we were good at and enjoyed doing. This isn’t to say that I was running away from my weaknesses, but found that there was a much better return on investment of time when applied to your natural strengths.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey

  • Summary: This is a classic that has been around for 25 years and is still on Amazon’s bestseller list. The seven habits outlined in this book are a great start to living intentionally and effectively.
  • Key Takeaway: I re-read The 7 Habits again this year after first reading it almost 10 years ago. Reading this book provides great perspective into prioritization and interpersonal relations. Sharpening the Saw, Habit #7, is the habit that helps you put the 7 Habits into practice, the difference between knowing and doing.

Start with Why by Simon Synek

  • Summary: People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why. Their natural ability to start with why enabled them to inspire those around them and to achieve remarkable things.
  • Key Takeaway: Starting with the “Why” of a proposal or change helps put the rest of the dialogue into to context for the listener.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

  • Summary: This book does not provide you with a magic formula on how to get more done in less time. This book helps you identify how to get the right things done.
  • Key Takeaway: Life seems to be extremely busy for most of us these days. Just ask anyone at work. This book helps you uncover what is truly important by helping the reader understand that life is a series of choices. Yes to one thing may mean you are saying no to something or someone else. A future post will speak to this idea.

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

  • Summary: The authors are two Navy SEALs who share military leadership concepts crucial in combat and how to apply them to any group, team, or organization.
  • Key Takeaway: This book is not a typical Navy SEAL war story. The book does challenge the reader to take ownership in all circumstances and results. This is easier said than done as we sometimes let ourselves off the hook. Each chapter provides scenarios and tips for practical application for those outside the military.

Book In My Reading Queue

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

  • Summary: Though I haven’t read this one yet, the author explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman reveals where we can and can’t trust our intuitions.

Now that Christmas Day has passed, why not get something for yourself that will improve your perspective for 2017?


Question: What leadership book have you read that you recommend for others?


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Counseling Packets to Mentor Your Employees

The last two posts covered how to improve employee performance using counseling and how to deal with problem employees. Both of these posts discussed counseling your employees. This post will cover the benefits of maintaining a counseling packet on each employee as well as what specifically goes into counseling packets.

Counseling packets



The purpose in keeping a counseling packet is to have a written record of what your employees have achieved, what they should be focused on, and what they want to do in the future. A counseling packet gives you a place to consolidate written records of your employees’ counseling sessions, which outline performance. You can also maintain other pertinent data, which gives you a more holistic picture of your employee all in one place.


Maintaining a counseling packet offers you several benefits:

  • Determine Whether Goals were Achieved. The packet gives you the ability to see whether your employee has met goals identified for the quarter.
  • Identify Trends. It also allows you to look back at quarterly performance counseling sessions to see trends over time.
  • Evaluations Made Easier. Counseling packets also make writing annual evaluations much simpler as you have a written record of the employee’s performance over the year. Counseling packets make it easier and more accurate to write annual evaluations. They allow you to use quarterly counseling sessions as a guide to writing the evaluation. This is much easier than trying to remember what your employee has accomplished over the last year.

Components of Counseling Packets 

I typically use a 6-sided folder for maintaining various documents in the employee’s counseling packet. Each side of the folder constitutes the sections outlined below:

Personal info sheet

This includes information on their family members, degrees held, and other special skills, like foreign languages, that are unique to this employee.

Employee Snapshot

This section can include the employee’s Resume, Curriculum Vitae (CV), or Record Brief (ERB/ORB) depending on your profession. The purpose of this is to keep in mind the employee’s previous experience, certifications, and publications. Though these other experiences and certifications may not be pertinent to the employee’s current position, it helps to understand your employee in a more holistic manner. This can help you identify the best employee for a specific project or help you guide them into positions beyond

Counseling Statements

I keep the employee’s counseling sessions in one section in reverse chronological order. The initial counseling that lays out roles, responsibilities and expectations are located at the bottom. A record of each subsequent counseling session is placed on top of the previous session. This applies to both, performance and event counseling.


