The Old and New Ways of NCO Self-Development

Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) are the backbone of the Army, and this is the major reason why they are best trained in professional terms. NCOs provide the leadership required to execute day-to-day operations with precision. In addition, implementing and teaching the NCO Creed in their duties will further develop critical leadership skills required both within the Army and the nation. NCOs inspire the soldiers to work towards a common goal, enforcing institutional values and training. In this case, the Non-Commissioned Officer Guide applies to all NCOs in the Army, namely: Active, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard. Professional soldiers take time to improve self-development and assist the junior officers in professional growth.

The NCO self-development programs are essential to address the long-term educational needs for the non-commissioned officers. In addition, focusing on reading program at the individual level is based on the analysis of NCOs abilities, leadership knowledge, and values acceptable within the military service. These capabilities will also create an interest to enroll for further reading. The ways of NCO self-development will enable the non-commissioned officers to carry out the assessment of his or her educational needs, learn from the past experience, and make plans to improve on the future performance.

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Self-development is a competency-driven value on a standard basis. It is progressively used to complement the academic and field experience to facilitate both personal and professional development (Department of Army, 2013). To this point, therefore, both technical and institutional learning experiences are necessary to achieve self-development among the non-commissioned officers. By using technology and other self-directed methods, it is now possible to conduct it in myriad of environments. Further, self-development has other functional components, such as individual research, professional practical, and self-assessment. Self-motivation also plays a crucial role in accomplishing the much desired virtue. Depending on the levels, self-development can follow different structures (Department of Army, 2013). For instance, at junior levels, the structure is complex with a narrow focus aiming towards building the basic skills of leadership. At this level, it is closely related to NCO development program.

Improving Civilian Education among the NCOs

Traditionally, the NCOs carried out the skilled work that was difficult to learn. Therefore, they were pecived to have attained the required professionalism. They also had identical roles with leaders and teachers in other ranks in different fields. However, with this way, the Army leadership was slow to recognize and encourage self-development in NCO professionalism (Rush, 2002). On the other hand, following the new ways, the Army has compelled a recognition of the changes that advances in science, technology, and tactics. The challenges experienced in field combats led to the greater appreciation of the role that self-development plays in the operations of the NCOs. These changes affected training areas and personnel management within the NCO units (Rush, 2002). Through fundamental changes in these areas, self-development among the NCOs is providing them with the knowledge required to climb the career ladder.  Technology is helping both the NCOs and their sergeants to accomplish the day-to-day tasks.  For instance, the NCOES is designed to prepare the NCOs to perform tasks in terms of their priority, purpose, and intent of the commander (Rush, 2002). Improvements in communication technology are helping to bring closer the NCO group to civilians. This experience should be used to increase the NCO civilian education (Rush, 2002). Additionally, the unit leader development program is an integral part of the training program. These programs can be carried out technologically to adapt to the changing world. For instance, functional academic skills training can be offered with use of Microsoft applications to offer instructions in reading and communication skills.

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The program is used to train the leadership responsibilities that are necessary to perform collective tasks. Most importantly, lanes are used to train the leaders before going to the field.  This in necessary to certify individual and leader’s skills prior to the field exercises, because soldiers react differently under stress (Rush, 2002). For instance, a squad leader may demonstrate proficiency in determining the movement techniques for his squad. However, on a lane, when he is tired and thinking about the next hill, he may not be as proficient. Therefore, the NCO self-development is important to ensuring that there is a solid foundation in the leader and individual tasks (Rush, 2002). In the emphasis, collective tasks and missions fail, because the leaders and individual tasks are not achieved to the standard.

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Enhancing NCO Self-Development for Operational Teams

Following the old ways, it was difficult to foster self-development through education. For much of their history, the NCOs with exception on technical specialist did not receive professional educational opportunities (Bonn, 2005). Instead, the army leadership considered on-the-job training to be an adequate tactics. A standardized educational program to promote self-development did not exist. Special training meant nothing more than hands-on experience. However, the new ways of NCO self- evelopment,require three phases of the development program for the unit leader: reception and integration, basic skills development, and advanced development and sustainment (Rush, 2002). During the first phase, the first sergeant assesses the NCO’s ability to perform the critical tasks expected of the assigned duty position. From this assessment, the responsible unit leader along with the first sergeant will develop a formal individualized leader development program tailored to the needs of the NCO (Rush, 2002). The second phase (basic skills development) commences with an assessment by the first sergeant, and ends when the NCO can successfully accomplish all critical tasks necessary for accomplishing missions. This training, whether at the team or squad, a leader must lead towards the NCO’s battle competency (Rush, 2002).

