Updated: Jul 22, 2021
This is our second article from LTC Bernard House. As a reminder of his bio he was commissioned as a Field Artillery Officer from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff where he graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate and also holds a Master of Arts in Management and Leadership from Websters. LTC House commanded the 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Drum, NY. He is currently serving as the United States Forces Korea Chief of Dynamic Training. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense or any of its agencies. Please see his other article if you so get the time.
Statements I hear all the time: “I deserved a Most Qualified rating” and “I am the best officer within my organization.” I’d caution one to ask if this assessment is an accurate one and how did these officers arrive at this assessment of their performance? Illusory superiority is part of long-standing social-psychological research which has shown that we tend to over-evaluate our own performance. Did these officers critically and honestly assess their performance, identify shortfalls (improvements) and develop a way ahead to grow as a leader? Problem not. Everyone would like to think they are masters in their fields, however, the truth of the matter is there is always room for improvement – regardless of rank.
Leader development starts with self-assessment. It is arguably one of the most difficult process to perform due to the reflection and subsequent work involved. Once you receive candid feedback from subordinates, peers, superiors, mentors, family, and friends, what do you do with it? Do you make excuses, put it aside, discount what they said, or do you critically assess your performance to make yourself a better leader? Here’s a quick reminder to go to our SELF-DEVELOPMENT page for some quick free resources to help augment your own assessment.
How does one assess their performance? For starters, you have to be honest with yourself. Accept the fact that NO ONE IS PERFECT. Everyone fails at times and has room for improvement. The only way to become a better leader is to address failures head-on, acknowledge improvement requirements, develop a course of action, and continue to grow as a confident and competent leader.
There are many methods, procedures and systems geared toward performing self-assessments. The Army crafted the Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback (MSAF) to help leaders receive feedback from peers, superiors and subordinates. If executed correctly, the MSAF will help you see yourself through the eyes of those around you. Bottom-line: no system is perfect and you have to select a method that works for you – the MSAF now is no longer required for officer evaluations.
What I would like to share with you is the model I utilize which has worked for me. As shown in the picture at the header of this article, my model is built around inputs, assessments, implementation, and execution.
INPUT: Input comes from various sources; however, the best input comes from individuals who you interact with on a daily basis and have visibility on your performance. I categorize input coming from three sources: Work, Military Social and Off Duty. Each source provides a different perspective based on the different types of interactions they present such as: Work (Subordinates/Peers/Raters/Senior Raters/Mentor interactions), Military Social (Peers/Colleagues/Mentor interactions) and Off Duty (Family/Friends interactions). Each interaction shapes me as an individual and officer, and impacts my overall performance.
Subordinates/Peers/Raters/Senior-Raters/Mentors: Based on their day-to-day interactions with me they are able to provide input on my leadership in general, communication skills, confidence, competence, tactical and technical proficiency, performance, and potential. I receive routine feedback from them through general conversation, quarterly counseling and sensing sessions.
Peers/Colleagues/Coaches: I have a group of trusted agents who have my best interest in mind and will provide me with candid feedback. Normally, these individuals will have interactions with me at work, outside of work at gatherings, or social functions. It is very important to gather feedback outside of work. It is important to remember that we live by our service’s and American values 24/7 and your performance outside of work can directly affect your career. Assess and improve while on and off duty.
Family/Friends: Their input is strictly off duty but feeds into the total person assessment. How do I prioritize family and work? How do I act around friends? Again, remembering that we are leaders 24/7, there is little room for errors in personal conduct. Be human, have fun, but always remember you are a leader. Utilize their feedback to ensure you are behaving in a manner expected of a service member off duty.
ASSESSMENT: Once you gather all the input, what do you do with it? I assess and write it down, and then walk away for about 24 hours before coming back to revisit what I wrote. I categorize improvement requirements into near-fix (less than one week), mid-fix (30 days) and far-fix (greater than 30 days). You will see when you transition into course of action development that even if something falls into the far-fix category there are certain things that have to occur during near- and mid-fix timeframes in order for you to achieve your overall goal. Take into account input from all three sources of input, assess yourself as a total person, and layout a measurable and achievable course of action for improvement.
IMPLEMENTATION: A critical output from your assessment and course of action development should be your implementation schedule with measurable gates and events you must complete to achieve your personalized end-state. Outside resources should already be scheduled in the form of professional development courses, college classes, etc. During this phase, you are implementing your personal course of action and holding yourself to the standard. Do not deviate and do not quit – keep moving toward the goal of improving your performance.
EXECUTION: In the end, it is all about execution. If done correctly you will be a better leader and person than when you started. How often you execute self-assessments is up to you. Some do it daily, quarterly, or after major events or exercises. YOU have to decide what works best for YOU and do not stop! Self-assessment is a dynamic process that should be continuously repeated in order to ensure your growth.
The modern battlefield will continue to change and our Armed Forces will continue to develop new technology, systems and procedures. In order to keep pace with such changes, it is incumbent upon you – us – to continuously seek ways to grow and develop so that we, as our nation’s warriors, can provide the leadership for success and victory.