Copies of the employee’s previous evaluations (that I have given) are maintained in the next session. I also keep a working copy of the employee’s next evaluation on top of this section. This is where I will pencil in achievements that are not captured in quarterly counseling sessions.

Developmental Action Plan

This is a document in which the employee outlines professional, personal, and financial goals over the next five years. This document is more for the employee than it is for the supervisor. This is especially helpful for young employees as a way to identify goals over time and forces them to be intentional about setting goals and taking an active role in managing their own careers.

Career Timeline (Military)

In most military specialties, there are certain milestones in one’s career. As a result, most branches of the military have a sample career timeline, which can help identify future opportunities to take key, developmental, or broadening assignments. Understanding one’s career timeline allows your employee to backward plan their career based on where they want to be at the pinnacle of their career.


Maintaining a counseling packet on your employees, not only helps you to organize information and write annual evaluations, but more importantly, the packet helps you understand your employees’ experiences, goals, and desires. Understanding your employees at a deeper level enables you to guide them to opportunities in their career. Using this technique can help you to develop long-term mentoring relationships with your employees.


Question: What method have you found effective in coaching or mentoring your employees?


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How to Deal with a Problem Employee

Do you have a problem employee that seems to be underperforming in their responsibilities? If one of your team members is not meeting your expectations, this article can help you with practical steps to address the situation. Direct communication is key. 

Problem Employee

Problem Employee

A few years ago I was handed a problem employee as soon as I joined an organization. My boss did not give me much background information on this particular employee, whom we’ll refer to as “Bill” in this article. My boss simply stated that the employee had to have a change in supervisors based on a personality conflict. 

Red Flags

As I looked into this employee’s file, three red flags stood out immediately: 

  1. I was Bill’s fifth supervisor over the past two years. This employee did not change positions and held the same job that he had entered the organization with several years before.
  2. Bill was written up for yelling at his previous supervisor
  3. There were some time card discrepancies in the past. However, this in itself was not remarkable when combined with other issues that showed a pattern of misconduct.

There were no real consequences in response to these problems. These incidents were documented in memorandums, but no action was taken, which seemed odd. It was clear that my boss wanted Bill to have a fresh start. I also wanted to give every employee a fair chance. 

Although I have a military background, I managed more civilian employees than military members at this particular assignment. 

Open Mind

Despite these red flags, I wanted to keep an open mind. I did not want to make any premature judgments before I worked with a member of the team that I was now responsible for. Given the revolving door of supervisors, I didn’t rule out that poor management could be part of the problem. While yelling at one’s boss is not a preferred technique, I understood that personality conflicts do arise at times and an argument can break out if tensions are high. Lastly, the time card incident could have been an honest mistake. 

True Colors

It wasn’t long before I witnessed Bill exhibit performance and misconduct issues. Bill wasn’t getting assignments done on time, and sometimes never completed them. Simple tasks were blown off. Excuses were readily made for why things weren’t getting done. 

Furthermore, Bill demonstrated poor customer service. His immediate response to any service request was that it couldn’t get done anytime soon, if at all. Bill claimed he was constrained in doing his job properly due to regulations from our parent organization. 

Systematic Approach

I took a systematic approach to providing feedback for both conduct and performance issues.  Issues that fall under the Performance category are those that involve the satisfactory performance of one’s job (e.g. failing to meet deadlines). Issues that fall under Misconduct are those that have to do with behavior and conduct at work and are not necessarily related to the quality of performing one’s responsibilities (e.g. falsifying time cards). 

Below are steps that can help guide you when dealing with problem employees.

  • Making expectations clear
  • Documenting issues and providing regular feedback
  • Assessing Improvement
  • Following through

Ensure expectations are clear

First, I held an initial counseling session with Bill to lay out expectations for performance and behavior. 

In order for an employee to meet your expectations, they must be aware of them in the first place. People are not mind-readers, so it is imperative to outline expectations clearly at the outset of an employee assuming a new position. I recommend doing this in writing, even if responsibilities are included in the employee’s contract. Don’t assume that an employee will understand expectations based on responsibilities listed in their contract. The point is to have an intentional conversation with your team member. 