Unlike the old ways for the NCO self-development, the new one facilitates a continuous training process. They do not focus on any specific area. They seek to grasp them all, so that NCOs achieve their goal of becoming better professionals through the practical application of their skills (Rush, 2002). Therefore, decisions regarding self-development are pushed down even to the lowest level that has the knowledge to make such decisions. Unit leaders and first sergeants are setting down objectives rather than dictating on the ways to do the task. On the same note, the NCOs are allowed to make hard choices. Although, there may be errors in their judgments, their corrections are made in peace. To allow standard performance, the NCOs have the freedom to make mistakes, but not to fail (Rush, 2002). In addition, the chain of command identifies any errors to the NCO to preclude him or her making the same mistake more than once; thus, the control over the problem is maintained. The goal of mentorship program is to mould future leaders with the ideals of the warrior ethos. It is characterized by mutual trust and respect between the seniors and less experienced soldiers.

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Further, mentoring programs are important in self-development of the aspiring NCOs. Usually, it occurs at two levels down and outside the NCO’s chain of command (Rush, 2002). These are useful to both the leaders and the NCOs, it is a day-to-day training and mentoring that allows a solid senior/subordinate relationship. It also enables the senior NCO to take charge of the development of those NCOs, who are junior in grade and experience (Rush, 2002).

The Role of Leadership in Self-Development

Following the new ways of NCO self-development, the leadership has an important role in enhancing this virtue. Contrary to the old ways, where the leaders would take a supervisory duty, with the new way the leaders take an active role in the activities of the team. They are assisting the subordinates in executing daily activities. Such leadership is necessary in understanding both the instructions and tasks before beginning field activities (Rush, 2002). The leaders give clear and concise instruction and are an aggressive role model. In this emphasis, a good unit NCO leader influences the overall development of a young soldier. Conduction of instructions in the unit is the most important tool for self-development. To be effective, therefore, the instruction has to meaningful, well-planned, and professionally presented (Rush, 2002). In relation, the NCO classes are designed in a progressive way in order to fulfill the needs of both the NCO and the unit. For instance, the platoon sergeants can teach their squad and team leaders on the ways to identify and mount a fighting position. In a field setting, the NCOs with demonstrated potential should serve at the next higher positions for short periods of time (Rush, 2002). This will give the NCO an appreciation for the higher position and make the transition to the position easier. Along the same line, cross-training is also effective in fostering self-development.

With the old way, the leaders, especially the commanders and sergeants, were solely responsible for enhancing the NCOs self-development. However, with the new way, the efforts for self-development are diverse. For one, seminars are a good learning method. They are used to expand NCO knowledge and resolve problems. In this case, those with expertise provide a solution to the other NCOs (Bonn, 2005). When conducting seminars, guest speakers can offer expertise in the situations, where no one else has it in the organization. It might be someone expert in legal, personnel, or technical fields. Self-development enables the NCO to be flexible, such that he or she can handle unscheduled requirements (Bonn, 2005). For instance, an NCO may be required to write a report after the activities of the battlefields ceases.

In addition, the new ways creates room to conduct the after action reviews (AARs) can provide the soldiers and the NCO units with the feedback on field experiences, such as combat (Bonn, 2005). The AARs are important, because they identify the reasons for failure, maintain the strong areas, and improve performance of the particular training objectives. However, the most important aspect of AARs in NCO self-development is the spirit, in which it is flowing. AARs that bear fruits are conducted openly. This means that the NCOs and the leaders honestly discuss what transpired in sufficient details and clarity (Bonn, 2005). In this environment, every NCO will understand both the success and failures and the reasons for each. Most importantly, they will have the motivation to repeat the task when required to. This is, thus, a critical way of enhancing NCO self-development.

