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Candid counsel requires courage, strength of character

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Linell A. Letendre
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Staff Judge Advocate
Courage. Valor. Action in the face of adversity. These words conjure up heroic images of warriors on the battlefield and feats involving physical bravery. Such traits are critical for military professions, but so is another less discussed trait--candid counsel.

The essence of candid counsel involves telling others (including superiors) what they need to hear . . . but perhaps not what they expected to hear. Candid counsel requires mental courage and strength of character. It demands the courage of our convictions, the ability to speak up when things are not right, and, where appropriate, to disagree prudently with "the boss."

Contrary to popular belief, leaders do not want a "yes person" working for them. Leaders need team members who can think for themselves and provide honest feedback on ideas. Leaders need Airmen who will lean forward and provide bold input on how to do things better and smarter. Put simply, organizations filled with lemmings do not improve.

At the 375th Air Mobility Wing legal office, we discuss and practice candid counsel daily. In fact, our mission statement starts with "provide candid counsel to command." So how do you develop your candid counsel skill set? Try some of these suggestions:

· Start simple: The first time you start exercising your candid counsel skills should probably not be with the four-star general. Instead, start with someone you know well like a friend or spouse. When you are asked your opinion on something (e.g., "How does my outfit look?" or "What movie should we see?"), give your honest assessment.

· Practice: After starting off small, start applying your skills in a work setting. Speak up when you have an idea on how to do something better. Ask a question during a commander's call (yes . . . during that awkward silence, the commander would actually like to hear a question asked!) If you see someone not following standards, hold him or her accountable. All these small steps help you gain confidence to speak up on bigger issues.

· Candid counsel does not equal disagreement: When you say no or disagree with a proposal, make sure you have thought through your rationale for doing things differently. Have an alternate way ahead and justification for why the alternate approach makes sense. Leaders are happy to listen to reasons supporting another course of action, but disagreeing solely for the purpose of disagreement just makes you disagreeable.

· Think about "when" and "where": When you are delivering candid counsel to a superior, think critically about timing and location. Is this an issue you should raise in a group setting or one-on-one? Has the decision already been made or is the idea still in the development phase? Candid advice is normally more valuable in the pre-decisional phase.

· It's an art, not a science: Ultimately, no equations or formulas exist for candid counsel. Each situation and leader may require a different approach. Through practice, you'll learn the ways that work best for you in how to deliver candid, straight-forward advice.

So the next time you think to yourself, "I know a better way to do that," or, "I wonder if the boss has ever thought of this concern," speak up. Our Air Force relies on honest feedback and needs your innovative input. Practice your candid counsel today.