Regular Feedback and Documentation

It was clear that Bill needed consistent feedback in the form of counseling sessions, as outlined in a previous article. I provided Bill with immediate written feedback following any misconduct. 

Although I typically conduct performance counseling with most employees on a quarterly basis, it was clear that Bill needed feedback more frequently. After my first three months as Bill’s supervisor, we started having monthly performance counseling sessions. These sessions were always face-to-face and also documented in writing. Bill was given a copy of the session summary to follow along during our discussions and to keep for reference. 

Our sessions followed a consistent format:

  • Outlined how Bill was not meeting the expectations outlined in his initial counseling session. 
  • Provided Bill with some advice on how to improve his performance.
  • Concluded each session with areas that Bill needed to focus on.

Adjust the Plan

It was evident that Bill had problems keeping tabs on multiple tasks or projects simultaneously. He also had problems with prioritizing tasks. I ensured that I was communicating priorities clearly before looking at my employee for fault. I did this both verbally and in his monthly counseling sessions. 

In order to help Bill with juggling multiple items, I provided one or two projects to be completed each week over the next month. This method was aimed at helping Bill break tasks down into manageable pieces. While this can be seen as micromanagement, it was an honest attempt to ensure clear communication and help an employee prioritize his work. Once Bill got the hang of prioritizing his work, we would meet less often. 

At no point did I ever do Bill’s job for him. This wasn’t really possible due to the technical nature of his position. Nevertheless, if a leader is performing their employee’s job, then the leader is not focusing on doing his/her own job. 

Assess Improvement

Although there was a brief period of improved performance, after six months it was clear that Bill’s performance was not improving over the long-term. This was documented in Bill’s mid-year performance review. This is when Bill was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan. The performance improvement plan was really just a summary of previous counseling sessions. It outlined where Bill wasn’t meeting expectations. It also provided steps to meet expectations and advice on how to excel in the position. 


Aside from his poor work performance, Bill’s misconduct issues continued. Bill’s misconduct reflected the red flags identified at the outset of our relationship. These were dealt with immediately and systematically. I took several steps to effectively respond to Bill’s persistent misconduct:

  • Written Warning – a first step to identify that misconduct is unacceptable.
  • Official Written Reprimand – a next step to show that misconduct has consequences.
  • Suspension – if misconduct continues, a temporary suspension of work is required.
  • Termination – if an employee shows no sign of adjusting their behavior, termination might be necessary.

As Bill’s misconduct persisted, the level of action was elevated until Bill was eventually terminated.

You will have to check with your Human Resources department and/or lawyers to see if these steps are appropriate for your organization.

As described above, misconduct issues are separate from performance issues. However, many problem employees seem to have issues in both categories. Frankly, it is easier and faster to terminate an employee based on continued misconduct. That’s not to say that we immediately sought to terminate Bill. I personally invested a lot of time in trying to help Bill improve his performance. 

Follow Through 

Once you establish expectations, it is imperative that you follow through on them. If your employee’s performance is lacking, then setting priorities and deadlines may be appropriate. Deadlines may need to be set on a more frequent basis (e.g. weekly). If your employee misses a deadline, it is important to follow through by recognizing it first, then providing a consequence.

If Bill’s performance improved and he demonstrated an ability to operate within established expectations, we would have held counseling sessions less frequently. Despite Bill’s lack of long-term improvement, this method has garnered positive results with other employees.

Bill’s situation provides a story that allows the article to address the full range of options for both performance and misconduct. It also highlights that employees’ decisions play a large role in the outcome.  You gain an employee’s attention when you confront them and make it clear that their performance or conduct is not acceptable.  It is then up to an employee to work within expectations, or continue down the wrong road.


Dealing with problem employees can be time-consuming, but is a necessary undertaking for both the employee and the organization. Making expectations clear, providing regular feedback, assessing improvement, and following through are the keys to improving performance.  Misconduct issues should be dealt with separately but swiftly, as lack of action equates to tacit acceptance. No one likes to deal with problem employees.  The good news is that problem employee can choose to change.  It is up to management to make standards and expectations clear and uphold them.  