Counseling as an Obligation

Both the old and the new ways of the NCO self-development share a similarity with regard to counseling. These ways require that the leaders have an obligation to initiate and facilitate counseling sessions. It flows in both directions to initiate straight forward feedback and maintain crucial values of honor, integrity, and personal courage. In addition, all members in the NCO units should respect each other in order to facilitate communication methods best to develop goal-oriented tasks and solution. In addition, it is mandatory for the leaders to conduct counseling in an effective manner and to improve self-development. This is achieved through active listening, responding, and questioning (Department of Army, 2013). The leader pays full attention to the words spoken by the offices and the manner they are communicated. Appropriate eye contact and gestures are important in transmitting the understanding of the message. The leader should interpret and summarize the issues of concern to provide clarity. By skillfully questioning the officers, the leader will be able to obtain valuable information and enhance critical thinking among the NCOs (Department of Army, 2013). However, it is important to ensure that most queries are open-minded to avoid misconceptions.

How It Works

All kinds of counseling meant to promote self-development should not be perceived as an adverse action. Rather, regular counseling is a valuable tool for developing NCO future leaders at all levels. It assists all NCO units to become active team members and improve their performance in future responsibilities (Department of Army, 2013). In addition, it leads to clear and efficient communication flow between the seniors and the junior officers. Effective counseling should be clear in its purpose in order to provide flexibility and the desire outcome. (Department of Army, 2013). In this case, it establishes an open, two-way communication using appropriate language, non-verbal gestures, and body language. Effective counselors listen more than they speak. Lastly, it encourages the soldiers through their actions, while at the same time guiding them through their problems.

With new ways in place, unit leaders facilitate counseling programs to assist the noncommissioned officers to achieve and develop both professionalism and organizational goals. Second, the leaders create preparedness among their officers to increase the sense of responsibility. In other words, the superiors have the duty to develop soldiers through the methods, such as coaching, teaching, and counseling (Department of Army, 2013). This is achieved by identifying the weak points, goal-setting, creating an action plan, and motivating the soldiers throughout the process. These responsibilities mean that the leaders have the duty to supervise everything their units achieve or fail to. Inherently, they have the responsibility for all military processes to ensure that each action promotes self-development. On their part, the officers are expected to practice lessons learned from the counseling sessions. Counseling programs provide guidance and mentoring to the NCOs through education and training within the institution (Department of Army, 2013). In simple words, the officers learn by receiving guidance from their seniors and then acting accordingly.

In addition, the supervisors will help the NCO in reviewing the way they are performing their duties. They also combine the efforts to develop standardized objectives to improve self-development in future. Most importantly, the focus aims at leaving behind the past and work on the areas of improvement in order to be successful (Department of Army, 2013). For the leaders, this is an opportunity to make a clarification on the expected values and attributes. In this case, the NCOER system requires that face-to-face discussion is most relevant to carry out performance counseling. When possible, such discussions should be held on a monthly basis as a way to improve self-development.
Another similarity is that both the old and the new ways of NCO development emphasize on the importance of professional growth, which includes planning for the accomplishment of individual and professional goals (Department of Army, 2013). Summarily, because counseling is a continuous process, it begins shortly after the arrival of the aspiring NCOs and lasts throughout their career period. During this period, the NCOs and their unit leaders will identify and discuss their success and failures. They then create a plan of action to build upon the strengths and to overcome weaknesses. In other words, this is a future-oriented approach towards maintaining self-development among the NCOs.

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Any self-development plan begins with a competency based assessment of the officer’s leadership skills, attributes, and behaviors. An officer’s self-reflection on schooling, experience and individual background are critical in defining different situations. Comprehensive and honest assessments build the foundation for a practical and realistic set of goals. These are important to maximize the officer’s strengths and minimize or correct his or her pitfalls. Self-development enables the officer to establish a set of developmental goals. These include continuing civilian education, participating in a self-study, and increasing military knowledge of history doctrines and tactics.

Bonn, K. E. (2005). Army Officer’s Guide. Stackpole Books.
Department of Army. (2013). The Soldier’s Guide: The Complete Guide to U.S. Army
Traditions, Training, and Responsibilities. Sky Horse Publishing.
Rush, R. S. (2002). NCO guide. Stackpole Books.

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