WASHINGTON — As Soldiers progress through the ranks in the Army, their level of responsibility increases to include leadership roles. Part of the process involves learning how to be an effective leader and mentor while balancing ongoing demands.
To better prepare for their role as a squad leader, four Soldiers with the “This is My Squad” Leader Panel attended the Squad Leader Development Course and the Counseling Enhancement Workshop at Fort Eustis, Virginia, to learn the necessary skills to enhance the performance of their squads.
Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Michael A. Grinston worked with the Army Resilience Directorate to advance this initiative as part of the SLDC course to allow squad leaders to reflect critically on their leadership style and to learn to employ evidence-based leadership skills.
“Sergeants and staff sergeants are entering the phase right now where they are either emulating a leader or trying to figure out how they can develop their own leadership style,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barin, Ready and Resilient Training Division, Army Resilience Directorate. “This course provides junior NCOs the ability to understand what their leadership style looks like and how to leverage their values to realize it.”
Based on Army doctrine, the two-day course for sergeants and staff sergeants is designed to equip squad leaders with evidence-based skills and strategies for effective leadership to use in a range of situations.
“We started the course by identifying our leadership styles and how we can improve them,” said Staff Sgt. Jova Silva, plans and operations noncommissioned officer with Joint Task Force - National Capitol Region, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, Provost Marshal Protection Directorate. “We had several scenarios throughout the course where we’d have to identify certain aspects like thinking traps, different ways to approach the situation and how to address them.”
The course of instruction is provided by performance experts who are civilian contractors with graduate degrees in sports psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, social psychology or related fields. Instructors are also certified through the American Association of Sports Psychologists and start teaching once they have been integrated into their local Army communities.
“We want to make sure the instructors can meet squad leaders where they are and communicate with them in their own language,” Barin said.
During the course, squad leaders examined Army Doctrine Publication 6-22, "Army Leadership and the Profession" and research from the fields of human performance, organizational psychology and positive psychology to highlight the impact and importance of squad-level leadership behaviors. In addition, students assessed their abilities to lead and evaluated their characters as defined in ADP 6-22 to determine whether they aligned with the leadership philosophy they wanted to create.
In addition to SLDC, Soldiers participated in the Counseling Enhancement Workshop, which took place over three days, to teach squad leaders how to effectively conduct a counseling session using communication techniques in Army Technical Publication 6-22.1, "The Counseling Process." The class was peer-to-peer led and instructor-facilitated with built-in scenarios where students acted out the roles of counselor and counselee.
“The workshop breaks the institutionalized way of counseling and gets out of the ‘template, copy and paste’ way of doing things,” said Barin. “It teaches students how to properly communicate, have those hard and rewarding conversations, and record them properly.”
For Staff Sgt. Winifred Collette, supply noncommissioned officer with the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade, the workshop was essential to help her look at counseling more humanely versus just following the regulation and policy.
“This class helped me realize that although we have a mission, we need to think about the humane aspect of the Soldiers standing to our left and right,” Collette said. “The mission will always be there, but the way we treat the people who accomplish it might determine how long we have them to rely on.”
According to assessments completed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s Research Transition Office, feedback from Soldiers who have gone through the course has been positive, with more than four out of five NCOs reporting the curriculum being well organized, important and beneficial.
“Junior leaders who complete the SLDC training leave with a better understanding of themselves as Army leaders,” said Dr. Ian Gutierrez, research psychologist with the WRAIR Research Transition Office. “Among those who received SLDC, the proportion of NCOs who agreed that they had a leadership philosophy and a mission statement increased by more than 30% from pre-training assessment to the final follow-up assessment, highlighting that the training not only prompted squad leaders to develop their own Army-aligned leadership philosophy during the course, but that they retained the benefits of this exercise two months following the training.”
ARD and WRAIR continue to refine the course curriculum based on iterative evaluations and direct feedback from Soldiers to produce a training experience that has a meaningful impact on junior Army leaders.
“It is important to ensure that Soldiers’ crowded training schedules are being filled with trainings that directly contribute to their ability to lead others, develop themselves and their fellow Soldiers, and achieve Army goals,” Gutierrez said. “We believe that this model of Army curriculum development for training in readiness and resilience will continue to yield successful outcomes in the years ahead.”
The SLDC course is available through ARD R2 Performance Centers at 32 Army installations. Any camp, post or station without an R2PC can submit a request for a mobile training team to come to their location.
The course is recommended for sergeants who have spent more than one year time-in-grade, and staff sergeants within their first year of promotion.
For more information, go to visit the Army Resilience Directorate website.