Question: What steps have you found to be effective in dealing with problem employees?

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Counseling Sessions to Improve Employee Performance

As Ken Blanchard outlines in his book, One Minute Manager, “working without feedback is like playing golf at night.” How would you know whether you are doing well, or performing poorly if you can’t tell whether you hit the ball in the right direction? Counseling your employees is key to providing feedback on whether they are on track.

Holding recurring counseling sessions with your employees allows for a venue that provides feedback to your employees. Counseling sessions force you to carve out dedicated time to discuss the employee’s performance, both the organization’s and employee’s goals, and discuss a plan to attain those goals. Providing feedback to your employees will let them know where they are hitting the mark and where they need to make adjustments.

Counseling Parameters

  • Counseling should be specific. Whether you are commending an employee’s performance or identifying an area for improvement, it is preferable to use specific examples in your feedback. Speaking in broad terms makes the conversation abstract and theoretical. Generalities won’t connect with your employees. Specific examples tend to make the conversation more concrete.
  • Stick to the Facts. Avoid inserting your opinion or adding conjecture to counseling sessions. Sticking to the facts tends to keep the conversation more objectively and removes emotion form the conversation. Emotion and speculation are not your friends when providing feedback in counseling.
  • In Private. Counseling sessions should be done in a private area, away form distraction, and others. Information discussed in the counseling session should be kept in confidence as well. If it comes to light that you are making information discussed in counseling sessions public, you will erode the trust that your employees have in you. When kept in confidence, counseling is a tool that increases trust between boss and employee.
  • Done in Writing. I highly recommend putting counseling sessions in writing prior to the actual session. The counseling session should be a conversation between both parties, but the written document can serve as a guide to the conversation. Putting a counseling statement in writing also provides a sense of formality, which the employee and supervisor will take more seriously.
  • Signatures. I also encourage both parties to sign the document. Signing the document not only maintains a sense of formality but also instills employee ownership.
  • Care. The most important factor in counseling is empathy. Care for your employees. We must not only care about their performance and behavior in the workplace but also care about their goals and overall well-being. Your employees will be able to tell immediately if you are not genuine.

Types of Counseling

Counseling sessions are typically placed into one of two categories; formal and informal counseling. Informal counseling is defined as impromptu or opportunity sessions that involve advice or coaching. Formal counseling, on the other hand, is a more deliberate discussion that is well thought out, prepared, scheduled ahead of time, and done in writing.

Informal Counseling

Informal counseling is nothing more than having a discussion with your direct reports on their development or their future with the organization. This form of counseling is generally a target of opportunity, however, the conversational should be intentional. This can be a 15- minute conversation over coffee or on the ramp of a Stryker vehicle over an MRE (field ration).

Types of Formal Counseling

I tend to categorize formal counseling into three categories:

  • Initial Counseling
  • Performance Counseling
  • Event Counseling

Initial Counseling to Establish Clear Expectations

Initial counseling is a venue to make expectations of the job clear. In order for an employee to meet your expectations, they must be aware of them in the first place. People are not mind readers. Therefore, it is imperative to outline expectations clearly at the outset of an employee assuming a new position. I recommend doing this in writing, even if responsibilities are outlined in the employee’s contract. Don’t assume that an employee will understand expectations based on responsibilities listed in a contract. The point is to have an intentional conversation with your team member. I typically cover three areas in initial counseling:

  1. Expectations for Performance. This section lays out roles, responsibilities, and expectations associated with each.
  1. Expectations for Administrative Matters. This section covers expectations administrative paperwork or additional duties, which are not generally part of the usual day-to-day focus.
  1. Goals and Career Advancement. This is where we discuss the employee’s goals, both professional and personal. Supervisors can make recommendations on how to achieve professional goals during the counseling session. Furthermore, the supervisor can help by advocating for his/her employee with his/her own boss.

Performance Counseling 

Performance counseling focuses on how the employee has performed over a given period of time. I generally conduct performance counseling on a quarterly basis. Any longer than 3 months makes it difficult for either party to recall events with clarity and accuracy.

Sustains. This section typically identifies 2-3 areas in which the employee has performed extremely well or attributes that are the employee’s strengths. I try to outline specific examples to make the discussion concrete.

Improves. This section highlights 1-2 areas in which the employee could use improvement.

Questions to Guide Self-Discovery

My former Brigade Commander used a great technique in covering an employee’s areas that needed improvement. Instead of telling people his observations, he merely asked the employee to identify and discuss areas that they saw in themselves that needed improvement.

This technique is much more effective, as the individual self-actualizes their weaknesses. Areas that need improvement are more likely to be acted upon when an individual goes through a process of self-actualization.

Future Focus. This section provides areas for the employee to focus on in the near term (1-3 months). This section also addresses the employee’s next step in his/her career, with advice on how to get there.

Event Counseling 

Event Counseling revolves around a single incidence or event. This type of counseling can be either positive or negative, but not both. While event counseling can revolve around a positive event, I tend to use it as a tool to identify and correct unacceptable behavior. I personally use the organization’s award system to recognize positive outstanding performance. Conduct event counseling as soon as possible after the incident.


Regardless of the type of counseling used, the main point is to have a recurring dialogue with your employees in order to provide them with feedback. Feedback for employees is critical to improving or validating performance. Most employees are craving for feedback on how they are doing. Recurring dialogue with your employees builds trust, especially if you care for them regardless if they are one of your star performers or not.

Question: What counseling tips do you have for others?

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4 Ways to Fit Leader Development Into Your Busy Schedule

Have you ever found yourself struggling to find time in the week to conduct Leader Development sessions?

Development during a Foot March

You know leader development is important and want to do it, but you simply can’t find the time. How on Earth are you going to fit something else into a calendar that is already over full? This article will show you how to incorporate development sessions into your schedule without adding to your busy schedule.

Always Out of Time

As a field grade officer in a battalion (500-800 person unit), I found myself drowning in to do lists and unfinished tasks that had to get done. There was no shortage of things to do and not nearly enough time to do them without burning out our Soldiers or neglecting my family. I was already eating breakfast and lunch at my desk and was home late for dinner on most occasions.

We didn’t have the time to get all the things we needed to get done, let alone stop what we were doing in order to teach people how to do their jobs. I knew that our organization could get more done together if we just had the requisite knowledge. Our unit seemed to be moving too fast and doing too much to add anything else to the calendar.

Incorporate Development into Your Existing Routine

My calendar was full of back-to-back meetings. I decided to look for opportunities to incorporate development sessions within the routine events that were already occurring throughout the week. This would allow me to kill two birds with one stone. I started with Physical Training and expanded from there. Below are three easy ways to incorporate leader development into your calendar without cramming more events into a jam-packed schedule.

4 Simple Methods

  • Physical Training (PT): You are (or should be) conducting PT daily anyway. So why not incorporate a leader development session during PT? We picked Wednesdays, which was the day we did foot marches (think backpacking).   Walking a few miles with a rucksack (back pack) was an activity allowed us to work out while being able to hold a conversation at the same time. Key is preparation and knowing the topic as you won’t have Power Point to use as a crutch.
  • Meals: Chances are that you eat meals while at work on a daily basis. Most people do. Instead of eating at your desk while checking email, you can take the opportunity to eat breakfast or lunch at the dining facility with your team. Going over leader development over a meal is an easy way to build cohesion with your people.  This will have the additional benefit of not eating meals too quickly, which is better for your health.
  • Over Coffee: Many people drink coffee in the morning at work. Next time you go to the coffee maker, instead of BSing with your team about last night’s game, you can take 15 minutes to review a concept or review the points of an article you shared.
  • Close Out Formation: Drew Steadman ‘s article at The Military Leader also shares various ways to use close out formations as a venue for professional development. These ideas include having seasoned combat leaders share a story or having a guest speaker talk among others.


At first glance it may seem difficult to add leader development sessions into an already full calendar. If you look closely at your busy schedule, you can probably find some opportunities to develop your team by incorporating development into other activities. When you take advantage of those opportunities, you will be glad you did. Investing in your team always pays great dividends.


Question: In what ways do you fit leader development into your schedule?


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How to Run a Meeting that Achieves Results (and doesn’t suck)

Have you ever sat through a meeting that didn’t seem to follow any specific agenda nor really accomplish anything? Or sat in a long meeting that discussed various topics, but by the end of it, no one had a good idea if a decision was truly made?


I’ve sat in my fair share of terrible meetings and have undoubtedly run meetings that were equally bad. A few years ago, I got involved with a Readiness meeting, which covered just about every topic under the sun. The meeting lasted over two hours due to the sheer breadth of topics we tried to cover in one meeting. The topics ranged from personnel actions, awards, evaluations, physical security, investigations, certification statistics, logistics, communication, maintenance and medical issues. It was terrible.

Nothing seemed to get accomplished in the meeting. The same issues were discussed week after week with no resolution. The really bad news was that I was in charge of the meeting. On the flipside, the good news was that since I was in charge of the meeting, I could do something about it. Instead of tweaking the current meeting, we decided to revamp the entire thing.

What makes most meetings suck?

The following reasons were taken from a survey of readers and highlight the usual suspects:

  • Meetings with no agenda. These meetings tend to meander aimlessly from topic to topic.
  • Having too many meetings. These allow for no work to be done during the workday.
  • Meetings that try to cover too many topics. These meetings tend to be marathon sessions, by the end of which all participants’ eyes are glazed over and mentally smoked.
  • Lack decisions. Some meetings turn into long conversations about nothing that will surely be repeated since no decision was made.
  • Meetings being run by a leader who can’t keep the conversation on track.
  • Or my personal favorite is the meeting that is really a series of updates from various individuals that could have been more effectively accomplished in an email, on a project list, or separate one-on-one meetings. This is much worse when there are 30 people in the meeting.

Lack of focus, lack of clear decisions, and lack of accountability are key factors to poor meetings. This article will show you how to add focus, clarity, and accountability to your meeting that will achieve results.

Guidelines to Achieve Results

If your meetings follow the guidelines below, you can avoid being guilty of holding terrible meetings. Good meetings require intentionality and preparation in order to be effective.


  • Determine the purpose of meeting first.
    • Why are we bringing everyone together?
    • What are the objectives?
  • Once the purpose of the meeting is known you can develop the agenda.


  • The agenda provides focus to the meeting.
  • The agenda should be published prior to the meeting in order to ensure people are prepared.


  • If topics are brought up that are not on the agenda, anyone in the meeting, regardless of rank or position, had the duty to call it out as an accountability tool to keep the meeting on track. Once called out, that topic will have to be discussed in another venue or time.
  • Sometimes we need to use meetings as a forum for public accountability. This isn’t meant to use meetings to embarrass people or throw them under a bus in public. In order to understand the root cause of an issue, you sometimes need to get different sides of the story at the same time from all participants to avoid chasing your tail. Meetings can be used as a forum for public accountability.


  • Send out a reminder a couple days out before the meeting. The reminder should include the purpose of meeting and agenda.
  • If people aren’t aware of the meeting’s purpose, are caught off guard, or aren’t armed with the agenda, then you might end up repeating the same conversations in meeting after meeting.

During the Meeting

  • Take notes during the meeting that include:
    • Key Highlights
    • Decisions made
    • Due-outs – Ensure that a date is established for each deadline. If no deadline is assigned, then plan on the deadline being the next scheduled meeting.
  • Review decisions made and due outs (with deadlines) at the end of the meeting to ensure everyone has clarity.

After the Meeting

Send out notes within 15 minutes of the meeting’s conclusion that include decisions made and deadlines.


Once we followed the steps above, we quickly noticed that our meetings started to mean something and things were getting done. People understood the purpose of the meeting, we kept ourselves accountable to each other and focused on the agenda. Our meetings were noticeably achieving results and we found ourselves making progress instead of rehashing old business. It’s amazing what results a meeting can achieve with a little focus, clarity, and accountability.


Question: How have you made your meetings more effective?


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